The Garden and the Workshops

See what I learned from the workshops held in the last few months and apply these lessons to your own workshop. It’s all right to make mistakes, but isn’t it easier when you can learn from someone else’s mistakes?

What do you do best? Would you like to teach others? Have you ever thought about holding a workshop? You know that it’s a great way for you to help your community grow, as well as your career. You never know what wonderful people you can meet, and a workshop is the great place to interact with new people, get to know them a bit, learn about what they do best and get to keep in touch.

Workshop tent in the park
Tent ready for the workshop. The table is full of fabrics, paper and scissors, waiting for the participants.

Besides meeting all these awesome people, they get to know you. It’s a great “marketing” thing that you can do for your “personal brand” and it doesn’t even have to be covered in fancy words. It’s a win-win situation, no matter how you phrase it. So did I convince you that you need to hold a workshop?

Lessons from former workshops

I thought about  some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past few months. I’ve held five workshops since February with the Butterfly Garden Project and my sister. My sister does origami and she taught me how to origami five years ago and I’ve been caught in it since.

At first (a year ago), when planning a workshop, I got inspired from the layout of our sessions at the D&F Academy (now the Do School) in Hamburg and their nice flow. I still kept some of those lessons. But I usually don’t have a whole day for a workshop, so I adapted my “teaching technique” to a 2-3 hour interval.

A silk flower brooch created by a participant in the kanzashi workshop.
A silk flower brooch created by a participant in the kanzashi workshop in the park – August 2013.

When I plan a workshop, it’s usually a crafty one, so we’ll be learning how to make something new by recycling fabrics or paper. Still, I believe these lessons I learned can be applied to any kind of workshop.

So here are some pointers on holding workshops:

  • When preparing for a workshop, decide on one topic, something narrow enough that the participants can master in the few hours they are with you there. No matter how simple one thing looks from the outside, there are always many details that few people can see, but impact the whole thing. So make sure you have time to go into those details for whatever it is you’re teaching.
  • Very important: get an assistant; a person who knows what you’re doing or has seen you work before; someone who can support a participant until you have time to go by and help them; someone who has free hands to take pictures and maybe capture some video footage.
  • Prepare enough materials for more than the people who announced themselves. People are unpredictable and some of them might “forget” to attend, while some of them might bring friends. If the workshop is open to the public (like mine) be prepared for both cases and don’t be disappointed if you only have a handful of people. The smaller the group, the cozier it will be and the better you will work together.
  • Which brings me to: don’t take more than 10 people at a time for a workshop. Even if there are more that announced they will come, it’s better to hold a second workshop than cram them all in one sitting. The workshops will not be identical and you’ll be less stressed. It’s better to have a small group because you can concentrate on each participant. They will be more motivated to work, they will listen to you and not get bored.
  • This also means to get personal, get involved in the group. Don’t isolate yourself on a platform or something like that. First of all, the closer you are, the better they can hear you, so you don’t have to shout. Then they can ask questions and you can show them how it’s done a hundred times if you want to, it will not get awkward or boring for anyone. It’s like teaching a friend something new. I usually walk around and answer questions, sometimes fixing a thing or two.
  • Most importantly, enjoy this experience. It’s a unique occasion to meet these people in a unique setting, be curious and explore their lives, ask them about themselves, joke, laugh with them. They’ll enjoy the workshop and will remember it as a great and happy time spent learning something new from a wonderful person.

At our last workshops, that were held in the park, we had over 40 people who took part in the origami and kanzashi workshops, for around 7 hours. They would come and go, but we didn’t have more than 10 people at the table at the same time. We had a great day and I wish you will too when you organize your workshops.

A nice origami workshop in the park.
A nice origami workshop in the park.

What other lessons did you learn from organizing workshops? What would you recommend to someone who’s just starting in this area? I’m looking forward to your answers and any questions regarding the topic of holding workshops for your community.

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