This article is part of the series on workshop planning. Check out the whole series!
Giving your team a text to read is a very common and handy approach to providing input. There are more than enough texts on the internet! Two of my favorite sources for texts regarding team development and leadership are forbes.com and hbr.org. They are not only interesting if you’re a leader yourself, but there is also tons of stuff on there about teams and how they can best work together. Preparing a text as an input is quite easy and does not require much work – however, you should do your prep! Otherwise you’ll possibly end up with many lose ends and open questions during the workshop.
Step 1: Choose your text
Once you have figured out what your workshop will be about, you need to choose a text that has a similar topic. You can use one of the resources above, or basically any text you know and like. There are some criteria to consider:
- Will everybody be able to understand the text? If the text is in a language that is not native for some of your participants, make sure to choose an easy one. Otherwise, reading can be quite a frustrating experience. Even if everyone has the same native language as the text, make sure that concepts and buzzwords used in the article are common knowledge to your team (or otherwise, explicitly point out to them).
- How long is the text? Your workshop should not end up to be a reading event. Your participants will have a varying reading speed, and the longer the text, the greater the variance. Depending on your group, half a page or one full page is a good length. If your text is longer, shorten it beforehand.
- How dense is the text? If it’s a more scientific one, make sure to choose a shorter excerpt. If it’s an entertaining text that contains examples and possibly opinions, the excerpt can also be a bit longer.
Step 2: Choose the time of reading
You have two options here: Either you want your participants to read the text before the actual workshop, or during the workshop. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Reading As Preparation
As mentioned before, everybody has a unique reading speed. By providing them with the text beforehand, you allow for maximum diversity. Everybody can read at a time when they feel like it, in the speed they can handle. They can also look up words or concepts without losing face.
The disadvantage is that you most probably will also have participants who don’t do it, or who simply forgot. You can try to tackle this issue by reminding them several times before the workshop, or making the text a topic in your one-on-ones.
If you decide to have the text as a preparation, also give one or two questions that your participants should answer. It does not need to be a written answer; giving questions or exercises along with a text has the goal to focus the attention of your participants on certain concepts. While reading a text can be very diversely interpreted, it is more likely that your participants will focus on the aspects of the text that are needed in the workshop if the questions or exercises guide them in one direction.
Reading During The Workshop
Your participants’ reading speed will vary, and you should be prepared to have some that finish much quicker than others. This can be problematic (although it does not have to be, depending on your team) – not only are there people in the room with ‘nothing to do anymore’, there are also people in the room who may have the feeling that they’re slowing down the group.
The advantage here is that you have more control over the group, how they read and when they do it. You will also know that really everybody in the room has read the text. If you decide to have the reading session during the workshop, make sure to shorten the text to a doable amount.
Step 3: Don’t underestimate reading times!
You will be surprised how long reading can take! It depends on your participants’ reading speed, as well as their reading style. There are people who are really good at reading extensively (i.e., without looking up words and stopping to digest), and people who can’t. They will be slower, but also get many more of the details! I would not recommend to stress your team too much to read quickly; if there is someone who simply cannot do it, you will cause frustration.
Step 4: Prepare some questions
As mentioned earlier, questions will help to guide everyone through the text. If you read something completely new to you, and you don’t know where to go, there are plenty of aspects you can focus on. By providing questions or small exercises (i.e., highlight certain words, note down the counter arguments), you guide everyone through the text and make sure they end up at roughly the same place as anyone else.
Step 5: Anticipate possible topics
Many texts have several interesting aspects. Although you might want to focus on one specifically, try to anticipate topics that might come up during a discussion. It will help you to react and stay flexible if the topics come up; you can even keep them in mind, and if your participants decide that they want to take a quick detour through one of them, you can allow it.
Why Reading Yourself Is Not The Same As Listening To Others
Last but not least – you could also read the text yourself and present the results to your team, right? That is true, and in some cases even makes a lot of sense. However, consider these arguments:
- Hearing it through you is like hearing it through a filter. You will have your own idea of what the most important aspects are, and your participants might wonder whether they would come to the same conclusion. Reading themselves also means empowering your team to take their own decisions and enhance their own knowledge.
- Having you present the results will be a very passive phase for your participants – as they will mainly listen and maybe watch your presentation. For certain concepts, or shorter topics, it can be quite nice to have a short passive phase, but the longer you talk, the less your participants will concentrate. Involving them actively by providing them with the source of knowledge also means that they’ll actively participate – and will probably learn much more than by just listening.