Workshops for Engineer, Part 2

In part one of this how-to workshop for engineers, we look at developing goals and the trigger for your event. Those were foundational pieces to get your participants focused on the learning they’re doing and engaged. Hopefully through your trigger you’ve set the scene and they’ve gone through some sort of activity. They’ve had fun or thought critically about themselves or both! Next comes the discussion.

The discussion is an incredibly important piece of the workshop. It gives everyone a chance to actually talk and reflect on the activity they just participated in. They hear each other’s thoughts and ideas (and sometimes feelings and emotions depending on what sort of workshop you are running and your goals) and can pull a lot of the pieces together. To create discussion questions, think about your goal and what you’re hoping to get out of the activity and tailor your questions around that. For example, if you’re asking someone to draw something or chose something, ask them to share what they drew or chose and why. If you’re doing some sort of quiz, you can ask people what surprised them about the results they received or if they weren’t surprised at all. There are also a few different ways to run a discussion. If you have a large group or a good amount of introverts, try starting the discussion in pairs or small groups. Getting people talking together will help them be comfortable before getting to the discussion with a larger group. And, for example, if you do some sort of a quiz, you can have people get together based on their quiz results and then broaden it to the larger group.

A few tips for facilitators:

  1. Get comfortable with silence. If you don’t interrupt the silence, someone else will. While it sometimes feels uncomfortable to sit there because it feels like no one has anything left to say, if you just wait a little longer than you’re okay with, someone else will often times chime in. Silence also gives introverts a chance to think through what they want to say before volunteering to speak.

  2. Ask open ended questions. A closed question is something with a yes/no answer and in a discussion, if you ask a yes/no question, you will get a yes/no answer. However, if you frame the same question as an open question, something that involves responding with an explanation and not just a yes or no, you’ll get more involved, more in-depth answers that will often lead to other people speaking and will keep the conversation going.

  3. Make sure to call out people who haven’t spoken. Don’t do this by calling on specific people because that can be intimidating, but if you say something like “does anyone who hasn’t spoken yet want to say anything?” It gives folks who might not be comfortable inserting themselves into the conversation the space and time to speak up.

  4. Keep the discussion on topic but let it flow. This one is tricky, but if you have a list of questions you want to ask as a part of the discussion, don’t ask them as a list. It’s weird and makes things feel more like a quiz than a flowing conversation. Keep many of the questions in mind and try to bring up questions naturally as the discussion sort of organically leads to them. Don’t worry if you’re not good at this right away… this is really tricky to do and takes some practice.

Part 3

Be on the lookout for examples of workshops like this in the future!

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