The Power of Well Facilitated Workshops

“Who do you think I am?! I don’t have time for this! I can’t fit a 6 hour workshop into a Saturday!”

This was the response inside the mind of Nicole Tyler when TEDxWestminsterCollegeSLC curator Ben Pok announced the required workshop for all speakers that took place a few weeks before the TEDx event. I was leading the workshop that day and my guess was that many of them had similar thoughts. “I know my material. Why do I have to work on it in front of a group of strangers?” “I have spoken hundreds of times in front of people. This will be a waste of a Saturday.” “I’m not even done writing. What if I embarrass myself in front of everyone?”

I felt a familiar low-level anxiety as I started the workshop. I wondered if the group of seasoned professors, competent professionals, and accomplished students already had great public speaking skills and my material would seem redundant. But as the day warmed up and we started practicing new found skills, the energy grew. We shifted from a band of strangers into a supportive network for each other.

Pat and I found the day of the TEDx event on April 16 exhilarating. We saw the speakers connect with the audience and celebrate the growth and final presentation of each other’s ideas.

A few days ago I gathered with a few of the speakers for a post-event get together as one of us was preparing to move out of state. I also got a chance to ask them about that first workshop day. What worked? What has stuck with you?

I had expected them to reflect on a list of tools, tricks, and techniques that Pat and I had taught them -  plant your feet on the stage for a moment before you begin, don’t fear moments of silence as you connect with your audience, and practice until you can’t get your talk wrong.

I was surprised by their answers. The memories that stayed with them weren’t the concrete tools. What had moved them was the experience of the facilitated workshop itself.

Here are some of their reflections of the day:

“The messages (about speaking techniques) were important, but they came as a plus…… It wasn’t a competition, but a collaboration.” - Morgane Scheffer

The workshop format “facilitated a space where we could be critical of ourselves as well as critical with each other. It was good to have the outside perspective of ‘does this make sense?’ ……..(I appreciated) learning about how the audience views the speaker and how the speaker views the audience - learning the different skills you can have in that relationship………..I discovered what I really wanted to say.” - Sione Ata Siulua

“You didn’t force ideas upon us, (but) you pushed us in the right direction….. You didn’t tell us to be a way, you showed us the way.” - Ian Troost

I have deeply enjoyed all of the workshops I have facilitated, but after this conversation I gained a new appreciation of the power of this format. All of the skills and techniques shared by a teacher are helpful, but the lasting impact of a well facilitated workshop is the collection of human connections. We create bonds as we let ourselves be vulnerable. We find new information from others as we are open in a safe space.

What safe group experiences have shifted you, and how?


You can experience this transformative workshop day yourself. Join Pat and I on May 21 at Salt Mine in Draper. Here are the details. Seats still available, but we are expecting to sell out with a capped number of participants. We would love to hear your message, and connect you to great idea-makers in our community.