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How to initiate, organize, and execute a successful writing workshop

A handy guide for anyone who wants to lead a writing workshop.

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Preparation

Any equipment needs you might have, such as a laptop and a projector so you can display images from your computer on a screen, need to be arranged ahead of time. You can’t count on the staff at a library or convention anticipating your needs. Even if you arrange for a laptop to be there when you arrive, bring your own for backup anyway. If you have a PowerPoint presentation to give, save it on your computer, on a flash drive, and on the cloud (or just email it to yourself so you can access it online). Print your presentation in outline form and bring enough copies for everyone. You want to make sure you have access to your material one way or another, in case something goes wrong.

Make sure you have an outline or presentation notes for yourself. Don’t rely on your memory or ability to improvise. Some of the worst workshops I’ve ever attended were given by people who decided to wing it. Maybe you won’t need to refer to your notes, but you’ll have them in case you do. I usually rely on a print-out of my PowerPoint presentation for my outline. Prepare your handouts ahead of time. Sometimes the staff at a library or convention will offer to make handouts for you, but I prefer to make my own, just so I know I have them for certain when I walk in the door. Bring any promotional materials – your card, book fliers, books to sell, etc. – with you. I use a simple canvas bag to carry my workshop materials. If I bring books, I lug them in a plastic tote.

How should you dress? Whichever way you feel is most comfortable for you physically and emotionally, and that you think fits the situation. (If you’re unsure if the place where you’re presenting has a dress code, just ask.) If you feel more professional dressing up a bit, go for it. If you feel more yourself presenting in a T-shirt and jeans, and the venue allows for that, do it. The college where I teach has a business-casual dress code, and I usually wear a polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers there, so that’s what I wear when I present. If you have a writer persona that you adopt for professional events, and that includes a particular outfit, then wear that – as long as it’s appropriate. (If your writer persona is Intellectual Nudist, you might have some problems.) I wear a hat that I call my Stupid Author Branding Hat – which I ended up adopting more or less by accident – and it seems to work for me. That, or people are too kind to tell me I look ridiculous in it.

Delivery of content

If you’ve ever taken a speech class, then do all the things you learned there. But here are some basics. Make sure you speak loudly enough (especially if you’re not given a microphone). Don’t go too fast. Everyone speaks too fast when they’re nervous. Make sure to pause from time to time and ask if anyone has questions. Don’t ramble, talk about yourself too much, or get off-topic. Stay focused. Give people enough time to do and share the exercises, and leave time at the end for questions.

Author and editor Michael Knost has some advice on presentation style. “Go into each presentation as though you were a stand-up comedian. I don’t mean you have to add humor to your talk, I mean you should adjust your delivery to the crowd in front of you. That doesn’t mean you have to alter the material (although it very well could mean just that); it merely means reading the audience in front of you will only help you deliver your material in the best way they will accept it. Gauge your audience during the presentation very much in the same manner you gauge personal conversations with individuals – because you’re not presenting information to an audience…you’re engaging in communication with a group of individuals.”

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