Obvious lessons in running an open workshop

1. Don’t plan to do it two Saturdays before Christmas.

2. Doing it on a Saturday is fine if you give people enough notice.

3. Trying to do it in a 5 week window isn’t enough notice.

4. People being interested is lovely. People booking seats is lovelier.

5. You need to rely on your network if you’re a sole provider to help you spread the word.

6. Or you need to partner with the right big names to get the thing to market.

7. The venue matters. More importantly, how you use the environment and venue matters more.

8. If you’re a sole provider/doing this infrequently, people need a bloody great experience to become your future advocates.

9. Practicality matters a lot. Theory is great, but when people can do things is better.

Big thanks to Phil Willcox, Meg Peppin, David Goddin and Perry Timms for their outright support in my plan to hold a workshop on positive psychology. I had to cancel due to low numbers. Watch out 2015, it’s gonna happen.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

11 thoughts on “Obvious lessons in running an open workshop”

  1. Hi Sukh – Sorry the event didn’t go ahead and thank you for sharing a few thoughts. As someone who puts on a few events I can relate to this. The truth is as you experience it – unless you are willing to commit significant resources, getting people together – even for a useful idea like yours, is very tough.

    You and I have previously talked through some of these observations you have made, in particular number three. I confess I am curious why – having experienced the extreme difficulties of short lead times previously, you were tempted once again to try and fit your plan into such a tight schedule? If you have any thoughts you are willing to share that would be great.

    Something I have learned from running more Art for Work’s Sake sessions this year is that your network might help you spread the word, and that in itself is unlikely to convert to many bookings. Based on past performance, I believe you need to personally contact around 100 people for around 3 or 4 bookings. And I mean write to 100 people individually, each one receiving their own note from you inviting them to something useful, enjoyable and relevant to them – why should I come along? Why is this useful for me?.

    Piggy backing off bigger events can be very helpful – this has worked very well for me in the past 18 months or so, to the extent that I’m not currently playing in this space, beyond running small open workshops.

    I hope many people read your post and take the opportunity both to learn how hard it is to run something like this, and to try and appreciate that effort when taking part. It all helps.

    1. Hi Doug, a really good question about why did I try a short time frame again. Also, I remember telling my wife I was going to do this, and she forewarned me that it was a bad choice! I learn lessons the hard way on most occasions. A lesson well learned now, and I won’t be doing it again. No money was parted with for bookings so no loss, but a bruising of reputation perhaps.

      Your ratio is an intriguing one, and is something I recognise as the hardest part of all of this. I had just shy of 200 visits to the eventbrite page, so certainly people were checking it out. But I didn’t have the resources or the time to dedicate to following up with people directly as you suggest, which I think was something I was able to do better when I did it in 2014.

      I like how you’ve piggy backed off other events, and clearly this is a good and useful thing to do.



      1. Hi again Sukh. Postponing events like this isn’t about reputation bruising – not to me anyway. Most people don’t even get to thinking about this stuff, let alone putting something on for other people. Maybe if you put on 100 events and had to postpone all 100 then you need to think again – but as someone who tries, fails and succeeds in this space – I don’t see any bruising, you’re doing fine.

        Page visits are one thing – intentional engagement is another – and that’s where the real hard work lies.

        Cheers – D

  2. Nice list of learning to pass on, thank you. I’m pleased that it will run in the new year as I REALLY wanted to attend this event but the date wasn’t good for me. 🙂

  3. I’ve tried to run open workshops a couple of times, but my network is way too small to get the numbers, so I stick to designing and delivering only what’s commissioned now. Good luck next year!

    1. I don’t have a big network, and one of the things which does work well is partnering with 2-3 big names who are happy to help support in some way. When I did it back in 2012, that really helped get it out there. This time round I was too sloppy in making it happen.

  4. I love and admire your ability to share so openly Sukh. Your experience is so similar to mine earlier this year and, although I reflected and learnt similar stuff, I never think to share these things more widely. There’s something for me to reflect on there about what stops me and what might happen if I shared more stuff more often. Good luck for next year 🙂

    1. Well there’s some excellent feedback, thank you Helen! For me, this fits in the ‘working out loud’ and ‘failing out loud’ ethos. I don’t see cancelling as a negative action, just a necessary one. I’ll take a bit of a personal bruising, but won’t stop it from happening in the future, and I know there are clear things I need to do to make it a success next year.

      I hope you’re able to re-think about your session and if you were to do it again what you might need to do differently to make it a success too.

  5. I’m with Fiona on this one for sure!
    And will support you in sharing the (new planned) event on very SoMe platform I can muster – completely believe in your reaching delivery style, and a big fan of positive psychology within learning sessions that are about ‘doing’ stuff. Phil Wilcox’s blog is a great advert!

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