A Workshop Facilitation Problem


Today I have a choice to make, and it’s one I’ve been contemplating and confounded by all of last evening; I still don’t know what I’ll decide. This is the kind of dilemma every Workshop Facilitator has the possibility of being confronted with and those in the workshops themselves will never have to face, but will certainly be impacted by.

I’m starting in the middle, so let me back up to yesterday morning right about this time. Here in Ontario we got snow which caused delays in people getting to their destinations. I myself arrived 15 minutes later to work than I normally do, but as I always allow 30 minutes leeway, I was still 15 minutes ahead of my 8:00 a.m. official start. So the usual 1 hour drive took 1 hour and 15 minutes. All the way i, I had one prevailing thought; “How many people will show up for Day 1 of the workshop?”

The workshop I’m running is a 10 day intensive job search for 12 unemployed people on social assistance. In order to attend, they can’t refer themselves; either I or one of my colleagues must refer them to me, and I go over ahead of the program what they are in store for. Gauging their interest and commitment, I then select 12 who in short, need to want a job more than I want it for them.

Well of course there was a problem with attendance or I’d be sharing something else. 5 showed up by the 9:00 a.m. start time; 1 called to say he was running late and would be there shortly and arrived 20 minutes in. Of the six remaining, 1 called in with the flu, 1 had a flat tire on the way, 3 emailed to say they had job interviews in Toronto and would gone for the entire day, and 1 didn’t call in at all. When I reached the last fellow, he claimed the weather kept him from coming and he “was going to call” but never did.

So here’s the situation in which I find myself. Literally 6 of the 12 weren’t there for the first day; a day in which I had those present introduce themselves and me to them. We covered expectations and I handed out resources both electronic and manual. We went over resumes as a group and had a quick visual look at the ones of those in attendance so they could contrast theirs with the format I’d like to see them use.

Under normal conditions, I’d move ahead to day with a short ½ hour talk on some job search subject and then release them all to job search. However, if Day 1 takes from 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. to set everyone up for the two weeks and get them mentally prepared, I’ve got 6 who should similarly need that same time today. However, I’ve got 6 who did show up and expect to move ahead and throw themselves into job searching; each meeting with me individually for guidance and help starting this morning while the others job search.

Now if I was missing one or two on the first day, I’d have them briefly introduce themselves and the group to them, and I’d get them up to speed in an hour. But half the class?  So I ponder the predicament I’m in. If as they claim, 3 were at job interviews in a neighbouring city on a snowy day where travel time was slowed, they have excellent reasons for being absent. The flu victim and the one with the flat tire both have claims beyond their control; although I do wonder why a flat tire would keep a person away the entire day. The only one with no excuse is the person who blamed the weather but didn’t take the responsibility to contact me and leave a message.

No matter the reason, I’m potentially standing in front of 12 people in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and I’ll have to know what my plan is for the day. Just as the weather tested their decision-making skills yesterday, their decision yesterday tests my own decision-making skills today.

I share this situation with you my readers, because some of you are also Workshop Facilitators and we can learn from one another. Ever had this problem? In talking with my peers at the close of the day yesterday, some would have refused the guy who didn’t call at all from attending the session entirely. That however I personally reject in this unique situation as even were I to ban him, I’d have 5 who still need some kind of orientation so what’s 1 more? He is on a short leash however (if that metaphor isn’t too offensive).

I also share this because if you are a client attending workshops, you hear a side of things that you may not have given much thought to. Those of us running such workshops do care, we plan them out with your best interests in mind and each day has something meaningful to learn. If you lose a day, not only do you mess things up for the presenter, you can’t learn in 9 days what 10 were scheduled to share. You’re short changing yourself.

We shall see how the day unfolds – and how many show up. Whatever decision I make will depend in large part on that.

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