7 Tips for Increasing Participation in Your Workshop (3 in 3-part series)

Author: Britt Andreatta
Posted On: October 26, 2017

Being a great workshop facilitator is an ongoing journey because the more you expand your experience and toolkit, the better you get. I’m always picking up new ideas for how to increase participation and collaboration.

Here are some of my favorites activities and exercises:

1. The Interview

Interviewing another person is a great way to increase listening skills and empathy. Give participants a list of questions and have them interview each other, taking a certain amount of time before they switch. This can be especially helpful if you have people who are overly talkative or competitive.

2. Free Write

Many people prefer to process internally and/or are uncomfortable sharing in front of a large group. I have found that doing a 1 to 2-minute free write allows people time to gather and organize their thoughts. Participation always goes way up after I do this quick activity.

3. Anonymous Questions or Comments

Anonymity is a really great tool for getting the unspoken issues on the table where they can be addressed. There are several ways to do this but the most important aspect is that you truly protect people’s identity. Here’s a list of some of my favorite exercises:

  • Use electronic polling with a smartphone – there are several companies that offer easy and effective solutions for asking questions and displaying real-time feedback in the form of graphs or even word clouds.
  • Good old fashioned pen and paper, work too. Just make sure you think through how you keep people from seeing what each other wrote.
  • Try a “popcorn” approach where everyone balls up their paper and throws it to the front of the room. Then you can pick up several to answer and it can create a silly or lighter feel.
  • Collect all the papers, tape them around the room, and do a “gallery walk”.This always leads to a great discussion of things people didn’t know about how others felt, and also the themes that are emerging.

4. Heat Mapping

Which you’d do after a gallery walk. Give everyone small stickers and let participants place them in the comments or ideas that most resonate. I usually start with each person placing 3 to 5 stickers. Then I take those with the most stickers and do a second or even third round, reducing the number of stickers people can place each time. It only takes a few minutes and yet is a very clear and visible representation of what the group feels is most important or where the energy is.

5. The Magic Wand

This is my favorite way to move a group into a super creative space and/or get them unstuck. You basically remove all limitations. I’ll often say something like, “You’ve been given a magic wand. So time is no longer a factor, neither is money or staffing (fill in the blank with whatever seems to be holding them back). Use this magic wand to dream big and imagine the seemingly impossible.” It’s amazing how this frees people up.

6. Taking a Break

One of the biggest ‘aha’ moments I had when researching brain science was that our best moments of insight come when we STOP thinking about something. That’s because we do our big thinking in the prefrontal cortex and we often need to let that go for connections to be made in other parts of our brain. I have come to really value the power of a break, and one that’s longer than just time to use the restroom. While it might feel like “wasted” time, give it a try and see what new insights people have when they reconvene.

7. Design Sprint

 I learned this technique from the book Sprint by Jake Knapp. Click here to find the materials. It’s a fun way to move a group through a process of designing and prototyping all kinds of solutions for any kind of industry. It’s built on a series of quick exercises that bring out all kinds of new thinking, and it moves people past their over-focus on getting it all perfect.

I always find that it drives amazing collaboration, creative thinking, and is highly engaging with lots of laughter and bonding.

There are so much more to share but this collection will give you a great head start on building your Rockstar Facilitator toolkit. Keep adding to it and soon you’ll be ready for any situation.

You can learn more tips and strategies in the course "Workshop Facilitation" on LinkedIn Learning.

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