I spoke with Ruth shortly after she finished presenting at SD Expo Europe, and she said something that made me want to learn more about how she prepared her workshop: she knew it was important to share insights from Intercom’s experience with rolling out weekend and holiday support, but she also knew that what worked at Intercom wouldn’t work at every company.  She was intentional about structuring her workshop so that attendees would be able to explore her ideas in the context of their own company, and what might work for their own circumstance. This matches our aim of Expo to send attendees home with practical learnings they can apply in their own work. I asked Ruth more about how she approached putting her workshop together, and she shared some great tips. — Andrea

What was the name of your workshop, and what was the one thing attendees would be able to do after attending?

Scaling Weekend & Holiday Support. Attendees could bring back to their teams some fresh thoughts on how to staff for weekends on public holidays and weekends.

Had you run workshops prior to SD Expo Europe?

Yes, I have run a few in the past. Most workshops I’ve run were for a group of global Customer Support managers in Intercom.

How did you make your presentation active for the audience instead of passive? In other words, how did you transform it from attendees just listening to you speak (like a traditional talk) to engaging them and making it interactive for the audience?

The most important thing in keeping a workshop engaging is ensuring the attendees do far more talking than the facilitator. Of course the facilitator needs to introduce the topic and why it’s important, but after that the room should be turned over to the attendees (with some time-checking and guidance from the facilitator).

Even during my introduction (which lasted 15 minutes) I encouraged participation by asking for shows of hands, asking questions etc. To maintain the energy in the room, I asked attendees to get up and move when breaking into working groups. Typically people will sit with teammates/people they know, so to encourage a more diverse discussion I wanted people to speak with folks from other companies.

I asked each group to select a note-taker and speaker and let them know as they broke into groups that they would be asked to present back to the wider group at the end of the session. I set clear timelines for when the discussions needed to finish and when I time-checked the group, one member of each group spoke up about their group’s findings, and I wrote them on a whiteboard so they could be noted down later. I also ensured that I commented on each point in some way so they knew I was engaged and listening too.

What steps did you take or tools did you use to plan for the timing of different elements the workshop?

I used a good old fashioned spreadsheet to break down the timings. Expo Europe organisers provided a helpful template which worked perfectly for me.

I also did multiple practice sessions with my team. Not the full 45 minutes, but I walked them through my introduction and how I was going to set up the working groups. Their feedback was really helpful and I made several changes on layout based on their fresh eyes/thoughts.

What surprised you during the creation or presentation of your workshop?

How quickly 45 minutes goes! It sounds like a long time when you have a blank canvas in front of you, but if you set up good discussion topics and allow attendees present their findings to the group, time flies.

What would you do the same if you presented a workshop again?

  • The ratio of me speaking vs attendees speaking.
  • Keep my slides as light on text as possible.
  • Not over-practice a script – as this was a workshop and not a talk, I felt the more casual approach worked well vs Ted Talk style.
  • Explain why the topic is important, share how my team works in this space but note that our way of doing things won’t necessarily work for every team which is why this is a workshop and not a presentation!
  • Break people into groups where they weren’t sitting with their teammates.
  • Walk around the room and sit with the different groups to ensure they understood the exercise and they were talking about the topic at hand (and not something unrelated!)
  • Whiteboard the main suggestions/ideas that groups presented back.
  • Shamelessly plug my team’s talks and workshops at the end when wrapping up :)

What would you do differently?

  • I’d look into getting a microphone as I have some issues projecting my voice. The room was big enough that the folks in the back of the room struggled to hear me at times.
  • I’d move the whiteboard to the other side of the room because I’m left handed. The position of the laptop/projector etc meant I was standing in a funny position when writing on the board. Such a small thing, but it would have made this piece of my presentation look more polished.

What advice do you have for workshop presenters at future Support Driven conferences?

  • Ensure your workshop is really a workshop and not a talk. People attend both for different reasons. It can be disappointing when a workshop turns out to mostly be a presentation.
  • Do a few practice runs with your team and solicit feedback on how to make it better.
  • If you can (timing-wise), go to another workshop in the room you’ll be running yours in so you can see the setup/layout and plan accordingly.
  • Plan for different attendee group sizes. Ensure you have a Plan A, B and C for different turnouts as what works for a big group may not work for a smaller group.
  • Check the attendance figures a few hours before your workshop on Whova because for Belgrade, these were pretty accurate.

Ruth has worked in Support for 10 years, in a range of different roles from Support Rep to QA, Team Lead to Senior Regional Manager.She loves helping people, from supporting customers in fixing their issues to coaching her team in moving from strength to strength in their careers. Ruth is currently leading the EMEA CS team in Intercom (40 people in total, 5 direct manager reports) in providing world class, personal support, and revolutionising how businesses speak to their customers.

Connect with her: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ruthieob/ | ruth@intercom.io | @ruthob (SD Slack)

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