Build. Hack. Play. It's just what we do.
Build. Hack. Play. It's just what we do.
Illustration for article titled How to Host a Successful Workshop or Masterclassem/em

Tell me, how often did you feel thrilled to participate in a cool workshop (in-person or online) to find your self disconnecting (figuratively or literally) within just 15 minutes?


Happened to me more than once for sure!

And have you ever been invited to share your knowledge with peers, only to realize that half of the participants is dozing off?


Unfortunately, workshops and master classes are frequently frustrating to attendees. The session may be over their heads or too dumbed down for them. Sometimes the presenter fails to keep them engaged. Students may struggle to find real life applications for what they are learning and so on.

Yet, these troubles can be avoided if you put a bit more effort in the preps. And here are the strategies for that.


Remember That Teaching is Its Own Skill

Clearly you are good at what you do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in a position of educating others. Just keep in mind that knowing how to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you possess the natural talent to teach it to others. In fact, if something came very naturally to you, you might struggle to break it down and teach it to someone who doesn’t catch on so easily. Here are some things to consider when planning your session:

  • Don’t gloss over things simply because you’ve committed them to memory.
  • Break down multi-step processes.
  • Don’t use language that can unintentionally frustrate or demean such as ‘anyone should be able to do this without thinking.
  • Remember that learning new things can be intimidating.
  • Try to avoid doting on the ‘super stars’ in your session. If things are coming easy for them, you are better off focusing on those who are struggling.

Don’t worry. If you aren’t a natural teacher, you can still learn. If possible, find someone that pulls off amazing presentations and classes. Ask to attend one of their sessions. Then, take notes on their teaching style. How do they react to what you may perceive of dumb questions? Do they wait for an audience member to express they are struggling with a concept, or do they take a more proactive approach. How are they drawing students out?

Communicate Your Needs Clearly

Let your host know in detail, and well ahead of time, what you will need to put on a successful workshop. Do you need a lectern, ability to project video, or a whiteboard? The better you are at communicating that the more likely you will get as close to the ideal setup as possible.


Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that you will get everything you need. Not every location has the inventory or physical infrastructure to do that. However, by communicating clearly and early you can be prepared for any potential issues. This also gives you and your host a chance to work together to iron out any potential kinks.

Send Out a Preliminary Agenda to Your Contact Person

As a courtesy, always send a copy of your workshop agenda to your contact person. By doing this, you give them the opportunity to review your plan of action and weigh it against the needs of the participants. They can then come back to you with feedback and suggestions.


For example, you may plan on covering something that your attendees are already skilled at. You may also be glossing over something that they need explained in great detail. If you’re willing to make some adjustments to meet your audience’s needs, the result will be a much more effective session.

Get to Know Your Audience Ahead of Time

Workshops should never be a canned experience. Each one should be customized, at least somewhat, to the needs of your audience. The best way to determine those needs is to get to know them ahead of time. Consider distributing a questionnaire ahead of time. Ask your audience about their goals and expectations for your class.


If you have a professional, social media presence, reach out from there as well. Invite your potential students to follow your blog or to connect with you on Facebook. Then, engage in conversations with them on those platforms. Share informative articles and videos. This will help them get to know you better. You’ll also have the opportunity to develop a bit of a connection with them beforehand, and will give you an idea of the tone and temperament you’ll be facing during your session.

Give Your Audience a Sense of Accomplishment

Take the time out of your session to praise your audience for their hard work. Remind them of what they have learned, and what they will be able to do as a result of that. It may seem like a small thing, but give serious consideration to providing attendees with a certificate of success or completion. There are certificate templates available that you can customize.


If your workshop or master class is attended by students for the purpose of career growth, they may wish to add the fact that they have completed your course to their resumes. Having an official certificate of completion along with your reference can really help.

Tell Stories

The best educators don’t lecture. Instead, they keep the rapt attention of their audience by telling stories. By weaving storytelling into your session, you’ll keep your audience interested. You will also help to provide important context to what you are teaching them. Storytelling also tends to spark discussion. When you share interesting events and experiences, your audience will ask questions. They’ll also share their own stories.


This creates the best possible environment in a workshop or masterclass. Your audience and you engaging with one another, sharing ideas and information is exactly what you want to happen.

Also, try to open up your session with a great story. This is a great attention getting hook. It’s a really effective way to set tone as well. For example, a funny anecdote will get your audience to relax and lighten the mood.


Keep Activities to Time

As a matter of practicality, you will need to manage the time activities take. To start, do a dry run. This will help you to identify when activity might run long. Or when it may run short. Then, make accommodations.


For example, you can bring out a finished model of something to help a project move forward. If things are moving along too quickly, you can plan an extra task or diversion. Remember that any activity should be able to be completed within the time constraints of your workshop. Otherwise, students will feel frustrated and unsatisfied. Be sure they will be able to see the fruits of their efforts.

Encourage Group Discussion

This should be a participatory experience. Encourage participants to pipe up and give opinions, to share their experiences, and to incorporate what they know into what they are doing now. Plan to add discussion prompts throughout your session to get your audience to share their experiences.


Remember that you don’t need to control every part of the experience, nor should you. Think of yourself as a facilitator. You are there to teach, but also to encourage exploration, discussion, and ultimately implementation.

One thing that you can do to facilitate this is to rethink the way that you make use of the physical space in the room. You in front of the room at a lectern or elevated platform may not create the atmosphere you want. Consider positioning yourself in the center of the room, perhaps on a stool instead of a podium. Tables instead of desks, are also more likely to encourage students to engage with one another.


Keep Participation Low

In college, there are lecture classes and labs. Lectures are almost always packed full of students and there are few opportunities for participation. On the other hand, labs encourage participation. Students work on experiments and otherwise get their hands dirty. They also engage in debate and discussion. Lab classes nearly always have much fewer students than lectures.


Master classes and workshops are not meant to be lectures. They are meant to be labs. Unfortunately, you can’t create that environment if you have too many people attending. If your workshop is in high demand, consider breaking it down into multiple sessions. That way everyone attending gets the maximum benefit.

Gather Feedback

After your master class has finished, give participants a few days. They probably have a lot to absorb. They may be discussing your session amongst themselves, planning ways to implement what they have learned, or further exploring things.


Then, once you have done that, reach out for feedback. You want to find out what your audience didn’t learn that they had hoped to? Ask them what they walked away feeling frustrated about? Have they been able to use what they learned during the work day? If you came back for a second session, what would they like you to cover?

Then, listen to the answers you receive. Take action on the feedback and let respondents know what you plan to do to improve. Even if your workshop did not go as planned, you can create a sense of goodwill by demonstrating that you are listening and implementing improvements.


Whether you are sharing your expertise with peers in order to get a project started off right or you’ve been invited to share your talents to a group simply interested in learning what you know, creating a great master class is hard work. You have to teach to the appropriate level, encourage discussion and participation, and get people to see the value in what they are learning. Use the strategies here, and your chances at succeeding will increase significantly.

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