21 Ways to Energize Your Workshops and Seminars

With an amazing group of students at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan

With an amazing group of students at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan

Workshops and seminars are often longer than keynote speeches and this means you have to find innovative ways to keep your audience’s energy high. Below are 10 ways.

However, in order to raise their energy, it’s important to also have a workshop environment that’s conducive to a successful learning process. Therefore, before you read about the 10 ways to master the energy, take a look at 11 ways to master the environment.




Mastering the Environment

How to set the stage and the mind for Optimal Learning

1. Welcome them and tell them exactly what to do first

For example, you can have it say on your visual (PowerPoint, chalk board, or even on a flip chart) to “Choose a partner and turn to page 3 in your workbook.” They will do this before you even say your first word.


2. Do not have products in the front of the room

Having products in the front of the room will put them in a defensive mode before you even begin.


3. Get them involved within the first 3 minutes

The beginning flavors what they feel the rest of the workshop will be like. If you lecture, they will feel like the entire program will be one big lecture. Get them involved early.


4. Set a tone of trust

For example, I used to say, “What happens in this room, stays in this room.”


5. Set a theme within the first five minutes

I have told a story with the Foundational Phrase of “Speak up.” The story gets them to buy into the belief that speaking up will help them get the most out of the workshop.


6. Have handouts with lots of white space and without fill-in-the-blanks

Filling in the blanks only gets them to write down what they hear. White space gets them to write down what they hear and also what they think while they’re hearing it. They can even write down actions they’ll take as a result of the workshop.


7. Consider using music to set the mood as they enter the room

Music can energize people and help them get ready to learn


8. Ask them what they hope to get from the program (before you start)

Doing this quietly one on one lets the attendee know you’re looking out for her and lets you know which content to emphasize.


9. Never train for more than 90 minutes straight without a break

In the afternoon, go no more than 75 minutes without a break. People are generally more energized and alert in the morning.


10. Have water, candy, and perhaps even donuts in the room

Water helps them stay alert and food is festive


11. Let them realize that the “Answers are seated.” 

I learned this from Ed Tate (2000 World Champion of Public Speaking). Instead of pretending you (the one who is standing) have all of the answers, let them know that you know many of them have the answers as well. This encourages them to speak up and share what they know.


Now that you’ve picked up some tools to master the workshop environment, let’s look at mastering the all-important energy of your workshop.


Mastering the Energy

Keep the momentum of the learning and excitement going


1. Change modalities every 10-15 minutes

If you tell a story, move to an activity. If you finish an activity, move to a slide, etc. Just don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s important to reach the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.


2. Have them regularly switch partners 

This gives them the opportunity to stretch beyond their comfort zone and get many perspectives on their own situation.


3. Do “Discuss and Debrief” at least once per section

 Instead of simply asking, “What is your biggest challenge when it comes to leadership (or whatever your topic is),” say, “Turn to a neighbor and discuss your 2 greatest challenges as a leader.” Once they DISCUSS it, you can say, “Let’s DEBRIEF. What did you come up with?” This gives them time to think and get validated from the neighbor before shouting out their responses.


 4. Lead one person through an activity before you have them try it in groups

 This often uncovers humor and gives the participants greater clarity on the activity they are going to do.


5. Select different people to lead their teams throughout the workshop

This gives everyone the opportunity to lead and it makes them stretch.


6. Ask attendees to come teach what they’ve been taught

Remember the old saying, “Teach that which you need to learn.” This stamps the learning.


7. Encourage attendees to share their own related stories and experiences with the group

Even though you have your own examples and stories, make sure they can tell theirs too. Other audience members might even relate to their stories more than they do to your own. People buy-into what they help create. Having them share their stories makes them part of the creation process.


8. Model the behaviors you are teaching

For example, if you teach someone how to handle an employee who is regularly tardy to work or to meetings, model that with someone who comes back late from the break. Do it in good fun and also make sure you let them know, at the beginning of the workshop, that you’ll model the behavior with anyone who comes back late from break. My participants (including the tardy ones) find lots of humor in those interactions.


9. Keep teasing about what’s to come

Before each break, make sure you tease them for what they are going to get after the break. For example, I might say to a group of supervisors, “Have you ever felt overwhelmed with too much to do and too little time to do it? Well, when you come back from break, you’ll get a 5-step formula for freeing up more time than you’ll know what to do with. I’ll see you in 14 minutes!”

By the way, notice I said, “14 minutes.” I rarely say “15 minutes” or 20″ minutes because those numbers are too round. When I say, “13 and a half minutes” they know I’m serious.


10. Create rituals and stick with them

This is effective with physical and virtual workshops. For example, in our World Class Speaking Coach Certification teleseminar classes, we start each week off with “Check-ins.” Check-ins include anything our participants want to share from the previous week and they can include successes, challenges, questions related to that week’s content, etc.

Another ritual we have for that course is at the end of each call, we do “Takeaways.” These include anything the participants picked up in the call. Rituals give your participants a sense of routine which leads to a higher, safer comfort level with you.

In many of my physical workshops, we’ll share our “Keepers” each time we come back from break. These include anything the participants have found very helpful, from the previous module, that they feel they’ll use.


Your Turn

What is one suggestion you have for energizing your workshops and/or mastering the environment for optimal learning.


Craig Valentine

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