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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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Be flexible

Things will not go exactly according to plan – and that’s OK. Even if you’ve decided how much time you’ll need for each step of your presentation, things may go faster or slower than you expect. You may have to skip some items or stop before you cover everything you’d planned. That’s fine. There might be equipment issues or problems with the presentation space. That’s OK, too. Do your best to work around it. Move to a different room. Go outside if you have to, whatever. It’s alright to answer participants’ questions during the course of the presentation but try not to get caught up in a conversation that eats up too much session time. Don’t let any one participant hog too much time or become a “co-presenter.” If necessary, tell participants that you can talk to them individually after the workshop to answer questions in more detail.

On being flexible, multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author Lucy A. Snyder says, “It’s always important to try to find out who your participants are (and what their writing/workshopping experience levels are) as you’re planning your class. And sometimes that’s just not feasible, so you have to create a ‘one size fits most’-type workshop and plan to deal with various contingencies. Don’t go in expecting disaster, but in the back of your mind, it’s important to have a plan for how to handle things if you get a person in your class who’s being disruptive or insulting if the class involves peer critiques or other collaborative learning.”

Dealing with presentation anxiety

Even people who are veterans at delivering presentations can get nervous, so if you find yourself on the verge of a mini panic attack before your workshop, it’s normal. Preparation is the best defense against stress. Prepare your presentation well. Practice it. Deliver it to friends and family and ask for their feedback. If possible, visit the venue ahead of time to get a feel for the space. If it’s a convention and a number of workshops are taking place, attend one, especially if it’s in the same room as yours will be. Whether I’m doing a workshop or a reading at a conference, I always visit the room ahead of time to see what space I’ll be working with.

To deal with the unpleasant physical effects of being nervous, research techniques to reduce anxiety, practice them at home, and do them before you present. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks, and big meals before (or during) presenting if anxiety is an issue for you. Even if it’s not, presentations rarely go better if you’re tipsy or experience a sudden attack of indigestion. Presenters are often given a bottle of water to sip on during a workshop. But nervous presenters may take a drink every few moments, which interrupts the flow of the workshop and starts making attendees nervous. Plus, you might spill the water, and that could cause a problem (especially if you spill it on electronic equipment). And if you’re really nervous, you might feel like you have to pee almost immediately. That said, taking an occasional drink of water can keep you from getting nervous dry mouth. Have whatever meds you need – an inhaler, allergy medicine, anti-anxiety medicine – on hand, just in case.

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