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At conferences, it is common for schedules to be broken into different sections with speakers, interspersed with workshops. HCCE’s historic conference venues often have dedicated rooms where smaller groups can gather to participate in more interactive events. However, ensuring that these are effective and not a waste of time is not always easy.

Putting people together in a group and stimulating interaction can be tricky, as many people feel self-conscious or may gravitate towards people they already know. It is important to consider the seating in the group’s room. Arrangements around a table can have a formal feel. A more informal setting, perhaps with comfortable furniture, is more likely to make everyone feel more relaxed.

Deciding who will lead the group is also important. Some people are naturally engaging and encourage high levels of participation. Others are not so good. Group leaders don’t necessarily need to have extensive expertise on the topic under discussion, unlike your major speakers. But, they do need to be good at keeping the conversation moving and ensuring everyone gets their say.

Do not forget that there are many different learning styles. An approach that benefits one attendee may not necessarily resonate with another. Unless you know what learning style the group falls into, it is sensible to use a number of approaches to increase participation. Audio and visual presentations will suit some learners, others will get more out of social interaction, and some value opportunities for solitary processing time. Mix it up and keep engagement styles diverse.

Workshop success relies on a group of attendees who want to participate. So make sure that your workshops are clearly presented on the program of events, to attract those who will most benefit from this sort of participatory event.