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Experience Reports

Running Workshops

A little while ago I was asked about my experience and learnings from running workshops and what advice I have. I thought I’d share my thoughts on here.

As a quick note up front, I am under no illusion that I’m not an expert and am still learning. I did also look into teaching as a career so some of this is influenced by what I picked up from that.

Expect to fail

Timing will be hard and when it comes to activities, people will be slower than you expect. For example when I first ran my threat modelling workshop it included an activity I assumed that an activity would be 2-3 minutes break from slides and brief re-enforcement of knowledge. Fill in this, bish bash bosh, done. I got Hannah, my wife who wasn’t from a software background, to try and it took much longer (5-7 mins). It turned out that the group needed that time and many people didn’t finish in the 5 minutes that I set aside or the 2 mins extra that I let it go on. I’d suggest finding a newbie and definitely make sure you have room to flex.

Exercises that don’t need a fixed end point (e.g. have a debate/discussion, write your reflection or practice writing these tests) can be handy when it comes to giving you that flexibility.

Not everyone will understand what you’ve just taught or appreciate the point. Don’t fret about that. Maybe have a resource that you can point them to, or get them working with someone. One of the key advantages of workshops is that you can support different learning styles so for those who struggled to understand your words, perhaps they will benefit from pairing and more collaborative learning.

Be wary about asking questions early. When I was teaching I learnt it was good to ask the group questions rather than just unloading information. However don’t expect a room full of shy geeks who don’t know each other to speak up before they’ve had a chance to interact with those around them. Nothing more awkward than the silence when no one raises their voice!

Finally some people will be visibly bored/disinterested (or even say something negative when they think you can’t hear). This isn’t a reflection of you, your delivery or the topic. The reality is that sometimes people get bored or dislike things they are doing. It happens. Just ignore that and avoid fixating on them.

If you’re not sure why everyone in the room isn’t amazingly enthusiastic and quick learners in your chosen area and style, put it down to being first thing / post coffee crash / craving lunch / tired after lunch / tired for end of day.

Anecdote

I am easily distracted when watching someone talk. A late comer arriving, someone on my periphery getting a drink out their bag or someone chatting and I might not get as much from a session. When I close my eyes and listen it can be transformational. However it was pointed out to me that a speaker thought I was dozing off, when I was just losing myself in the words!

The other week we had a visitor sharing some learnings and there were a couple of people who I was hoping would bring enthusiasm, only for them to have a pretty blank look on their face. Afterwards they told me how great it was.

My point with these anecdotes – don’t judge people by their faces.

Closing thoughts

Running an effective workshop isn’t something you can quickly bodge together but you don’t need to be a rock star in your field or devote your life to it. If you’re given the opportunity, go for it. Check out your local MoT group, or other meet ups in the area, and offer a bit of your time.

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