I Planned A Workshop…Nobody Came!


It happens from time to time and for me it was yesterday.

I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop on preparing for and practicing interview skills. Now many people don’t particularly look forward to job interviews, and as its human nature to avoid things we don’t like if we can, this workshop isn’t famous for having high numbers. However, there are typically a group of 5 – 10 people who recognize the importance of learning how to interview well, especially as the stakes are so high.

But like I said, nobody showed up. Registration for this workshop is on a drop-in basis, and it makes the planning interesting. If you’re a seasoned workshop facilitator, you already understand the planning that goes into workshops and presentations, and I imagine you’ve had your expectations exceeded or not met. But if you are new to facilitating and presenting, or possibly thinking about taking on this kind of employment, you’ll appreciate my experience perhaps as a learning opportunity.

Now right off the bat, I want to state that many of the workshops I run require pre-registration. When you have pre-registration you certainly know how many you need to prepare for, and you can get all your handouts ready etc. But some of the workshops I am asked to run are drop-in by nature, and the planning for these is very different.

The workshop yesterday was one I was really looking forward to as well, because I was including a student in it that’s with us over the summer, and giving her a chance to do some facilitating under a supportive eye is something she’s asked for. So we met two days ago and went over the agenda, what she might want to take on and lead, and what she would rather not do in case she became overwhelmed due to lack of experience.

So I showed her the flip charts I’d prepared, walked her through the process from the moment people start to arrive, how the set up of the room enhances or not the participation level of those in attendance. I explained how we’d start off just getting names and desired occupations, then list any questions they dread or fear in an interview, and how after getting their opinions, I’d share with them what I believe an interview actually is in fact.

Ah, it was magical. There I was, this seasoned Employment Counsellor all in my element. After all, I was talking to her about something I love doing, so I was confident, enthusiastic and glad to be sharing this. “It’s critical to be prepared”, I said, and pulled out one of the 10 folders I had constructed to give to participants. The contents of the folder were a pen, notepad, blank sheet for notes, one thank you card and envelope, and 15 pages of tips, suggestions, definitions, strategies, an interview format to follow and sample questions that might come up.

“Wow, they’ll get a lot of stuff!”, she said. I’ll admit when I heard and saw her reaction I was pleased. After all, I’m highly aware that this person is going to be potentially entering a career where she may be doing what I’m doing and reaching others. If I can get her to plan things out in detail ahead of time so the workshop flows smoothly, and take it this seriously ahead of people arriving, she’ll be in a position to be more comfortable, and that will translate into a better experience for clients who are nervous themselves.

So the morning came and the handouts were ready in the blue glossy folders. The flip charts sequentially ready to whip out as we progressed, and the attendance sheet ready for signing in. I opened the doors 30 minutes before we were due to start and waited. Even at the appointed start time with no one in the room I waited. Sometimes clients arrive 10 minutes late. But the dawning realization got more and more certain. Nobody was coming.

And this is a great lesson to learn. So I laughed with our student and told her that despite no one showing up, the advanced preparation should always be exactly the same. All those folders and flip charts can be used next time around and so they don’t go to waste. While disappointing, it’s also not doing any good to take things personally. After all, it’s not like we advertised, “Interview Workshop starring Kelly and Allana – come one come all!” Had we done this, it may have been a personal slight. Like I said earlier however, not many see a voluntary workshop on interviews as a must see event. For many, it’s like not thinking you need any dental work, but making an appointment just to see if they can find anything new.

Oh and lest you think the lesson ended there, it didn’t. What we did after cleaning up is talk with our colleagues and find out where we could help out. Unexpected help is always welcomed around here, and even if no one took up us on our offer of assistance, there would be other work to do. Sometimes just going up to a client in a drop-in resource centre and saying, “Hey I’ve got some time, anything I can help you out with?” gets you busy.

Failing anyone needing or wanting help, there’s always planning and revising existing presentations to be done. Good workers take initiate and keep busy. I learned that years ago.

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