Our workshops are designed a certain way, and while we are flexible in how we do them, there are some things that can influence their success. Things that are outside of our control, but that are in the hands of the organizer. Especially when you book our workshop as part of a larger event like a PhD day, this blog might be for you. Without further ado, what are some questions to ask yourself as an organizer?

What level are the participants?

We have some workshops that can be followed by anyone, because they have something to offer to any scientist, at any level – for example, the Basics of Science Communication and Impact workshops. But when you look at the more in-depth workshops, like Storytelling or (Poster) Presentation Design, it should be clear that this is for people who are a little more advanced in science communication. If you skip the Basics, the benefit of storytelling will be less apparent, and making a presentation will be harder if you only consider the graphic design side and not your message and target audience.

Therefore, think about your participants; what is of most use to them? And remember that seniority is not everything here. You can be a professor with a lot of media exposure and still learn from the basics if you have never considered why you are in the media. Or you can be a born communicator and be ready for more advanced workshops during your PhD. We love to tailor workshops to your needs, so think about it, but most of all ask our advice!

The workshop trade-off: interactivity, participants, and time

The most significant decision for a workshop concerns the combination of how long the workshop is and how many participants are enrolled. The trade-off is that the more people you let participate and/or the shorter the workshop has to be, the less interactive the workshop will be.

This makes sense: if you include 100 participants and you have an hour, it basically becomes a lecture—perhaps one with some questions for the audience as a whole (like a vote). Even with 20 people or less, one hour is still not a lot of time to create a workshop setting. This is because you will have to cover some content to be able to do exercises, and you always lose some time to people walking in/being late and an introduction. So beware when someone offers you a one-hour workshop: will there really be something to learn in there? And conversely; when you want to give your participants a workshop, make sure that you allow enough time to actually cover some ground.

We are flexible, but we like to provide quality

We believe that you’re booking our workshop because you want participants to learn something. In the workshops that we have, that means a combination of information and practice. We designed most of our workshops for 12 participants, lasting 4 hours. This ensures that we can give personal attention to everybody, and we can pretty much guarantee that everyone will walk out with a real understanding of what the workshop was about.

Now, we do change this up sometimes. Especially when it comes to time, it’s possible to do a workshop of two hours while still assisting 12 participants (of course, there will be less content and exercises then).

We’ll also allow for a few extra participants if need be, say 14 or 15, if the group is just a little larger—by going a little quicker we can accommodate that. But if you have more people than that, it becomes harder to make a difference. Then we can’t really pay attention to every individual case or situation anymore, and depending on the room, it makes it harder for participants to hear each other. This may cause part of the audience to lose interest.

Make sure you know what you want

When you approach us for a workshop, then, make sure you think about what you want to get out of this workshop. If the content is important and you want participants to have a real understanding, then opt for a longer workshop with 10-15 participants. If you really value interaction and networking, you can add more people or have a shorter session. Ideally, you let us know this, because we can cater to it—we do see the value of good networking! In fact, the Impact workshop is best suited for that.

To conclude, we don’t judge your decision to value interaction over content—both are important. But let us know, so we can help you with our best suited sessions, and be realistic about the expectations you can have from that.

Plan your event as if you’re herding cats

Scientists are generally not known for their talkative nature, but this myth should be put to rest. Put a bunch of them together in a room, preferably with coffee and free sandwiches, and watch them discuss the time away! This networking is important, maybe even one of the main goals of the event. But you have to plan accordingly. Here are some tips to do that.

Get to know the venue that you’re using for your event, and determine how long it will take you to walk from one room to another – at a leisurely pace! Ideally, you pick the longest distance between two rooms that you can find. Then, you take this time and add 5 minutes for a toilet break and queuing up to get out of and into rooms. Now, you have the minimal time you need between two sessions. When making your schedule, this time should be between any two sessions, with the exception of lunch.

Stick to the schedule

Did we mention that scientists love to talk? Well, they also tend to do that when they’re on stage. Especially when you invite higher-ups that are comfortable presenting but always limited on preparation time, you run the risk of overshooting the allotted time. Make sure you talk about this with your speakers beforehand: how do they want to be managed? Do you give a signal a few minutes before the end? Are you willing to forego question time when this person keeps talking?

Whatever option you choose, remember that you are in the lead: your speakers should be done when you want them to. Otherwise sessions run late, and participants start the next session late, which then runs late as well, etc. And an event that is managed too loose will not evoke the sense of timeliness in the guests, making things only worse.

Use simple technology

Speakers tend to want to use their own laptops. We do too, because then we know everything runs smoothly. If we have to send you slides or run your presentation on a computer at the venue, we risk not having all the proper fonts installed, making our slides look bad.

The simple answer is: have an HDMI cable that is ready to plug in, or a USB-C (which is the replacement for the HDMI). A power outlet for the charger is a nice bonus, although most modern laptops can survive a few hours on battery for a workshop. Try to avoid wireless presenting, as it requires your speakers to download software, which increases the risk of something going wrong. At the very least it takes a lot longer to set up, but it might also cause problems when the signal fails, or when the program is incompatible with the laptop. Just stick to a cable.

Another quick win: it’s nice for the speaker to have a speaker’s desk that they can put their laptop on.

Final words: keep communicating

If your event turns out such a huge success that you want to have more participants in the sessions, talk to the workshop host as soon as possible. For us, it’s generally not an issue (as long as you take the trade-off into account), and we won’t charge more if the workshop stays the same length. But we do prepare our session for an agreed-upon amount of people and if that changes considerably, it might ruin the flow. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed, but stay in touch. Help us help you!

Good luck organizing your workshop, and we’d love to stop by to give a workshop and see how well you did! 😊

About the Author: Stephan van Duin

Stephan enjoys the process of understanding complex matters and being able to present them in a comprehensible way. His vision is that science and society can benefit from clear science communication, and that technology can aid this development in various ways, from science websites for the public to academic e-learning for students.

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