Stop wasting time and money: How to get more out of your next workshop

7 tips for maximizing your learning

I love to conduct workshops. To facilitate someone else’s learning by sharing my experiences, story, and quirkiness is truly one of the most fulfilling things I do. Before I ever step into a workshop, I’ve usually done at least 3 hours of work for each hour of training. Everything doesn’t always go according to plan, but I feel pretty confident about delivering a great experience and put in the prep work to help make it happen.

Here’s the deal, however: I can only control how I show up. The same goes for all other workshop facilitators, speakers, presenters, etc. etc. Of course some presentation and facilitation techniques are better than others, and some presenters are better than others. But . . .

You can take more control of your learning, regardless of the quality of the presenter.

I hear from other workshop participants who complain that a presenter isn’t engaging enough, or the topic isn’t relevant, or they went over the time allotted. Not that these criticisms aren’t valid, but participants (YOU!) also have a responsibility for any learning that occurs from a workshop or presentation.

My hunch is that participants often think that by merely attending an event and hearing someone speak on a topic, they will become more knowledgeable. Listening is only the very beginning step. And learning is never a passive process. You’re not a computer that can simply download new information. You learn by reading about it, hearing it, brainstorming it, and practicing it.

For most our lives, we’ve been told that learning occurs in a classroom setting where we’ve been lectured at. So when we’re feeling tired or unsure, we default to thinking this mode of learning will do the trick. According to adult learning theory and practice, it doesn’t work.

Show up ready to learn.

You’re expecting too much from a presenter if you think you can just show up and get a ton of value out of the experience by just sitting there. Here are some suggestions for getting more out of a presentation, workshop, or any learning opportunity.

  1. Get clear on why you’re there. Even if a training is required, take some time to discover what the learning outcomes are. Your time is valuable, so make sure the topic is relevant to your role. If it’s not, speak up. Ask the host (your boss, the HR person, etc.) what you should expect to get out of it.
  2. Come prepared. Read all the instructions and really take the time to do any prep work asked of you. These initial reflection sheets, worksheets, etc. have been designed with purpose to help you learn more during the actual training. Chances are you won’t need to do 3 hours of work before a one hour presentation, but you should do at least 15 minutes.
  3. Shift into a growth mindset. You don’t know it all. Even if you don’t agree with a presenter, or have heard much of the same information before, keep an open mind. You’re more likely to hear one new nugget of information, one bit of insight, or one new way to approach a topic if you are truly listening (not just hearing the words being said).
  4. Stay off your cell phone. We use these devices as crutches for our boredom or need for distraction. ¬†Frankly, this is disrespectful of both the presenter and those around you. Even if you are bored, put that phone down. If you’re a fidgeter, like me, bring something to fidget with: a squishy ball, a pen, gum, bounce your leg, twiddle your thumbs, whatever it takes to help you stay focused on the topic at hand.
  5. Ask questions. Adult need to engage in their learning, so don’t be afraid to raise your hand to ask a pertinent question about the topic.
  6. Connect with the presenter. We love when you show signs of engagement with eye contract, contributing to the conversation, and taking notes. For the love of Jesus, please at least just smile at us, and not stare off into space.
  7. Prepare a follow up report to reflect afterward. Too many times we attend one of these events and then simply go back to doing what we were doing. We blame the speaker for not motivating us enough and feel frustrated that nothing has changed a few weeks later. Some of my most powerful learning experiences have come when I’ve taken the time to reflect afterward by writing down what I learned. I even took the time to prepare a more formal version to share with my boss, especially if my company paid for it. When your company pays for your learning opportunity, you do have the responsibility to bring back that new knowledge to benefit the organization.

Commit to investing in your professional development mentally, physically, and emotionally and you’ll see new results!