Book Review: "The Workshop Survival Guide: How to Design and Teach Workshops That Work Every Time"

This article is part of NASFAA's occasional book review series, where members share their reflections on books, published within the past five years, on higher education themes of interest to financial aid professionals. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or the authors' employers and do not guarantee the accuracy of information presented. Would you like to suggest a book for a future review? Email us at [email protected] with your recommendation.

In a book titled "The Workshop Survival Guide: How to Design and Teach Workshops That Work Every Time," authors Rob Fitzpatrick and Devin Hunt write about a way to design and teach workshops that are concrete, understandable, and easy to implement. "A feature of the book I especially appreciated is a handy outline it includes on how to develop a workshop from scratch," writes Loretta Jones, who read the book and shared her opinions of its content with NASFAA. "As financial aid professionals, we often present workshops to a wide range of audiences on diverse topics, whether we're working with our own staff, others on campus, students, parents, or conference participants. The outline offers the flexibility to apply the authors' methods while tailoring them to the specific needs of the audience."

Reviewed by Loretta Jones, Director of Financial Assistance and Development, ECPI University 

Rob Fitzpatrick and Devin Hunt, authors of "The Workshop Survival Guide: How to Design and Teach Workshops That Work Every Time," believe they have developed the simplest and most reliable approach to designing and teaching a workshop. Although they acknowledge other methods are not necessarily wrong, they believe their straightforward approach, which is "concrete, understandable, and easy to implement," (i) is the ideal way for a new facilitator to begin. They say their approach to designing a workshop is trustworthy and will work for most topics and audiences most of the time. Throughout their book, the authors back up this claim with examples showing how workshop leaders and facilitators can apply their techniques to a broad variety of situations.

Before developing this self-published book, both Fitzpatrick and Hunt designed and ran many successful workshops on assorted topics, with audiences of widely varying backgrounds, for more than 10 years. They state their approach to designing and facilitating these workshops has worked for them "in every case, no matter where it was located or who it was for." (ii)

The authors divide the book into two topic areas: the essentials of design and the essentials of facilitation. The design section describes determining the type of audience that will be present and their level of experience with the subject, creating a lecture or conference "skeleton," and designing the slides and presentation. The facilitation section explores practical issues like introducing yourself to the audience, employing different teaching formats, using group exercises, dealing with negativity, coping with delays, maintaining energy, and bringing the workshop back from group exercises and other interruptions.

The authors have developed what appears to be a simple and reliable approach to designing and running successful workshops. I am especially intrigued by their methods for regaining control of the workshop when everything is going wrong, including valuable suggestions for managing hostile and skeptical audience members and keeping potential disruptions to a minimum.

Despite this, I had one recurring question while reading the book: Are they going too far in oversimplifying the process of design and facilitation?

I am not discrediting the authors' experience or the formulas they used to create their design and facilitation techniques. Throughout the book, they share examples of how they have used their techniques to organize and put on great workshops. However, I noticed a few of their recommendations seem oversimplified and may not work in every scenario.

For example, I agree with the authors that maintaining the energy and attention of the audience is primarily the responsibility of the facilitator. But is the facilitator truly responsible for fully engaging participants who are not keen on the topic or perhaps didn't even want to attend the workshop, or is that the shared responsibility of those audience members as well?

The authors also advise that if the workshop is running beyond its stated time, the presenter should let the participants know but keep going. From my experience, workshop audiences have tight schedules and are eager to leave at the designated end time, whether it's to attend another lecture, keep an appointment, or simply get ahead of traffic. The authors do suggest providing alternatives to the audience, such as offering to send a copy of the lecture to those who must leave before the session ends. But even those who stay are likely to tune out the facilitator when the scheduled end time arrives, and chances are those who leave before the conclusion will put the lecture notes aside and never read them. The options the authors would offer to the audience do not feel like a realistic alternative to fulfilling the commitment to end on time.

Another issue I had with the book is the authors' exclusive reliance on their own experiences as presenters. Examples of others using their techniques would have offered important insights into whether and how leaders and facilitators with different personalities or presentation styles might successfully apply their methods.

A feature of the book I especially appreciated is a handy outline it includes on how to develop a workshop from scratch. As financial aid professionals, we often present workshops to a wide range of audiences on diverse topics, whether we're working with our own staff, others on campus, students, parents, or conference participants. The outline offers the flexibility to apply the authors' methods while tailoring them to the specific needs of the audience.

More broadly, I felt the book met the authors' goals of providing presenters with the skills and knowledge to take back control when a workshop seems to be headed off track. It offers practical, real-life examples of how to handle some of the more common challenges that come up.

Overall, the book delivers worthwhile ideas and techniques for creating successful workshops. If readers gain nothing else from the book, they will still walk away with a better understanding and appreciation of what workshop designers and facilitators experience in putting workshops together and presenting them. Beyond offering guidance to workshop leaders, the book will also help readers become more involved audience members in the future.

"The Workshop Survival Guide: How to Design and Teach Workshops That Work Every Time," by Rob Fitzpatrick and Devin Hunt. Published Robfitz Ltd, 2019, pp. 219.

*****

Loretta Jones is the director of financial assistance and development at ECPI University.  She has worked in the financial aid field for more than 21 years and has been developing and presenting financial aid workshops for the past five years.

 

Publication Date: 6/8/2022


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