Design the workshop flow

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TL;DR recommendations
—Break the session into sections —Use a backbone structure —Be time pessimist —Include time for breaks, debriefing, and reflection —Play with the diversity of activities and formats —Use storytelling to design a compelling narrative arc

The day has finally come: You are ready to design your session! Before we pick the activities, let’s get a general overview of the best practices when it comes to designing your session flow.

👉 Tip #1: Start with a clear objective

If you have created your sessions objectives, then you are all set to move on! If not, before you start creating your agenda, define your objective for the workshop, and your 2-3 desired outcomes. What do you want your participants to learn or achieve? Having a clear objective will help you design a structured agenda that meets your participants' needs. You can use the IDOARRT structure from Mischief Makers to identify your session intention, desired outcomes, agenda, rules, roles, responsibilities, and timing.

👉 Tip #2: Break it down into sections

Divide your workshop into sections with clear headings. This will help you stay on track and ensure you cover all the topics you need to. Each section should have a specific focus, and the agenda should be arranged in a logical order that builds on the previous sections.

👉 Tip #3: Include time for reflection and breaks

It's important to give your participants time to reflect and process the information. Incorporate breaks and activities that allow participants to stretch their legs and recharge their energy. This will help them stay focused and engaged throughout the workshop.

👉 Tip #4: Be time pessimist

Avoid packing too much content into one session—participants will notice if you rush or cut the ending short. Especially virtually, everything takes a little bit longer. To voice this trap: plan “buffer” time and know which theory part to cut short in case you run out of time. Never sacrifice an activity or a thoughtfully designed ending.

👉 Tip #5: Start with a flow backbone structure

A straightforward structure for any workshop is the Launch, Explore and Land framework from Mischief Makers, based on Learning Arch Design by Simon Kavanagh from Kaospilot. It’s a great skeleton you can use to design any virtual session. You can even use it for each activity itself. LAUNCH—Covers the start of the session: How do you set the tone for the rest of the session and align everyone on the goals? EXPLORE—This is the “body” of the workshop: How do we keep on track and manage the energy during the session? LAND—This is your closing: How do we reflect on what happened and evaluate whether we achieved our goals?

With this basic structure, you can now design your workshop activities. Certain activities are specially designed for the launch (e.g. check-in), while others are great to land (e.g. feedback and next steps).

👉 Tip #6: Check that your activities are diverse enough 

Mind the balance between lecture and active contribution, as well as the activities you use. Ensure you have a good mix of individual work, group activities, discussions, opportunities to practice, reflection moments, working on practical scenarios, Q&As, and theory.

Here's a template to help you create an online workshop agenda and schedule:

5 min
Welcome and icebreaker activity
10 min
Define the objective of the workshop
Section 1
20 min
Topic 1 with interactive activities
10 min
Take a break to recharge
Section 2
20 min
Topic 2 with interactive activities
15 min
Reflection activity and Q&A session
10 min
Recap and closing remarks

📚 For more tips on creating a workshop agenda, check out these resources:

“The 5E Experience Design Model” by Andy Sontag from Kaospilot.

💡Pro tip: Use storytelling to design a compelling narrative arc

Storytelling has a unique ability to captivate and connect with audiences on an emotional level, making it an excellent tool for enhancing the effectiveness of your presentations and workshops. When you weave a compelling narrative, you create an immersive experience that captures attention, evokes empathy, and sparks the imagination.

Information becomes vivid, relatable, and easier to remember. Stories also have an incredible ability to ignite inspiration and create a sense of possibility, thus inspiring and motivating participants to take action.

There are plenty of reasons to incorporate storytelling into your workshop design, but how can you do that?

Tip 1: Use personal anecdotes and case studies: Integrate personal anecdotes, examples, or case studies into your workshop to make the content relatable and tangible. Sharing personal experiences adds authenticity and helps establish a connection with the participants. Examples and case studies provide real-world examples that demonstrate how concepts or strategies can be applied in practical situations.

Tip 2: Use images to visualize the narrative of the workshop

As you take your participants through the stages of your session, an easy way to spinckle storytelling is to work with metaphors and bring them to life on the whiteboard. Use images, shapes, colors and icons, to create a “virtual world”. A good whiteboard design can be both inspiring as well as immersive. Participants can contribute to the creation of this world by adding stickies with their ideas, comments, insights. You can also customize the room background theme in Butter to fit the story narrative, and use the same colors, and style across Poll images, and Flashcards. A discovery workshop can turn into a space expedition, and a retrospective can turn into a desert oasis. The only limit is your imagination.

Tip 3: For presentations, less is more

If you are using slides, avoid clutter and prioritize simplicity in your visual design. Additionally, consider alternating slideshow and content pieces with multimedia elements such as videos, interactive Flashcards, or polls to create an immersive experience. Visual aids not only enhance understanding but also add visual interest, making your presentation more engaging and memorable.

If you'd like to explore some more resources on storytelling and compelling presentations, here are some of our favorites:

🎥 Lukas Liebich hosted a Buttermixer a while back about Storytelling for Virtual Facilitators which you can watch here.

🎥 Another brilliant session on storytelling was hosted by Steve Rawling on how to tell your workshop like a story and the replay is available here.

🎥 In this TEDx talk, expert David JP Phillips shares key neurological findings on storytelling.