Throwing clients in the deep-end: tips to make workshops less intimidating

Often when we visit clients to run workshops we don’t quite know what to expect; it’s on their turf and their terms. We have to think on our feet to get the results we need, no amount of planning can prevent that.

When clients visit us, however, it’s a little different. It’s fair to say they don't quite know what to expect.

So how do we make them feel comfortable? How can we help them to shed their apprehension and make them feel like they should get involved?

Here are a handful of workshop tips and tricks we use to make our clients feel at ease.

Attire-ly appropriate

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It’s no secret that, at Razor Jam, if you turned up in Speedos and a flat-cap, nobody would bat an eyelid (at least after a good 30 minutes of relentless mockery), my point being; we basically wear what we want: casual-casual.

Some of our clients, on the other hand, have a more formal dress code. This means that if we're going to be seeing clients we’ll normally dress-up a bit, aiming for something in between their dress code and our lack‑of.

This is extremely important if it’s the first workshop. It reassures them that they’ve come to the right place, that you’re ready for them, and that you know them.

As the clients start to relax, they might surprise you, turning up in a t‑shirt and jeans, just because they know you’d normally wear more relaxed attire.

Icebreaker

Melting ice illustration

No this isn’t a wrestling move (we’ll it could be, but I’m not an authority on wrestling). I’m talking about a ‘getting to know you’ style exercise to kick-off a workshop. This is especially beneficial if the clients are from a big organisation, and participants may not know each other very well.

A personal favourite is getting everyone to write their real names on one side of a tent-card and their superhero name and special power on the other side (try to keep it in the context of what they do on a daily basis). Then everyone has to reveal their name and power to the group.

Digestives and Bourbons

Biscuits illustration

It’s important to make sure the brain is fed, whilst the odd cup of coffee can help; it’s always a good idea to provide a few snacks. Biscuits normally go down well and they’re sublime with nice cup of tea.

If participants are finding the tasks difficult or are noticeably distracted, you can use the promise of a tea-and-biscuit break as a reward. Make sure to plan for regular breaks in your workshop schedule.

We can relate to that…

Cup of tea illustration

It probably goes without saying that people are more engaged when they can relate to something. Food is a good one as everyone loves food (if you’re still reading this, I’ve proven it by mentioning biscuits).

A good example: to train brains and help participants to understand the concept of user story mapping, I often ask participants to map out the process of making a cup of tea.

From filling and boiling the kettle to getting a cup and adding milk and sugar. This works well because it’s something that most people know about, but they also have their own personal preference about what the perfect cup of tea should consist of.

It drives out those sorts of enquiring conversations that we look for with user story mapping: ”…What if I want to use a teapot?”, “…Should the milk go in with the tea-bag?”, “…How long should the tea brew for?”.

Keep it short. Unlike this article

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Research conducted by Microsoft in 2015 found that the average attention span is now just over 8 seconds, less than that of a goldfish. That doesn’t mean that the whole workshop should be completed in a few seconds, but it does mean that you’ll have to keep any explanations and discussions concise. This will ensure that participants haven’t forgotten what you're talking about and subsequently lost interest.

Few people like to sit for hours in a room full of sweaty people. Coming up with all those cunning ideas can start to take its toll after a while. Make sure that workshops are only as long as they need to be, around 3–4 hours maximum. Any longer and the fatigue of the participants will affect the outputs.

If you need more time, break the workshop into smaller ones; a bonus benefit of this is that it gives participants a chance to go away and consider things; maybe they’ll bring a mind-blowing idea back to the next workshop, or even some fancy biscuits!