Workshops aren’t just a great way to plan, design or create together with clients. The true benefits of workshopping together are emotional. Client workshops help establish the bonds required for successful collaboration over time. If you want to keep your clients, then workshop with them.
Many agencies I talk to have made it a habit to start every client collaboration with a workshop. That’s a fantastic idea.
While the purpose of such a client workshop is often to create alignment or discover project goals, the full benefits aren’t always obvious. Many do know that workshops are beneficial, but perhaps not why.
I’ve planned, organized and facilitated workshops with companies employing just a handful to tens of thousands. This is what I’ve learned about what makes well-planned and facilitated workshops so valuable, regardless of client size.
If you are among those not doing workshops, you should start now. The benefits are just too good to be missed. And no, this isn’t one of those “eat your vegetables” guilt trips your mom put your through. I won’t judge you for not doing client workshops. Just make sure you know the facts.
Impress: In a Client Workshop Setting, You Can Show Off Your Best
Unlike many meetings, workshops can be planned in detail. You can arrive there dressed in your Superman costume. Yes, technically you can since it’s your show. I wouldn’t recommend it though unless it’s a sold-out session at Comic-Con.
Workshops allow you to plan the activities and the schedule, almost like choreography at the ballet. And, unlike the monthly or weekly progress report meetings, the client will defer to you. You own this event. They’ll expect you to deliver the workshop experience and look great in tights.
That can feel like a lot of responsibility. It’s enough to give many account managers and client services professionals weak knees.
Don’t fret about it. You will be nervous at first but coming prepared helps a lot. You can plan much of the workshop to avoid surprises. Many activities can be thought out in advance. As you organize more workshops, your confidence will grow and you can improvise more.
Inspire: You Can Lead Clients to New Insights and Be Remembered For It
A workshop provides an unparalleled opportunity to listen and respond to a group. It boils down to effective listening to guide people to solutions. Ask, don’t tell.
In addition, in a workshop setting, you have more time and communication bandwidth available. When you meet someone in-person, face to face, there’s a lot more capacity to convey ideas and emotions. Compare a full tête-à-tête conversation with a fragmented exchange over SMS or iMessage.
The communication bandwidth available in a workshop makes it easier to guide clients to new ideas and insights. We all know the eureka-like joy of figuring things out. Chances are your clients will associate you with that empowering feeling.
This doesn’t mean that workshops have to happen in person. They can be done over video-conferencing too. You won’t have the same emotional bandwidth at your disposal. Still, done right, they will beat any run-of-the-mill meeting.
Trust: You Get to Know the People on the Client Side and Build Lasting Bonds
There’s rarely a time in a collaboration or project to get to know each other. Schedules are highly focused on center around the work. This despite the strong evidence that collaboration requires the establishment of rapport and mutual trust.
A workshop doesn’t suffer from the same constraints as a regular meeting. You can plan activities that focus on letting people get to know each other beyond their professional role. The connections your workshop group will form will very likely outlast the project itself. From a professional perspective, this means your chances to get to do more work with the client increases. From a personal perspective, it means a growing network of people.
Also, knowing the real person behind a name or a face as captured by a digital camera will improve communication and help avoid conflicts.
Excite: They’ll Remember How You Made Them Feel
With everything you’ve read so far you might assume that workshops should be long. Quite the opposite!
The best workshops are well-rehearsed and efficient. They cover just enough ground to deliver what the participants expect. When workshops are short, people leave energized, a mood further influencing how they will remember the experience.
The contents of the workshop should also have a positive tone. Participants should feel inspired and enthusiastic afterward. You might have heard the adage “they won’t remember what you said but how you made them feel.”
For this reason, it’s important you bring the right people. Some team members might just not like workshops. Don’t force them to attend. Bring those from your company who have a strong positive vibe and exude your company’s culture.
8 Ideas for Delivering a Memorable and Productive Client Workshop
I plan on writing up an article on just workshops since they’re such an important part of agency and freelance services. But until I do, here are some suggestions in case you’re new to workshopping.
1. Make a Realistic Workshop Schedule
Create a realistic schedule with well-defined activities that are time-boxed. As a rule of thumb, things take longer than you expect. Test run it with colleagues if possible (see beta-test below). Preparing well in advance will help you feel more relaxed once there.
2. Set the Ground Rules Early
The term “house rules” (or “ground rules”) refers to the activity of making explicit many of the conventions we all bring to meetings but never mention. This is in order to create a better climate for collaboration. Many professional workshop organizers dedicate a part of the day to work out these rules. They can be whatever the group decides. Just having this discussion will help the people who are attending to gain a better understanding of each other’s expectations. That will strengthen collaboration.
3. Prepare Materials Explaining Why, What and How
Don’t cheap out when it comes to your information assets. Make sure you create supporting materials to explain why you’re here today and what you intend to accomplish. Make sure these materials look great. Your clients may not be paying money to attend but they do have an alternative cost: they chose to come to your workshop over doing something else. Respect that and deliver accordingly.
4. Create a Client Workshop Outcome Vision, Build a Logical Flow and Provide a Supporting Narrative
A well-done workshop will have a natural, seamless and logical flow. Each activity will dove-tail into the next. The results of one exercise will form the foundation and starting point of the subsequent one. Your job is to create and deliver the narrative that holds this together. A good way to do this is to set a vision for the outcome of the workshop. Such an activity should be the first or second thing you do.
5. Beta-Test Everything and Get Feedback
Prepare and test print-outs well ahead to catch issues and spelling errors. Make several versions and ask friends and colleagues for feedback.
6. Don’t Overwhelm Your Audience
As presenters, we often overestimate how much information our audience can absorb. Make a realistic assessment of the knowledge level and learning ability of your attendees. Ask your client if unsure. Adapt the materials and ask for feedback.
7. Predict Participant Questions
Given what you know about your audience, try to foresee what they will ask. Think through each exercise and predict questions that might arise. I sometimes use audience personas for this as a way to better relate to participant needs.
8. Keep a Tidy Workshop Room – Make Time for Housekeeping
It’s far too common for workshop organizers to fail to plan for the time it takes to prepare the space and cleaning up afterward. Be realistic and plan for this.
Conclusion: Client Workshops Are Worth the Work, Just Make Sure to Document Them
Organizing a client workshop might seem like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be. With experience, it will become easier. Over time you will build a set of workshop materials to reuse which will cut preparation time. The return on your work will increase by several factors. This is simply because you will need less time to prepare while the impact will multiply as your abilities grow.
I recommend documenting your client workshops and the processes involved. Perhaps the first time you do a workshop. But once you facilitate a workshop for the third time, start taking notes. Your documented processes will be invaluable when you introduce new, just hired, into the dark art of workshop planning and facilitation.