I have abysmal travel luck. I routinely end up on a flight that’s delayed because of a malfunctioning toilet or that has to make an emergency landing because of an overheating engine. I’m a magnet for flat tires, stranded ferry boats, minor medical emergencies, and tragic travel miscommunications.
I might be an omen of travel woe, but my experiences have made me darn handy in a pinch. When your Diet Coke slides off your tray table into your lap, I’ve got napkins and stain removing wipes. If you hurt yourself, I’ve got a First Aid kit (plus a small pharmacy) at my fingertips. Forgot your charger/ear plugs/granola bars/small bills to tip the hotel porter? I’ve got extra. Before I leave on a trip, I replenish my stocks of “disaster readiness” supplies that help me neutralize virtually any travel inconvenience.
When you’re planning and facilitating a workshop—especially with customers—minor setbacks can feel like they spell impending doom. But some handy disaster readiness techniques can help mitigate workshop crises and even turn inconveniences to your advantage.
A good disaster readiness kit for facilitators is part physical supplies and part mental strategy—it’s about expecting the unexpected. Below are some of our real workshop mishaps and advice for how to make the best of them.
Problem: Too many customers show up
Every client we’ve worked with has worried that no customers will want to come to their workshop. Many only sleep soundly in the week leading up to the event if we recruit more attendees than we need. But counterintuitively, workshops with too many participants yield diminishing returns—group cohesion falls apart, the room gets too noisy to follow individual conversations, and there’s just not enough space.
- Resist the urge to over-recruit in the first place. Our workshops usually span most of the weekday, so participants need to plan ahead to attend and are unlikely to no-show—especially if they’re receiving fair compensation. For the record, we’ve actually never had a problem with too few customers showing up.
- Make a game plan for handling an over-populated workshop. Maybe you can accommodate one or two extras, but no more. It’s common practice to thank surplus customers for coming in, compensate them, and send them on their way. Even if they’re a tiny bit disappointed they don’t get to contribute to the workshop, most will be thrilled to have some extra cash and free time in which to spend it.
Problem: Distracted participants
We’re not just talking about distracted customers here. Our client participants universally feel the impulse to run out for a quick chat with a colleague or dash off a speedy email. But giving in to these distractions models bad behavior to our customer participants, who are then likely to pull out their own phones rather than giving their full attention to workshop exercises.
- Go offsite. One way to minimize distractions is to book a room in a neutral location like a hotel or convention center. This shows internal and customer participants alike that this endeavor is separate from their day-to-day jobs and merits their full attention.
- Go on “airplane mode.” Part of our expectation-setting when we open a workshop includes our spiel that exercises work best when everybody is enthusiastically engaged. We model this best practice by visibly putting our own phones on airplane mode and asking others to do the same.
- Provide an outlet for fidgety energy. Since phones are off-limits, give participants something else to do with their hands. We’re big fans of Slinkys and stress balls—and as a bonus, playing with table toys helps even the quietest participants open up.
- Keep an eye on energy levels. Workshopping is hungry work—and mass restlessness is often a sign that everybody needs more fuel. If eyes are glazing over, take a 5-minute stretch break and encourage a re-up on refreshments.
Problem: Miscellaneous mishaps
When even the best-laid plans go awry, the right tools can help overcome minor glitches. Here’s what’s in my own workshop disaster readiness toolkit:
- Three different means of sticking paper to walls. I always bring painters tape for painted walls, poster putty for wallpaper, and thumb tacks for cloth walls. That way I’m sure to avoid falling pieces of butcher paper—and serious wall damage.
- AV “enablers.” While I don’t have room in my suitcase for a projector and screen, I bring the tools needed to make sure I can make the most of the AV equipment provided. This includes a slide advancer (and extra batteries), an adapter to connect the projector to my laptop (plus a spare laptop charger), and a wireless speaker for playing some tunes during workshop breaks.
- Scissors. I’ve been up late too many nights before a workshop trying to cut paper with a tiny, blunt pair of safety scissors on loan from a grouchy hotel concierge. So now I bring my own. And yes, this means my carry-on bag often gets special attention, but as long as the blades are under 4 inches, they’re allowed through TSA checkpoints!
What other facilitation challenges have you experienced, and what are your creative ways for solving them?