The 7 Ps of planning effective workshops

 18 January 2016

If you Google “how to plan effective workshops” you will find pages full of results that could lead to hours of reading. Going through some of these pages, I saw a common trend and a useful pattern. Here are 7 things you need to consider when planning workshops, based on my research and experience as a workshop leader.

"The most effective workshop plans are those that have background information about its people, its participants and its beneficiaries"

1. Purpose

Every workshop must have a purpose – a goal with a series of objectives and intended outcomes. From my experience, both as a workshop leader and a participant, too many workshops end up wasting time due to the lack of a clear purpose.

What method will be best to spark interests, discussions and engage participants?

Workshop leaders must decide why the workshop is being delivered and what they want participants to learn, understand and do.

The purpose does not have to be complicated or detailed but instead should be incredibly simple. For example, the purpose of this article is to allow workshop leaders, tutors and facilitators to be able to use the seven Ps in their planning activities.

When establishing a purpose, consider the intended outcomes from the workshop, the reason behind the need of it and why it’s being planned in the first place.

2. People

In my opinion, the most effective workshop plans are those that have background information about its people, its participants and its beneficiaries.

When there is prior knowledge of their needs and wants, it results in a greater sense of what to focus on and how.

If there is an opportunity, try and establish things like age, learning styles, behavioural dynamics and prior knowledge of the topic if possible. If this is not possible then the plan should fit most individuals with the flexibility to make modifications and when necessary. For example, modifications could be for learning difficulties, unmotivated learners or for those more knowledgeable in the topic.

The modifications could include having a variety of activities for different types of people, catering for those who benefit from working alone and those who thrive in working in groups. However if these are carried out, always make sure the audience (people) of the workshop is at the centre of the planning.

For example, the people that will read this article will be workshop leaders looking to improve their workshops.

3. Place

As this was not popular in my research, I had an epiphany. What’s the point of the workshop’s purpose, if whether it is to be delivered indoors or outdoors is unknown?

What’s the point of knowing participant's needs, if the room size is unknown? What’s the point in preparing activities, if available facilities are unknown?

In the past, some of my plans were forced to change on the day due to not having enough information about the workshop’s location, its layout and available resources.

So it is crucial that this is considered during planning. If this information is not available then it should be obtained. 

4. Presentation

By presentation I don’t mean death by PowerPoint, but an effective workshop should have some sort of presentation. This could be either through a projector, flip chart, handouts, or even a demonstration.

The method of presentation is not important, but what is important is to have a creative introduction/presentation to the topic to stimulate interest and encourage thinking.

Workshops should be treated like a film or a play, with a beginning, middle and end.

I use a variety of approaches that include visuals, personal narratives, thought-provoking statements and probing questions. When planning a presentation, consider what method will be best to spark interests, discussions and engage participants. How many methods of visuals should be used?

What resources are available and is doing it at the beginning, middle or end of the workshop is better? 

When planning a presentation always have in mind the workshop’s purpose, its people and the place you will be delivering.

5. Participation

As most individuals have different academic levels, experiences, interest and opinions, it is important to give enough time and thought into what participation will look like in the workshop.

It could include different forms of activities, discussions, individual and group tasks, etc.

Whatever activities are decided, as long as the group is fully engaged and participating, then the workshop is in the right direction to become effective.

Similarly, make sure the right questions are set to check understanding. What will they do to demonstrate that they have learnt something?

6. Process

Once all the above information is available, the next thing to do is to set a process from the series of activities with dedicated time for each of them. 

A common way to do this is to put the activities in order of sequence that makes sense to the purpose of the workshop and estimate how much time each of them will take.

This will allow the workshop to have a timeline and a continuous transition for all its activities.

Workshops should be treated like a film or a play, with a beginning, middle and end in the storyline. It should also have layers of activities that follow in an ascending and connective manner.

For example:

  • icebreakers could lead into a presentation
  • a presentation into a demonstration
  • a demonstration into an activity
  • and finally an activity could then be followed with a group discussion.

7. Preparation

This is the final part of the planning process. Think about what needs to be prepared for the workshop.

This could include what resources are needed? What questions will participants be asking? What will illustrate the topic in alternative ways?

Both energiser games and group discussions have saved my workshops.

Prepare several different activities to catch the attention of all participants and accommodate for different learning styles. Prepare varied examples and activities, building in time for extended explanations or discussions but also be prepared to move on sooner than planned.

Many workshop leaders know how easy it is to run out of time and not cover all planned activities and vice versa. Whilst preparing activities, resources and handouts, make sure you also prepare additional examples and alternative activities if/when they are required.

In the past, both energiser games and group discussions have saved my workshops. For easy energiser ideas, be sure to check out The Workshop Leader website. 

Final words on workshop planning

A workshop plan does not have to be an in-depth document, as long as you have considered the seven Ps. After that, all a plan needs to do is give a general outline and act as a reminder of what needs to be done and how.

At the centre of all planning activities, what is needed the most is the thinking behind its purpose, its people, the place of the workshop, how the workshop will be presented, what participation will take place and what preparations are required.

Remember a workshop may not go according to plan due to many reasons. If it does (or even if it doesn’t) always take a few minutes after the workshop to reflect and write down what worked well and why, what didn’t work well and why and what you could have done differently.

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