Workshop Planning (IV.2): Working Phases

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This article is part of the series on workshop planning. Check out the whole series!

Part IV.1 <<< >>> Part V

In the last part, we covered the first two columns of your workshop plan, that you should fill for each new phase in your workshop. We already learned about the estimated time needed, and the working forms. In this part, we’ll cover

  • Goal
  • Exercises or structure
  • Material needed

So let’s dive into the last three – but remember, depending on your own liking, you can add as many if you like. If you like to plan very thoroughly, go on and do so – the workshop plan exists to make you feel more self-confident and secure in your role as the workshop leader, so the only person who has to be pleased with your workshop plan is … correct, you!


Yes, you need a goal for each phase. No, just having the overall goal in mind is not sufficient. The same reasons apply for the phase goals as for the overall goal: If you set them prior to your workshop, you can use them as your check list of whether you’re on track or not. If you know what to achieve with your phase, you will be more confident and your participants will feel that they are guided well (even if they might not already see the whole picture).

Try to formulate your goals in the SMART format: Always include a concrete and actionable outcome. It is helpful to start your sentence with After this phase, the participants will/can…

Communicating The Goals

I was once asked whether the goals need to be written down, or whether handing out the workshop plan as an agenda would work. I would not recommend this. As the workshop leader, you will be the one with the most knowledge. You will know at every step how you got there, why you got there and where you will go next. Especially in more creative phases, where your participants should find answers to certain questions, solve a problem, or talk about their opinions or emotions regarding a certain topic, it can be quite beneficial if they do not know yet why they do it. There is a difference between your explicit goals, and your implicit goals. The first is what you communicate to your participants: Please find a solution to X, please read the text and take notes, etc. The implicit goals are the ones that prepare your participants for later phases, or which only work if they don’t know that they’re working towards them: The participants are introduced to topic X and start thinking about their own point of view, the participants will start to think about problem X in a creative way. You cannot ask someone to be creative and expect great results; this will always be an implicit goal which will be reached if the general conditions allow it.

Exercise Or Structure

Every phase should start with a clear statement of what is going to happen. Either you fill your participants in, or they can read it in the agenda. If you have a task for them, I would recommend to not only communicate explicitly what this is about, but also write it down – either on the handouts or on a whiteboard or computer screen.

Make sure that you only have one goal per task. If you have a lot of ands in your exercises, this is usually a sign that they need to be split up in separate tasks.

As with all written handouts – if you want your participants to listen to you, only hand them out after you finished talking. Otherwise, you’ll end up with participants that partially listen and partially already start working on the tasks because they have read the written instructions.

It is usually good to also let your participants know how much time they have. They will work on a task in a different way if they know they should just spend five minutes on it, compare to one that they should work on for 20 minutes. In longer phases, you can also go round after you handed out the task, and ask each group, pair or individual whether they have questions. Some participants might let you know themselves if they have questions, but depending on how self-confident they are, which learner type they have and how engaged they generally are, they might not – so asking them explicitly is an extra service you can provide (win-win situation though!).

In longer phases, I also recommend to subtract 5 minutes from your planned time and announce the result of this, for example if you planned for 25 minutes, tell them that they have 20 minutes to complete. This way, you can let them know after 18 minutes that only 2 minutes are left – which usually creates quite some hectic and chaos. Then, after 20 minutes, you can ask them whether they are finished or need additional time – and if they surprisingly are not finished (which is just natural!), you can give them 3 or 4 more minutes without having to re-plan your following phases.

Material Needed

The material you need can include physical material – like a red marker, or a piece of paper – as well as the tasks you want to give to your participants. Writing this down in your workshop plan will allow you to go through it and use it as a check list before the workshop starts. You can check whether you have everything you need. I like to do this when I am already in the room of the workshop. I’ll use my plan and look at everything that I have laid out on the table in front of me to reassure myself that I have thought of everything.

During the workshop, this column will also help you to check whether you have handed out everything to your participants. For example, I once had a workshop where I asked my participants to read a text and highlight some words according to pre-set criteria in yellow or green. Had I not checked my material column, I would have forgotten that I never handed out the yellow and green markers which were still in my bag. Of course, at least one of your participants will probably ask whether you have markers, but this will bring you in a more or less uncomfortable situation – it will add to your stress level, and it will possibly make you feel insecure. As a workshop leader without or with very little training, you will have enough reasons why you feel insecure or not self-confident, so eliminating these easy-to-remove ones will greatly add to your success and general mood.

Now… Let’s Plan!

We now have the vertical and horizontal level of our workshop plan. So let’s start planning! There will still be questions and open ends, but you should now feel confident to start thinking about your own topic.

Don’t forget to visit the Guides & Downloads Page for an editable workshop template, as well as some exercise ideas!

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