Are your participants ready for the session? You can use preparation tasks to increase the effect of your workshop.
As a facilitator of meetings, workshops or training sessions, you can work with the mindset of your participants prior to the session. By preparing them for your virtual session, you get the opportunity to build their knowledge and readiness before you meet.
In this blogpost, you will gain insights into the art of preparing your participants for a virtual session to achieve maximum impact of the time you actually spend together in the meeting.
As a facilitator, you have an important task in preparing the session, but this also gives you the opportunity to work with the mindset of your participants before the session. You can help steer their expectations and ideas in a certain direction with the invitation you send out, the way you write the agenda or provide them with specific preparation tasks to do prior to the session.
Top tip: If it is the first time you interact with the participants in general or for a specific project or purpose, it is even more important to make a good first impression.
A preparation task can be many different things, but whatever you do – or do not do – it will provide the participants with a set of expectations for the session. It can be just like any other meeting with no specific expectations or a flat agenda, or you can do something extra to prepare them for the workshop and thus raise their expectations and engagement already prior to the session. Just be creative and remember to make sure that you choose a task that matches the purpose, the participants and the process.
After choosing the task, we suggest that you include it in an email – or maybe even send it via regular mail – as part of a nice invitation.
Top tip: Consider spending a little extra effort on your invitation, agenda and Outlook booking. Be aware that a regular Zoom or Teams invitation is not very appealing and does not create any specific expectations. With a little bit of effort, you can easily make this a much nicer touchpoint.
13:00 ❤ Welcome and check-in
13:10 🚀 Our department – right now
13:30 🏹 Numbers and sales
13:35 🛠 Work session on must-win battles
14:30 ⚖ Flexibility and work-life balance
15:00 ❤ Thanks for now
You can use preparation tasks or prework as an effective way to provide more flexibility for the participants, e.g. they can plan and do their homework beforehand, and thus the meeting can be shortened. Prework is particularly relevant if you plan an activity where people do not have to be present. This could be e.g. reading the new strategy or guidelines or an activity that requires some sort of action that cannot be done during the session such as collecting input from external stakeholders not present at the meeting.
If you design a preparation task and ask your participants to do it, they will be more prepared when they arrive at the session; thus, you can spend the time more effectively on discussions instead of acquiring knowledge, which could have been done beforehand through preparation.
Top tip: If you do a preparation task involving work to be done and documented, then provide your participants with an easy-to-use template and ask them to return it prior to the session. By doing so, you have a better opportunity to prepare the session based on the participants’ input.
You should of course choose the task based on the purpose of the session. Preparation tasks can be anything from having to read some material to conducting work tasks prior to the session.
We have gathered a short list with inspiration for different preparation tasks:
If facilitating a meeting on how to handle the new ISO standard, you might ask the participants to read it prior to the meeting. Or you could ask them to consider how they handled the old ISO standard, what worked and what did not. If you ask people to read the new standard, they can do this whenever is convenient for them; this way, they will be prepared before the meeting instead of you having to spend time on this during the session.
If you are conducting a workshop on customer satisfaction, it might be a good idea to ask the participants to talk to some of their customers before the meeting. Not only will this make them interact with their customers and get some feedback, but they will also need to consider who their customers are, who they should ask and why. It does not have to take much time but doing this will for sure prepare them for your workshop.
In the following, you will find three examples of preparation tasks that we have used as part of the invitations.
Welcome to our session on new ways of working post-COVID-19. We are going to focus on our learning from the new ways of working and use this in our team going forward.
Before the session, we would like you to do a few preparation tasks so that we are ready to get the most out of our time together. Please spend five minutes reflecting on the questions below:
We are going to work with these questions during the session, so please make sure to prepare this before the session.
The agenda is …
Welcome to our session on customer centricity. We are going to look into how to get closer to our customers and how to improve our service to become more customer-centric in our approach.
Before the session, we would like you to prepare a task to get to know your customers a little better and gather valuable insights for our discussions. Your task is to do a short interview with one of your customers (internal or external).
We are looking very much forward to continuing our project on new ways of working.
Before meeting virtually with all the leaders, we would like you to join your triad for a one-hour session to discuss your personal take on the theme. The purpose of this meeting is to give you the opportunity to do a deep dive on the theme and relate it to your personal context and perspectives in general.
Please prepare a 10-minute presentation on your personal take on the new ways of working. When preparing, you might use the following questions as inspiration:
The agenda of your meeting should be:
We will use the reflections and input from these meetings at our next gathering, so please make sure to bring your input, which will be uploaded during the session.
The amount of work you can ask people to do before a session depends on the purpose of the session, the participants and the context.
If preparation means that you can save time and if you know that people will do the preparation task, there is a lot of flexibility in leaving it up to the participants to prepare and reflect on their own. However, if you are not sure that they will prioritise the task that you have given them, or if your session is very dependent on the task you use as prework, maybe you should consider doing the task together during the session instead.
Top tip: We know from research that “spreading” knowledge over a long period of time can increase the effect of the training and encourage the participants to revisit the content several times ( Davachi et al. 2010, Brinkerhoff & Apking 2001). This is why doing preparation tasks is very effective, especially if you are having virtual training sessions.
Clarifying the Why and the How is important when you want people to do a particular task. So if you want your participants to do a preparation task, remember to let them know exactly what you expect them to do (the How) and that you will be using it during the session (the Why).
Maybe consider if you want the participants to send you the task before the session. This will give you an idea of whether they actually did prepare the task, it will encourage them to do the task (social commitment is usually a good way to engage people), and it will provide you with more information on the perspectives that they will bring to the session.
If you choose to use a preparation task, remember to use it during the session and let the participants know this – if you do not, there is a chance that they will not do the task the next time.
We hope that this has inspired you to use one of the suggested tasks as preparation for your participants – or that it has provided you with inspiration for how to be creative and design a task that suits your session and purpose to ensure the right mindset and prepare the participants for the session.
If you want to know more about how to design and execute a virtual session, you may be interested in reading our book “Virtual facilitation”.
Davachi, L., Kiefer, T., Rock, D & Rock, L. (2010). "Learning that lasts through AGES" in NeuroLeadership Journal, issue 3, 2010.
Brinkerhoff, R. O. & Apking, A. M. (2001). High Impact Learning.
We have collected additional materials for the book Virtual Facilitation.
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How you design a value-oriented digital operating model that maximises business value.
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