8 Key Insights from Running a Technical Workshop

Last week I was in Prague, running my first ever technical workshop. It was on the stress testing tool Gatling. You can read about my thoughts just before delivering the workshop in this blog post.

In this post I am going to highlight 8 insights that I gained from creating and delivering this workshop.

Let me start by saying that as a little as a year ago, this is not something I ever thought I would be capable of doing.

I consider myself a highly introverted person. I don’t think I have any great skill or experience when it comes to teaching. Certainly not in a live and engaging environment. So the fact that I volunteered to do this, and followed through with it, is a huge personal win for me. I have proven to myself that you can do pretty much anything if you want to. If you just put your mind to it.

Overall the workshop went really well. The content that I created seemed to be at the right level. The slide deck looked good and presented the information well. The feedback that I have got since running the workshop has been positive. Everything was good.

Let me tell you though, running this workshop was HARD. I was massively out of my comfort zone. For real personal growth though, that is where you need to be, right?

So let share with you some of the insights I gained from doing this!

Insight 1: 25+ people is way too many for a technical workshop

Especially for your first ever one! Having this many people made it more daunting. It also made it harder to interact with individuals. Especially if they were having issues.

I didn’t want this many people to attend. But as it was an internal workshop, and I was only in Prague for a short time, so I couldn’t turn people away. Next time I would spread it over multiple sessions instead.

I think the ideal number would have been around 8 or so, maybe even less than that. I was spread way too thinly with the number in this workshop.

Insight 2: Test the workshop first (with someone external)

I missed a trick here (especially being a tester, whoops!). I should have tested the workshop out beforehand, ideally with more than one person.

I did test it extensively myself, on both Windows and OSx. But of course it worked fine for me. When I came to run the workshop, there were a few small issues that could have been detected beforehand. Nothing all that major. But things would have run a little smoother if these issues were ironed out first.

Insight 3: Don’t try to broadcast it live at the same time

About a day before the workshop, my manager asked me to broadcast it over Zoom as well. I was immediately uncomfortable with this. I already suspected I was going to be overburdened with the number in the room.

I was right. Doing it over Zoom as well was too much, and I hadn’t designed the content to be delivered in that medium.

All that being said, I think delivering the workshop over a web session could work. Just not at the same time as running it in a room of people.

Better yet, as a series of recorded videos. This is likely something I will explore in the future. I have created many tutorial videos already. I feel much more comfortable doing this. It’s something I am considering doing more of next year.

Insight 4: Teaching, interpersonal and communication skills are underrated

Since giving the workshop, I have a new found respect for anyone that teaches! To keep the audience engaged and interested in what you are talking about is difficult. Especially if you aren’t particularly charismatic naturally!

The good news is this is a skill that can be learnt. If I was going to do this on a regular basis, I would invest in some training here. It would be time and money well spent.

Insight 5: Having a chat channel during the workshop is a great idea

We use Slack at work. A couple of hours before the workshop, I had the simple idea of opening a channel dedicated to the workshop. This turned out to be a good idea. I could copy and paste links and bits of code here during the workshop, and everyone could use them.

Insight 6: Things will go wrong. Take a breather, get over it and fix it.

I learnt that you have to expect things to go wrong somewhere or another. There were many participants, on different operating systems. This led to some configuration issues that were tricky to resolve.

Some things went wrong in the live demo as well. A test was failing and I couldn’t spot the reason why. I did start to panic a bit! But I took a breather, calmed down, and found the syntax mistake that was right under my nose.

You have to remember that no one is expecting everything to run perfectly smoothly. Mistakes happen and things go wrong. It isn’t the end of the world, you just have to keep going.

Insight 7: Preparation preparation preparation

This is an area I think I did well in. I spent a lot of time preparing the content, and practising it. I created a GitHub project with code examples and answers, to go with the slides.

If I had tried to get participants to create a project from scratch, it would have taken too long.

As the old saying goes, “Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail”

Insight 8: If you can’t answer something, don’t blag it, follow up later.

To be fair, I already knew this one before. I will never try to blag something I don’t know, you will get caught out eventually and look foolish.

If someone asks you a question and you don’t know, tell them just that. But tell them you are going to go away, research it, and get back to them. And do actually get back to them as well, even if its to say you couldn’t find the answer.

When you say this to people, I find that most don’t expect you to actually get back to them. They are generally both surprised and impressed when you show the integrity to do what you say. This is important.

I hope some of what I have posted above is useful. Especially for anyone considering running a workshop. I found it to be a highly rewarding experience. It has also raised my profile in my organisation, which can’t hurt.

To summarise the insights:

  • Start small, 8 people or fewer for a first workshop is good
  • Test the workshop out first on someone else (or more than 1 person!)
  • Just focus on those in the room, don’t broadcast it externally
  • Have a chat channel, or something similar, where you can post messages to the group in real time
  • Prepare and practice beforehand as much as possible
  • Don’t blag it, follow up later instead
  • Things will go wrong, get over it.

I would love to hear your feedback or any other questions that you have below. Thanks for reading!