Why Do Most Workshops Suck? (…and How I’m Fixing Mine)

In 2018, I gave a lot of talks and presentations and ran quite a couple of workshops, all centered around working smarter, essentially. I like doing this — learning, teaching, knowledge-sharing, etc., a lot. But.

Lecturing like it’s 2020

Between running the Copenhagen-based Jobs To Be Done Meetup group, #JTBD·CPH, an array of client gigs and some public speaking gigs, I had to stop and reflect. Something wasn’t quite right yet.

I’ve worked hard to make the information I convey attractive and digestible, and I’d like to believe people get some sort of value from it. Whether it be clients that come back for more, or repeat attendees at meetups. You can even read my top 10 tips for giving presentations, all of which I’ve picked up in the field.

Still, my spider sense told me the format and delivery, not necessarily materials or subject matter, didn’t really fit yet. Either the workshops and group sessions haven’t been sticky enough (else I would have heard the success stories), or, worse: Coming dangerously close to speaking exclusively from second-hand experience.

As in, repeating what someone else has already said, but without the necessary skin in the game to really get it.

Now, I’m a sucker for good theory as much as the next gal. But theory and practice must go together, and, frankly, the case studies to go with my material just didn’t have enough breadth, to back up my repertoire of workshops and subject matters.

I’m working on fixing that gap, though — heads down in seriously exciting client and internal work, all building on what I’ve already been teaching and working with, thus far.

Still, if we’re being honest, I was a little too close to being all talk, a few times throughout 2018. To reflect on and adjust my approach, I’ve taken a break in 2019 from public engagements, including, though regrettably, the Meetup group.

I want to change this.

The problem with most workshops (mine included)

Most workshops, seminars, talks, etc. are about teaching new ways of simply doing things, effectively saying,

Your current way is wrong. Do it like this instead.

When we talk about process and methods, nothing is black/white though. Rarely is there a “right result”, yet everyone secretly believes there is, in fact, some sort of Holy Grail; The One True Process®

You’ve also likely been frustrated at some part, of some workflow at one point, and silently muttered under your breath; ‘This is stupid. There has to be a better way’. This thought pattern is absolutely critical, without which none of us – individually and societally – would make any progress at all.

It gets dangerous though, when you begin to equate your improvement with how others should improve, too.

Via Negativa

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Golden Rule:

Do onto others, as you would have them do onto you.

Makes good sense – treat others like you want them to treat you.
But, it also inherently assumes that you know what’s right for others; you are doing it onto them.

The problem with this, is that workshops designed from this outset become: “I know better than them, even though I know nothing about their real-world scenarios”.

Or, simply “Your current way is wrong. Do it like this instead.”

No-one likes being told. And everyone can see through a consultant have doesn’t have to do the actual work.

This is why most seminars, workshops, talks and presentations fall flat on the floor, as soon as the consultant leaves the room. Then everyone goes back to their day-to-day, with nothing changed but a three-hour loss on the clock.

So, with that in mind, let me introduce you to the Silver Rule instead:

Do not do onto others, as you would not have them do onto you

Notice the subtle difference? They are not the same rule.
One says, ‘do something’ (onto others), the other says, mind your own damn business.

And this is vastly different from your average joe who’s read Design Sprint a few times and has Keynote Speaker in their bio.

A better way?

In this light, the workshop format becomes: “Given your unique scenarios, let’s figure out together what methods are right, for you.”

Really, here’s how a good workshop should run:

  1. Here’s the facts and interpretations of distinct real-world scenarios that have played out in the past
  2. Here’s the analysis and explanation of those scenarios, good and bad. (Avoid survivorship bias)
  3. Now, let’s adapt these concepts to your mental model(s)
  4. Then, you can make the call on tough decisions, armed with insights that evolve instead of replace your current strenghts and insights
  5. Or, to put it another way: You can never know everything. But you always know it when you see it.

I’m not here to tell people what’s right, I’m here to show them what’s possible, and then help them place a real bet, instead of taking a wild guess.

Big picture paired with crucial details.

A better workshop?

I’m thinking of a format like this:

  • About 20% of the time allowed (3 hours, 2 days, a month, ~) is spent on possibilities: A fly-over of real-word case studies, broadly relevant.
  • Then, the remaining 80% is spent on [your] circumstances: Q/A-style back-n-forth, combined with what I think of as ‘applied modeling’:
  • Eg. given what you’ve just told me, or asked about, we’ll dig up a method/approach/template/…, that fits this particular problem pattern, and the resources available to you, your culture, way of working and so on

The artifacts from such a workshop wouldn’t be your usual suspects: pre-determined worksheets and grey-box canvases.

Instead, we’ll work with only four high-level outputs, with a common trait: They’re simple, highly actionable concepts.

Raw Ideas,

Hypotheses,

Flowcharts, and

Rough Sketches

This, paired with relevant insights around theory, process and methods that fit your way of working.

Sounds intriguing? Here’s a pitch, v1:

A’la carte, pick-and-choose-your-playbook style of workshops. Unlike most workshops, you won’t be filling out meaningless templates, and you will not suffer death by powerpoint. Quite the opposite: Your workshop is guaranteed to be uniquely adapted to your team, your circumstances and your real-world experiences. We pride ourselves on having our sleeves rolled up and our fingers dirty, and we don’t teach what we don’t know. That’s why we offer a full 30-day refund on all packages: If we didn’t help you create impact, that’s on us, no questions asked. Get in touch below.

What do you think? Let me know on twitter, or via email below: