Running a training workshop

May 20, 2018

As long as I can remember I've enjoyed public speaking. This doesn't mean I am good at it, it simply means I enjoy it. School events, class president, my jobs, etc., they all taught me great lessons about public speaking. So when I started as a developer, sharing my knowledge with others at conferences or meetups came pretty natural.

I'd like to clarify, that after years of doing talks and other methods of public speaking, I am still terrified. I get nervous, my hands sweat, my legs shake, and my voice gets weird. Basically what I am trying to say is that I'm not an expert by any means, but I overcome the phobia of public speaking by doing it frequently.

For many years I have speaking at conferences, but in the past few years I started conducting longer workshops. I first started doing online workshops, which have their pros and cons. While they don't put you face to face with your audience, it also does not give you a good sense for how effective your training is because you can't see people reactions. For this reason I prefer to do face-to-face training. As part of my job I conduct periodic Front-End training workshops for clients and recently I started conducting all-day training workshops at conferences. I really enjoy it and I'ld like to share some of the lessons learned.

Picking a topic

Ideally you want to pick a topic you feel 100% confident about. I have learned that people attending your training or talks welcome any information you can share no matter how simple or elementary it may feel to you. Don't ever think what you know may not be of interest to others because you would be wrong.

Lately I have been challenging myself a little more when picking a topic to train about. While is good to know the topic well, it is also extremely rewarding to pick a topic you'd like to learn more about. This may feel contrary to what I said ealier but hear me out. When you decide to train on a topic, you will spend a lot of time preparing, training, testing and reharsing. This is exactly how you learn a new skill. I can't tell you how many times I come out of training I did knowing more about the topic than before and also learning from people who attended the training. If you want to learn a new skill, teaching others about it could be the best way for you to learn it.

Preparing for the training

Everyone has their own style for teaching or doing a presentation. Some people like to use slides and screenshots, others show recordings of their project or code. My personal preference is to build a working prototype. This to me presents many advantages, but it also means you will spend more time getting ready. My training workshops usually include very little slides because the majority of the training will be spent writing actual code and building the prototype during the training.

Here's my typical process for preparing for a training workshop:

  • Identify a prototype that serves the purpose of the training. If I am teaching a workshop about component based development I would normally pick something that involves the different aspects of component based development (attoms, nested components, reusable components, etc.)

  • Build the prototype upfront to ensure you have a working model to demo and go by.

  • Once prototype is built, create a public repo so you can share the working prototype

  • Write step-by-step instructions to building the prototype. Normally I would break the prototype down into small components, atoms.

  • Test, test and test. You want to make sure yoru audience will not run insto unexpected issues while following your instructions. For this reason you need to make sure you test your instructions. Ask a friend or colleague to go through each of your excercises to ensure thing work as expected.

  • Provide a pre-training evaluation. A quick set of questions that will give you an idea of people's skills level as well as environment (Linux, Widows, OSX). This will help you plan ahead of time.

  • Build a simple slide deck for introductions and agenda purposes. Mainly I move away from slides as soon as introduction and agenda is done. The rest of the training is all hands on.

Communicate with your audience ahead of time

As you will learn, one thing that can really kill a lot of the time during training is assisting people with their local environment setup. I have conducted training workshops where I've spent half the time helping people with their environment. For this reason, nowadays I communicate with the people ahead of time to ensure everyone's local environment is ready to go.

I normally make myself available once or twice in an evening through a google hangout to assit anyone who may need help. I also provide detailed instructions on how to get their local environment ready. This could save you a lot of time during training. In addition, for those who did spend the time on getting their environment ready, it's not fair that they have to be held back because someone did not make an effort to setup their environment. I make myself available ahead of training but if someone is still having issues because of neglect, I don't hold the rest of the class back. I try to help them but at some point I move on.

During training

If possible, get help from someone who is also well-versed with the topic so they can assist you help people who may get stuck. Nothing is more frustrating that havign to break the flow of the training to help people who get stuck. Having someone else help you with this allows you to continue with the training and not have everyone loose momentum.

Finally

Enjoy yourself. Make sure you and your audience have fun. If you show excitement in what you are doing people will get excited as well.