An intentionally planned and well-presented event can go far beyond fulfilling its own purposes and end up being a powerful and positive advertisement for your business.
Especially these days, webinars seem to be everywhere. Irrespective of the subject matter, the format seems to have universally taken hold during the pandemic, a time when any type of in-person meeting was challenging at best and sometimes downright impossible. The advent of Zoom threw the door open wide for people to join a meeting from any geographical location, and the prospect of attracting an audience well beyond the normal parameters of the local scene now became an attainable reality. Without the constraints of travelling to a designated physical meeting place, the entire process of the webinar tremendously simplified the setup on the part of the presenter and the attendance on the part of the participants.
But it’s still a virtual meeting.
And therein lies a bit of a dilemma, because a webinar may be presented as a “workshop”, and yet it’s realistically just a virtual meeting at its very core. And although it’s quite possible for webinar attendees to hold engaging discussions and exchange ideas, the limitations of the digital medium eventually come into play. There’s nothing more annoying than having one of the on-screen speakers either massively louder or quieter than everyone else. And one of the most frustrating occurrences during any virtual meeting is the inevitable screen freeze that serves to completely disrupt the timing and flow of the presentation, whether it’s happening to the presenter or an attendee.
So webinars are wonderful, for what they are, but they ultimately can never hope to replace the level of interaction that can only occur when everyone in attendance is physically together in the same room. Talking to someone in a virtual setting can create a weird dynamic in the conversation, as there are usually off-screen distractions vying for the attention of whoever is speaking or listening. Being able to stand right in front of the person you’re speaking with and look them directly in the eye can do wonders to establish a real connection. Even seemingly minor aspects like observing someone’s body language are actually huge components in the process of gaining a deeper perspective of who you’re conversing with.
One of the greatest benefits of an in-person workshop is that conversations can split off into side discussions, as someone might drift up to where others are already speaking and join in the discourse. This kind of organic communication carries with it a great catalyst for collaboration, brainstorming, and networking.
Being able to hear the experiences of others and gain an understanding of the challenges they’re facing in their organizations can help to provide a fresh perspective of what you’re dealing with in your own business. This alone can be one of the most compelling aspects of attending a workshop in person. There’s simply no way to replicate on a virtual platform the kind of lively interaction you’re likely to encounter when you actually meet with others.
So, if an actual workshop conducted in a designated meeting space sounds good to you, where exactly do you start? Perhaps one of the reasons why many opt to go the virtual route is because there are various logistical hurdles that you need to overcome if you plan to host an in-person workshop. Invariably, these will end up carrying with them at least some associated cost to you, which places even more importance on attracting potential attendees so that you can determine what you need to charge to offset the expense. Unless you have your own meeting space, you’re likely facing the prospect of paying a rental fee for the use of someone else’s. If the workshop you plan on hosting will be several hours in length, or if it will end up overlapping a normal mealtime slot, you may also need to factor in providing at least some kind of light refreshment for the attendees.
Although hosting a webinar might incur the expense of purchasing ads on social media, an in-person workshop could require an even greater advertising focus to ensure that you’re actually compelling people to attend. Remember – there will always be a certain level of perceived inconvenience in people’s minds when they consider having to account for travel time to and from the workshop. Depending on the location of the physical meeting space, there could be other logistical considerations like parking fees or a long walk from the car to the venue. And although someone might attend a webinar while wearing pajamas and with a cat on their lap, they’ll have to invest additional time and effort in becoming presentable to attend a public event. None of these considerations should be a deterrent to hosting a workshop, but you need to keep them at the forefront of your planning so that you can properly anticipate and address the needs of those who will attend.
So how, exactly, do you get people to come to a workshop? The bottom line with any presentation, whether in-person or virtual, is the quality of the content being presented. If you expect people to spend time and money to come hear you, be certain that you’re providing them with value for their investment. Anybody can throw a few ideas together and discourse for an hour, but if you’re not providing something of legitimate value to those in attendance then you’re doing a disservice to them as well as to whatever organization you represent. An intentionally planned and well-presented event can go far beyond fulfilling its own purposes and end up being a powerful and positive advertisement for everything associated with your business.
Beyond the basics of selecting the topic and content for the workshop, another important thing to consider is the level of detail it will be practical for you to go into based on the allotted time. The worst approach you can take is to pad the workshop, taking a few bare-bones ideas and stretching them to the breaking point to fill the slot. But it can be equally destructive to attempt to cram something that realistically would take three hours to cover into the course of just one hour. Especially if what’s being presented involves anything “hands-on” on the part of the attendees, you’ll only end up creating intense frustration for people if you put too much into too little time.
It’s also critically important to remember that people have limited attention spans, and any presentations exceeding one hour need to include built-in break times that are clearly communicated to the attendees prior to starting. Otherwise, you’ll find that you’re quickly losing the attention of your audience. People may also not be apt to simply jump into the proceedings if you lurch from a brief introduction of yourself to presenting the first items you want to discuss. An “ice breaker” can be an ideal way to relax the attendees, encourage everyone to become a participant instead of just an observer, and generally bring a lighter atmosphere to the presentation up-front. From that point, you’ll have a much better probability of being able to engage your audience and have them actually pay attention to what you’re saying instead of just looking at their watches.
It’s also extremely important to remember that most people tend to be visual learners. Even if you’ve only allotted an hour for the workshop, don’t expect that everyone will simply sit there, watching you intently, hanging on your every word. Being able to introduce some level of visual presentation can play a huge role in keeping attendees focused, as well has helping them to better retain what was discussed once everything is wrapped up. You can go the basic route and use something as simplistic as a prop or two, but you’ll help to support your talking points much better if you can introduce even a small amount of tech into your presentation. A PowerPoint slideshow can be the ideal format for using static images, charts or graphs, and even embedded audio and video files to further enhance what you’re discussing.
It’s absolutely essential that you structure as much of the workshop as possible to be interactive. You want the attendees to genuinely feel that they are contributors every bit as much as you are.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to make this happen is to conclude the workshop with a “Q&A” session. Ideally, you should set the expectation that people can also interject or ask questions during the presentation, but you have to be able to keep a firm grasp on that approach. If someone repeatedly keeps interrupting you, or talks for five minutes and eventually ends up drifting to a topic that’s completely different from the one being discussed, you need to be able to decisively (yet diplomatically) put the brakes on.
Allow for people to be included in what’s going on, but remember – you’re the one in charge. Never feel like you need to be apologetic for maintaining the focus of what’s taking place. You might feel a little sheepish about trying to regain control when someone has been really interruptive, but just remember that failing to do so is unfair to everyone else who actually wants to hear the intended content of the workshop.
If you plan them well, workshops can be beneficial for you as well as for the attendees. A good approach to help facilitate this is by conducting a brief survey for people to complete at the close. You can simply present something in a paper format to complete and turn back in, but it can also be advantageous to have an on-line survey and simply provide the attendees with a QR code that they can use to access it. This removes the pressure of having people stay to fill out a form once the workshop is concluded, and they may be more apt to take the time to thoughtfully answer the questions in the survey if they can do so on their own time from the comfort of their own home or office.
The format of the workshop has suffered a slight loss of prominence in the face of the ever-advancing realm of virtual meetings. But that doesn’t negate the effectiveness and great benefit that hosting an in-person workshop can bring. If you’ve never seriously considered hosting one, start thinking about what you have to offer and who might benefit the most from it. Then, start taking some concrete steps toward crafting a presentation that provides real value to the attendees and helps to promote your mission and purpose. No workshop will ever happen without intentional effort (and maybe a bit of money from you), but your business or organization will always be the better for having hosted one.
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