Insights

Workshops for introverts: 7 tips on how to make them work for you

May 3, 2019

By Jen Williams. Illustrations by Yuri Yoshimura

Workshop facilitation is an essential skill for designers. But for an introvert, the prospect of being the centre of attention for a whole day can be immensely draining.

Being expected to single-handedly navigate the politics and personalities of a large, voice-swallowing room of opinionated senior stakeholders can be terrifying. You’re surrounded by people who can’t agree on anything, whilst at the same time you’re expected to be insightful, engaging, endlessly knowledgeable and dare I say it, fun. That type of pressure for an introvert can make you want to run away.

Here are some common fears I’ve held myself and heard from others…

  • No one will say anything
  • Everyone will talk at the same time and won’t hear me
  • How do I listen and write at the same time?
  • What if they ask me a question and I can’t think quickly enough?
  • I see (insert colleague name) running workshops and they come up with such insightful comments in the moment - I can’t possibly do that!

This is exactly how I felt about workshops when I first started out. After running lots of workshops, I’ve learned that:

  • You don’t need a loud voice
  • You don’t need to do anything ‘zany’
  • You don’t have to give insights on the spot (but you can still make your workshop insightful)
  • You don’t need to be someone you’re not

Here are my 7 tips on how to find your own style as an introverted facilitator, and make workshops work for you.

1. Design your workshop

Your workshop should be made up of a series of specific activities or conversation topics based on what you want to learn. Designing these activities in advance and allowing appropriate time will give you the best chance of staying in control of the room and on track.

These activities also have the benefit of acting as timeboxes and can help to constrain conversations. You should be clear at the start of each activity what you want participants to do and how long you want to spend on it. You can then use time as a reason to move people on.


What to say:

‘We’ll aim to spend 15 minutes on this activity, I’ll set a timer.’

‘I’m conscious of time and I want to make sure we cover everything today. We have noted the key points / concerns and can follow up on this later. Let’s move on to the next activity.’


2. Fill in all the content yourself in advance

2 fill-in-content

Most of the fears experienced by introverts are around not knowing what’s going to happen and being put on the spot. You want the participants in the room to feel as though they are creating something new together. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a view of what’s going to happen.

Give yourself time to run through every exercise in advance and fill in the content, and even better, with your team - what are the different perspectives of the participants? How would you complete the activities? What examples can you give them if they need help? What questions can you pose to help them to reflect on what they know?

Create a ‘cheat sheet’ and print it out before you go in - this will give you confidence that you can fill any silences, and give you a good list of conversation prompts or ideas you can contribute in the moment. All this means there’s less chance you have to think on your feet.


What to say:

‘Have you considered [insert pre-prepared suggestion that no one has mentioned]?’

‘Here’s a good example to get you started.’


3. Use visual props to guide the conversation

Having a visual representation of the topics on the wall or on worksheets will help people to see what you expect of them, generate conversation and give some constraints.

Use the walls of the room as a guide to how much content will be covered and how far through you are (this also serves to give a point of focus that isn’t just you).

Good visual props could be a big printed user journey you can fill in together; worksheets to fill in as a group, printouts of competitor products or simply some big sticky sheets, one for each topic you want to cover.


What to say:

‘You’ll see on the walls a section for each topic we’ll cover today. We’re going to fill these in together throughout the session today.’


4. Get a bell

3 bell

If you’re like me and have a quiet voice, it’s sometimes hard to get your voice heard in a big workshop, especially if people are deep in conversation - there will be times when you need to get everyone’s attention and move on. Get a service bell or a buzzer and use it to get attention.

5. Time the breaks to give yourself thinking space

Breaks are for you as much as the participants - it’s ok to leave the room. You don’t have to engage in small talk to fill the time. Breaks are a chance to reflect on what you need to do next, check on timings and adjust if needed. If you need to use the inputs you’ve gathered to inform another activity later, you can strategically position them to give yourself space to process what you’ve learned, make some notes and work out what you want to say.

Plan in a 10-15 min break every 1.5 hours with at least 30 min (preferably an hour) for lunch in a full day session.

6. Say no to a working lunch

4 food

Someone might suggest it, but it’s easy for them to say when they’re not the one stood up at the front! If you’re running short on time in a critical meeting, you could suggest a shorter break or cut some of the later content. But if you’ve planned it and you’re on track, be firm. Make sure you have time to sit down, eat and even take a walk.


What to say:

‘It’s important that the team takes a proper break and comes back refreshed.

If we’re short on time I’d rather de-prioritise or speed up an activity later in the day.’


7. Make it fun without dying inside

5 pinata

While it might feel orchestrated to you, planning in one or two quick ‘energiser’ activities into longer workshops will help keep people engaged and make it memorable. Don’t put them in the agenda - the trick is to make them feel spontaneous.

Here it’s important to find your own style. Some people revel in creating energetic team building exercises - I’ve seen a colleague end a workshop by beating a pinata to obsoletion surrounded by a huddle of frenzied participants experiencing near-religious glee as sweet treats rain down….This is my worst nightmare. Even seemingly simple ice breaker questions have in the past given me an existential crisis for the subsequent week - if you’re going to ask people to share ‘what makes them special?’, at least give them some prior warning…

Personally, I avoid anything that involves ad-libbing, acting, dancing, singing or shouting. Try some introvert friendly paper aeroplane races or group counting. And for an ice breaker, try drawing each other on post-its, or ask what was the flavour of their last icecream.

Good luck! With a bit of practice and some preparation you’ll learn to not just get through it but find your own style and learn to enjoy the experience.

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