How I Flip a Training Workshop

“Flipped” learning is based on the premise that group time should focus on group interactions, and that content that you can learn on your own should be kept there; i.e., on your time. Most people are familiar with the flipped classroom model. Workshops, and certainly meetings, can be well served by taking a ‘flipped’ approach. Approach training from a different perspective.

squirrel upside down

As a facilitator, here’s how I apply a flip mindset  to training workshops:

Well in advance of the workshop

I send out a questionnaire/survey to the registered workshop participants. My intent is to get their expectations, likes/dislikes, etc., before they arrive on workshop day. I want to keep the workshop focused on group interactions vs. starting things off with a laborious “let’s go around the group… tell us a bit about why you are here”. (When that’s the case, a participant may end up waiting 15+ minutes before interacting once)

I’m also experimenting with sending out “arresting” content, ahead of time; e.g., quality videos, self-assessments. I don’t want to save all the “good content” for the workshop. Plus, its self-censor; minimize the dog and pony show, Ben. Workshop time should focus on the experiential; conversations, interactions, (real-world) problem-solving…

Designing the workshop

Once I have participants’ feedback, I can then take my core workshop outline, and tweak it (hopefully, not a complete re-vamp is in order).

I’m a fan of chunking; content and activities. It facilitates workshop diversity and contrast. I have more chunks that I’ll need during the workshop – this provides me with some in-the-moment flexibility, to address participant needs that surface during the workshop. Few of us are gifted with significant attention spans these days (certainly not me). Chunking content and activities enable interactivity, interestingness… Being an ex-coder/programmer, chunking feels so right (wish I’d taken this approach to workshops years ago).

The Thiagi Group sells card decks for use by facilitators. One I’ve grown fond of is the ‘Engagement Emergency’ card deck, created by Mark Isabella. It can be used to guide either planned and/or impromptu (adapting to what’s in front of you, during the workshop) activities. Most of the card deck’s activities are short – e.g., 10-15 minutes. I like their their snappiness, and practicality. 

During the workshop

99% of the training workshops I’ve attended over the years were designed on the format of: 1) presenting information to the participants, followed by, 2) an activity based on the previously presented information.

My new mantra is activities before information. It’s definitely risk/reward, though if done intentionally and creatively, its all good. I’ve learned a lot about this approach via Cathy Moore.

Well, I’m now convinced, based on personal trial and error, that flipping information and activity is more dynamic, and engaging. Here are some examples of how I did just that, in a recent workshop (the topic was Virtual Collaboration):

  1. to experience (activity) the challenge of virtual communications, I had participants stand and converse with a partner, in a variety of physical setups; all intended to simulate different types of virtual communications. Essentially, I asked them to do in-real-life what they might do virtually. The activity also served as an icebreaker, and fed in to an information discussion on virtual communication skills, and and how they differ from in-person communication skills.
  2. collaborative problem-solving:  First I had participants work in small groups, to solve their own problems (their problems, not ones I dreamed up). Learning from each other, I sensed their empowerment, and they brought that energy into a subsequent content discussion on problem-solving techniques.
  3. instead of summarizing content during the workhop, I asked participants to summarizewhat they had learned during the workshop, in small groups, using a flip chart. Then, I had them do a walk-around . This way they were 100% involved, and not sitting back listening (or not) to me summarize. Plus, of course they took ownership of the content.

I also used visuals; videos and and pictures to emphasize ‘bad practices’.  Sharing a humorous video, on how not to conduct a virtual meeting, is the perfect lead-in to larger group conversation on virtual best practices. (As an educational aside, here is an instructive, and funny, TEDx talk about What Makes Things Funny)


Sharing workshop notes is common practice. What’s not so common is viewing the workshop as just the beginning of participant training. I’m still working out how to work with training sponsors on how to better facilitate that process; i.e., sustained learning.  Ideally, participants are motivated to apply their workshop learning, on and on. “The objective of learning is to integrate thinking and doing.” (Roger Fisher & Alan Sharp, in Getting it Done: How to Lead When You Are Not in Charge).

And, of course, post-workshop feedback from participants is flipped into the next workshop.

Great workshops

(Feverbee founder) Rich Millington is a really bright fellow, and a thought leader in online community management, especially the psychology of community engagement. He also leads workshops. In his words,

“A great workshop should do four things:

1) It makes every attendee smarter and fosters new skills.
2) It builds powerful, valuable, connections between participants.
3) It directly solves the challenges participants face.
4) It creates energy and a sense of possibility to achieve more.”

I’m good with that. How have you flipped around content, activity… to create great workshops?

(Photo credit:  DSC_1195 on Flickr)


  1. Hi Ben, what a great article! Thank you for bringing together your learning and experience.

  2. Thank you kindly, Yuki. The article was a bit of ‘working out loud’, on my part. 🙂

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