by Allison Pang
I've run an impromptu workshop or two at various cons (most of them were co-hosted, so that tends to take off the pressure a little bit.) However, I haven't done it enough on a regular basis to give specific advice as to the do/don'ts - but I do have a fair bit of experience in teaching. I spent about 7 years doing computer instruction to classes of anything from 5 to 50 people and I suspect a lot of the same skills come into play.
So here's my basic 5 suggestions:
1) There's actually an old adage that was fairly popular among the computer instructor set: Tell the students what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.
Sounds flippant maybe, but it's basic communication. Announcing the sorts of things you're planning on covering makes sense - it's a sort of table of contents so attendees know what to expect. (And if someone accidentally ended up in the wrong room, maybe they'll stay.) I should also point out that a workshop that you present a lot is going to be much smoother overall than one you're doing once. If it's a long term thing, you'll find yourself falling into a rhythm after you've done it several times and you'll know how to time things just right.
At any rate, the gentle reminders of the topic on hand can help attendees to remember what you've told them. (And obviously, this is going to depend on the type of workshop. A serious craft workshop is going to have more thorough content then something off the cuff.)
2) Practice beforehand - should go without saying, but if you ever remember having to do those book reports in middle school, it's almost a given that you're going to end up with either too much info or not enough. What looks like a lot of content on paper can go by mighty quick if you're nervous and talking too fast. (It's probably better to have too much info than not enough - being able to hand out supplementary materials to cover the things you couldn't get to is a good way to drum up additional interest in the topic or in you as a brand.) That being said, definitely practice your presentation in front of a few good friends - they can help you work out the bugs and help you determine where you might need more detail or a place where you can shave off some time.
3) Cite your sources! (Or at least know where they come from!) Don't throw stats around unless you're confident in them - and if you're not sure, it's probably better to indicate a statement is your opinion as opposed to fact. ("I think X is" as opposed to "X is".) People aren't shy about asking questions or possibly calling you out, so it's important to understand the information you're presenting. And it's okay to say you don't know the answer to a question - you can use that as an opportunity to research that info and maybe answer it later on your blog or in a future workshop. (As long as you aren't saying you don't know to EVERY question - but don't make something up just to have an answer, either.)
4) Walk around or stand up! If it's possible or in a smaller venue, I've often found that walking around the room slowly can keep people focused on you. Sitting at a table and talking to your hands is not going to keep your audience interested. Also, make sure your voice carries if you don't have a mic - also something to practice beforehand if you can. Keep water or something to drink close by - talking constantly in a loudish voice for 45 minute or more can definitely make for a dry throat.
5) Encourage discussion if time allows. Whatever you do - try to leave at least 10 or 15 minutes after the workshop to allow for discussion (unless you're actively doing Q&A as part of the workshop - just watch the time - it can be very easy to get off track, so make sure you have a good way to get back on topic. If you aren't good about keeping your own time, get a friend or an audience member to give you a heads up if you're getting close to running out of time.
Otherwise, just make sure you wrap things up nice and neatly (and have some swag on hand - giving away an arc or your latest book is a nice gesture.) If you're at a con, people have limited amounts of time to attend things - make them happy they attended yours. :)