Have you ever watched a great conductor seamlessly guide an orchestra into melodious perfection? That’s what it feels like when you learn how to host a workshop. Just like every instrument in the orchestra, each aspect of your workshop from planning to execution has to work like a well-oiled machine.
Workshops get an unfairly bad rap in the speaking world. Despite their incredible potential for impact, they don’t have the glamour and pizzazz associated with keynotes. In this piece we’ll guide you through how to host a workshop that engages your audience, leaves them equipped with new learning and skills, and helps boost your speaking career.
How to Host a Workshop: Understanding the Basics
A workshop is a talk on a specific subject to a tailored audience. At conferences, multiple niche workshops are often held simultaneously so attendees can go to those that align with their special interests. Instead of a big picture topic, workshops offer implementable skills for a particular business area, state in life, or situation. (We go over the differences between workshops and keynotes here.)
People attend workshops to improve their subject matter capability in a condensed in-depth format. You aren’t there to say some inspirational words and drop the mic–you’re there to share expertise and problem solve in real time.
The Different Types of Workshops
How you run your workshop will be a very different experience depending on your industry. At business-oriented events, workshops are generally about market trends, updated best practices, or fine-tuning evergreen skills. Think topics like “perfecting your cold call,” “DEI in ____ industry,” or “how to harness AI for your business.”
On the other hand, workshops are also a popular medium for more personal, intimate topics. Subjects ranging from personal finance, to creative arts, to marriage are often more easily fleshed out in a small group setting, and the intensive hands-on aspect is well-suited to working through unique problems.
Whether your workshop idea involves bettering marital communication or social media analytics, remember that workshops don’t just cater to special interests–they solve problems.
How to Host a Workshop: Goals and Target Audience
The first step to how to host a workshop is to clearly define your goals. This includes identifying desired outcomes, setting learning objectives, and knowing your target audience.
Taking into account the needs, interests and expertise of your target audience is essential for crafting a tailored event experience. Consider questions like: What problem does your target audience face? What questions will attendees have about your area of expertise? Are there existing gaps in the market? What solutions are badly needed but easily digestible in an hourlong session?
Answering these questions will shape your objectives. If you can paint a comprehensive picture of who’s going to sit in that room with you, you can also get a clear idea of what they need from you.
Understanding your target audience should drive all subsequent decisions about structure, content format, discussions, and networking opportunities that might take place during your workshop.
How to Host a Workshop: Planning your Agenda
Crafting an effective workshop agenda will help you run a tight ship. This doesn’t just mean listing down main topics or activities, but rather setting SMART goals for each session to guide participants towards achieving desired outcomes.
Crafting An Effective Agenda
An organized agenda serves as the backbone of any intensive educational program, workshops included. The process of workshop planning might take some time at first, especially if you haven’t delivered this kind of talk or presentation before. But as you refine your craft and learn how to work with your audience, it will get easier and easier!
In addition to providing clarity on structure and timings, your agenda should include time set aside specifically for networking opportunities amongst participants – after all learning from peers can often be just as valuable.
Creating Workshop Content
The key to a successful workshop lies in creating content that not only informs but also engages your attendees. Your subject matter expertise won’t make a difference if it’s presented on boring, wordy slides. At the same time, you can’t be too vague, as audiences come to workshops looking for tactical content.
Reach a happy medium of specificity that leaves the door open for your audience to apply your tips to various situations they might be facing.
Making Your Workshop Interactive
Collaborative problem-solving is one of the greatest feature of workshops. Workshops allow attendees to become active contributors rather than passive recipients of information.To make your workshops more dynamic, tell stories and use real-life examples that invite your audience to share your own.
If your workshop follows a big keynote, your participants likely have several lingering queries swirling around in their heads. Offer an opportunity to flesh out those topics–within a reasonable time limit.
Breakout sessions where attendees work together can encourage networking opportunities and reinforce takeaways from your presentation. If you want to foster the added benefit of networking among your attendees, encourage them to reference relevant professional experiences during discussion.
Achieving the necessary balance between imparting knowledge and promoting engagement isn’t easy. You don’t want to bore listeners with a lecture; at the same time you have to provide some value rather than simply moderating a free-for-all. Maintaining this balance is a skill honed by experience and some trial and error. Seasoned entrepreneur and workshop leader Shane Sams offered insights into the process of trial-and-error on our podcast here.
How to Host a Workshop: Marketing and Promotion
If your workshop occurs at a big conference, you probably aren’t getting paid much (to learn more about how you should get paid as a speaker, check out our free tool). You might be trying to get a foot in the door with an event planner, network, or find clients for other pillars of your business. Because there are other workshops occurring at the same time, your attendees self-select.
What does this mean for you as a workshop leader? Promotion matters–a lot!
As a speaker, you should already be active in social media channels that are “watering holes” where industry professionals in your field congregate. Start posting about your upcoming workshop well in advance. Utilizing your email list is also a must. Ensure you’re sending out engaging emails to your mailing list that highlight what participants will gain from attending – whether it’s solving problems they’re facing, learning new skills, or simply being part of an intensive educational program.
If you’re organizing the workshop independently rather than at a separate event, marketing becomes even more paramount. If it is an in-person workshop, ask local businesses whose patrons overlap with your target market to help publicize. Announce the date, time, location, and details far in advance so that workshop attendees can mark their calendars and invite others who might be interested. You can learn more tips for organizing and hosting your own events here.
If you are part of a much larger program at a big event, take advantage of any networking opportunities before your workshop slot. That could mean going to welcome receptions, hanging around during opening keynotes, or talking to people during downtime that you would otherwise spend scrolling your phone. Many attendees might not have decided which workshops to attend–why not yours?
How to Host a Workshop: Running a Successful Workshop
Communicating your content clearly is the best way to succeed at how to host a workshop. Clarity will help your attendees grasp the tools and solutions you offer for tackling particular challenges in their professional or personal lives. To better optimize for these outcomes, you’ll want to master time management and add a healthy dose of creativity and flexibility to your workshop plan.
Whether you are delivering a day-long seminar or training workshop to a corporate team or a forty-five minute presentation before dinner, timing is everything. Good pacing keeps attendees engaged without feeling overwhelmed or rushed. Plan and rehearse your workshop schedule to the best of your ability without forgetting opportunities for participation!
If you are running a shorter workshop, this means rehearsing with a timer if you want room for a Q&A period. If you are running a longer seminar-style workshop or training event, this means coming up with topics and timing for breakout sessions. Usually, you will end up speaking faster at the event than when you rehearse, so don’t factor in too much discussion time.
Getting Creative when the Unexpected Happens
No matter how well-planned, workshops can sometimes throw curveballs your way. Ultimately, the unexpected comes for all speakers, and you can’t plan for every interruption, distraction, and missing PowerPoint slide. As a workshop speaker, you will have to improv every now and then. Remember, your attendees have no idea what you had planned, so they won’t know if you change up the agenda. Whether that means playing an icebreaker game to kill time or skipping a few slides to save it, be prepared to roll with the punches. Maintain some flexibility in your communication plan so you can seamlessly pivot when necessary.
You can learn more about developing and running a dynamic workshop from start to finish with our Speaker Lab coaches here.
How to Host a Workshop: Evaluating And Improving
Nailing down how to host a workshop is just the first step. After every workshop, it’s essential to take some time to evaluate its effectiveness. Asking for genuine feedback from participants will give you insights to improve future workshops.
The best way to gather feedback that really helps is by directly asking attendees about their experience. Collect their contact information, preferably in a low-cost way like displaying a QR code to a simple opt-in form on your final slide. Then, send one or more feedback surveys. You might be surprised by the needs of your audience as the market shifts!
As much as possible, take note yourself of what worked well and what didn’t.
Did breakout sessions turn out to be particularly productive at sparking discussion? Consider incorporating more such workshop activities at future events. If the conference venue didn’t have the right cable to project your slides, buying a few backup cables yourself is a good idea. (Or maybe you don’t even need slides! We have a series on The Speaker Lab podcast about how and when to use slides–listen here and here.)
The best workshop leaders give many versions of the same workshop and constantly perfect it. Every new group will help you learn something new–and if you have a bad experience (or nobody shows up), consider it a learning opportunity.
Hosting a workshop isn’t just about sharing your expertise. It’s an orchestra of planning, content creation, promotion, and execution. The real magic happens when you run a successful event where participants leave feeling inspired and enlightened. After all, learning how to host a workshop is really about sparking transformation that lasts beyond the room itself.
There are a lot of great workshop tips we couldn’t cover here, like the amazing potential in the virtual and online space. If you want to be a workshop speaker but don’t know how to find clients or launch your business, we are here to help! Get in touch with our coaches here.
How do I start hosting a workshop?
To start hosting workshops, find clients by reaching out to event planners in your field with a pitch for your workshop and how it relates to their events. Alternatively, organize your own event with an aggressive marketing strategy.
How do you structure a workshop?
A solid workshop starts with an introduction with objectives, engaging presentation of content with opportunity for interaction and discussion, and a recap with opportunities to ask and answer questions at the end.
How do you run a fun workshop?
Make workshops fun by incorporating interactive elements such as group discussions, hands-on activities, or icebreakers. Understanding how to host a workshop is different than mastering a keynote delivery–you can be more personal, friendly, and casual in your tone.