Lisa Hunt has been an active member of Support Driven for many years — in the Slack, organizing London Support Driven meetups, and volunteering, speaking at, or attending nearly every Support Driven conference ever produced. She got involved at a new level in 2019 by coordinating the workshop program at Support Driven Expo Europe in Belgrade. She also presented a workshop there. I was eager to hear her thoughts on what it was like to be involved with the workshops: what goes on behind the scenes to create the workshop portion of a Support Driven conference and what tips she has for other workshop presenters after running a workshop herself. Enjoy, and thank you for being amazing, Lisa! — Andrea
Tell us a little bit about the workshop program at a Support Driven Expo.
I think the workshops are the heart of what it means for the Support Driven Expo to be an Expo, not just a conference. While I do think we have a pretty great talk program, the workshops are the place for attendees to learn new skills or gather valuable takeaways to bring back to their team and use in their role, whatever that might be. The workshop program is multi-track so there are lots of people to keep track of and most of them haven’t given a workshop before so we try to focus on what it is that attendees will be learning and work outwards from there. In fact, a lot of our workshop leaders originally pitched with talks and we thought they had something that would make a valuable workshop and asked them to adapt this.
What was it like coordinating the workshop program?
It was daunting! There were a lot of workshop leaders and we really wanted to help all of them succeed at creating really actionable content. The goal is to have someone come away from the workshop and actually use the content instead of making some notes that are never looked at again.
It was also really fun! I love to know all the things and getting a sneak peek at some of the content we had planned was really great. I had some calls with people to help them get a handle on what they were planning and they were teaching me all sorts of new things!
My role started well before the conference, looking through all of the speaker pitches and trying to decide which would be valuable to our community and whether they’d work best as a talk or a workshop. My role carried right through to the two days of the conference, making sure that workshop leaders had their printouts and anything else they might need, keeping an eye on timings and answering any last minute questions.
What did you think of being both a presenter and the program coordinator?
Ooof. It was a lot of work. I’m definitely not saying it wasn’t worth it because I really feel so proud of what we put together for the conference and with my personal performance as a workshop leader and emcee, and I had so much fun with it, but there were definitely some times when I wondered why I’d signed up for so much.
I know there are some tasks that I could have done better with more time – I definitely had a few moments where I was sending emails out to Workshop Editors asking about how their presenters were getting on and I knew that my own workshop wasn’t on track – but it all came together in the end. Plus, I had the power to schedule my own workshop on the morning of the first day so that I could enjoy the rest of the Expo!
Had you run a workshop prior to SD Expo Europe?
No, I’d given talks and moderated panel discussions, as well as organising my own events, but I hadn’t ever run a workshop. There was a lot of learning by doing – and asking my friends and loved ones to look at my materials and answer questions.
What was the name of your workshop, and what was the one thing attendees would be able to do after attending?
My workshop was called ‘Help! I don’t want to be a manager. What now?’ and the aim was to give attendees a tool for planning their career and their immediate next steps. I wanted everyone to leave the session with – if not a concrete plan – at least an idea of where to start with their progression, even if their company or team didn’t have a framework they could use.
How did you make your material interactive to bring value to the attendees: so that attendees could practice and walk away with something they could apply when they get back to work?
I tried to include a combination of practical activities with a worksheet to complete, presentation with slides and explanations between each activity, and group discussion. I decided to frame careers as a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ or ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style journey and created a worksheet in the style of a character sheet that attendees could take with them and use as a template for future plans.
What steps did you take or tools did you use to plan for the timing of different elements the workshop?
I broke down the 45 minute session time on paper and mapped it to the topics I wanted to cover. So, for example, 10 minutes to talk about looking at your career so far and what you’ve learned about your likes and dislikes at work. I also practiced the workshop with a group of London-based Support Driven members who weren’t able to attend the Expo.
What surprised you during the creation or presentation of your workshop?
45 minutes is no time at all! When I started planning, I was thinking about needing to fill the space, but actually the time flies by – especially if you include group discussions. It’s also really difficult to know when to bring those discussions to a halt in order to move on to the next activity. You want people to have the value that comes from talking over their ideas but you do need to rush them a little because they won’t necessarily stay on topic. Despite practicing, I still felt that I could have used more time for the last section of my workshop.
What would you do the same if you presented a workshop again?
I’d definitely include the handout. I think having something printed particularly for the workshop helped people to engage with the content and encouraged them to make notes.
Practice! I was so glad that I’d tested the workshop on a small group of people before running it with a much larger group.
What would you do differently?
Narrow the focus (or get a longer timeslot). 45 minutes isn’t long and I felt like I was trying to cram too much in there.
Group people (or pair them up) before starting the activities so there’s less confusion around setting up the groups and so they can get to know one another a little outside of the discussion you want them to have.
Practice with people who don’t already know one another. There’s definitely a difference in how discussions work between people who are already friends and people who aren’t. I wish I’d seen this before the “real” workshop and adjusted things accordingly.
What advice do you have for workshop presenters at future Support Driven conferences?
Know what you want your attendees to take back to their teams and help them get there.
(And a piece of advice for people who aren’t sure whether they could be a workshop presenter at a future Support Driven conference: Do it! If you’re worried that you don’t have anything to say, message me, I bet we can find something that our community would love to learn from you.)
Lisa is a Customer Success Champion for Geckoboard and former UK Customer Support Engineer for Moz. She recently completed her computer science degree and now spends most of her time reading books, playing video games and catching up on her Netflix queue. When she’s got some spare time, she also co-hosts the Support Breakfast podcast and organises London support events. Find her in the Support Driven Slack @lisahhhhh, and on Twitter @gentlethorns.