workshop sign

You’ve probably heard the expression, “We teach what we need to learn.” It’s a good philosophy.

As I narrowed my sights on becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster, one of my few remaining requirements was to deliver a hour long workshop.

Out of several options I chose How to Conduct Productive Meetings.

Why that one?

Because I’ve attended some absolutely deadly meetings. I wanted to see if I could do better.

Turning on the Wayback machine, I recalled my first job in the elementary school system in Toronto. Staff meetings run by the principal were torture.

I longed to be anywhere else but at those meetings. Maybe having a root canal?

As entrepreneurs we want to be memorable for the right reasons so decided to challenge myself to make it as memorable and meaningful as I could.

My six lessons occurred while teaching my workshop, but they’re really about any speaking situation. I hope you find them valuable.

Lesson One: Build a Structure That Allows Creative Improvisation

I had the workshop all planned out with two main parts. I had some very simple powerpoint slides, and a few notes to keep me on track. I knew where I was going.

But as I moved through the workshop, I found I was going in unanticipated directions because that’s where the participants took me. The result? More engagement.

Takeaway: be open to revising your agenda and allowing new possibilities to emerge.

Lesson Two: Real Leaders Ask and Ask (and Ask!)

During the workshop, I wanted to do less talking than my former principal. He would talk for about 90% of the time, and leave the other 10% for the rest of us. We’d be informed of changes but allowed no input. We almost always left the meeting feeling very frustrated at the waste of time and thinking, “Why didn’t he just send a memo?”

The more questions we ask as speakers, the more productive a meeting becomes. Whatever the purpose for the meeting, it’s much more likely to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Takeaway: talk less, ask more, and then shut up and listen.

Lesson Three: Appreciate Each Individual Voice

In a really productive meeting situation, there will be people with different opinions. As the leader, it’s important to guide people in having different ideas without being afraid of conflict.

Part of that is to appreciate someone who doesn’t just go along, who isn’t afraid to have a different thought or idea than everyone else even if they disagree with you.

Takeaway: Encourage participants not to hold back if they have different ideas. Their idea could be the one they’re waiting for.

Lesson Four: Follow Your Intuition If It Guides You to Do the Unexpected

We were reaching the end of the meeting and an unexpected question popped into my head. I followed my intuition and asked them to rate themselves from 1-10 with their comfort level with the exercises. Did they feel fully present and engaged? Did they check out at some point and if so, why?

I didn’t ask for verbal feedback as it was really a self evaluation question, but from the looks on some of the faces, it seemed to be a valuable question.

Takeaway: Be willing to listen to your inner voice and follow the guidance even if the message is unexpected.

Lesson Five: Look For Synthesis

Sometimes the best idea is not a single idea but a synthesis of all of them. It may be the best fit for the purpose of the meeting.

Look for those moments where things come together in unusual ways. Those moments are magic, and never would have happened without combining ideas and seeing from a new angle.

Takeaway: Synthesis rocks!

Lesson Six: Do Everything With a Sense of Humour

That’s it really. Any situation can be smoother by maintaining a sense of humour.

Takeaway: Have fun!

If I went into the workshop only thinking of teaching, I’d have missed out on something important, that teaching is the surest path to learning.

Six Lessons Learned from Teaching a Workshop

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