The other night I met up with a friend and we both headed off to a state government run small business workshop purporting to offer helpful information. We were teamed up and ready to be inspired and glean some tasty tidbits of implementable genius.

What followed was 2 1/2 excruciating hours of pointlessness! On reflection I was able to pull out some learnings but let me paint you the picture.

The night was a crisp, foggy Tasmanian Winter night, the venue was cold, so very, very cold and had a slightly musty odour.  Apparently there was an open fire but it certainly wasn’t roaring and was essentially blocked by the first row of workshop participants, who didn’t look any warmer that the rest of the huddled masses.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Minister, who was supposed to be attending, was massively late. Starting without him the panel seemed confused and I suspect “filling” in time.

Once we finally got into it. The first few speakers were monotone and unsure of themselves. One tried to spice up her presentation by showing a video and using it to demonstrate the difference between a mentor and a coach. Only problem was that the video, which was a Norwegian comedy skit with subtitles, was pretty ambiguous and to make matters worse, the presenter had a weird interpretation of what a mentor was and wasn’t able to clearly articulate the differences between the two terms.

The interactions between the convener and minister consisted of private jokes and random gift giving, that did nothing more than suggest that there was a bit of a boys club going on and that their concern was more in hearing their own dulcet tones than imparting anything useful.

Small respite was gained by 1 short to the point segment and a more lively and entertaining speaker as we neared the end. Sadly they were geared to businesses with employees, out of a room of 20-30 people only 3 or 4 people had businesses like that. Everyone else was in the early stages of launching their businesses and were their only employees.

The last torturous moments were a Q&A session to the panel, where there were as many questions from panel member to panel member as there was from the audience. Followed closely by a figurative microphone tussle between 2 of the men trying to determine who liked hearing himself speak the most.

And there it was, a painfully boring workshop that most “participants” endured only by tuning out completely by checking their Facebook pages on their phones. However on reflection, there were some valuable, albeit unintended, lessons to be taken from this experience.

1. Know your audience

It didn’t matter that the last speaker clearly knew his stuff and was an energetic and charismatic speaker. Only 3 people in the room were his target audience. Sure the rest of us were tuning in to him, he was entertaining but we weren’t paying close attention.

If you have a powerful message to deliver, make sure you’re in the right room.


2. Know your definitions

If your entire argument rests on a definition then that needs to be tight.  No one wants a dictionary definition but you do need to be able to clearly articulate the meaning of key terms in an easily accessible way.  This is doubly so if you want to introduce an obscure term or present a definition different to common usage


3. Choose wisely

Be it supporting videos or props, you need to make wise choices that build on the quality of your presentation otherwise they will detract from it. Also when sharing your stage with multiple presenters, make sure that they all compliment you and that you share the same goals for the night.

Either by mere association or because your content goes undervalued due to poor targeting, involvement in a shambolic workshop makes you look incompetent or at least of poor judgement.


4. Know who’s important.

What most of the panelists and the minister failed to get was that it wasn’t them. The most important people in the room were the workshop attendees and we were treated as an afterthought. Every good teacher knows that even though it’s imperative to cover key content, you must adjust the delivery and methods according to your audience and always make it have direct relevance to them

The audience is the most important factor to consider in any presentation.


5. Know what’s important

Developing welcoming relationships with your audience, providing an engaging presentation, meeting your audience’s expectations and sending them away feeling that the night was a good use of their time: to me these are the goals that should always be aimed for.

When planning your own workshops and presentations, focus on the outcomes you want for your audience and then back fill with content.  If you focus on content first, you lose sight of your whole purpose.


In addition to these points, I’d suggest collecting feedback from your audience, it shows them that you care about the quality of their experience and will give you valuable information to improve your workshops in the future.



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