What’s the Big Deal about Leading a Writers’ Workshop?

Well, I’ll tell you. It probably teaches you as much as it does the other participants. Perhaps more. I led a workshop Saturday for my Toastmasters group (Off the Page – a speaking club for writers and a writing club for speakers). We worked on characterization methods. Here’s what I learned:

1.            It’s good to over-prepare.

Depending on the topic, the average ratio of preparation time to presentation length, for me, is 3:1. Preparing for the characterization workshop took me longer than the average. First, because I am a person who is compelled to research ad nauseum when I prepare materials for a first-time presentation, and second, because of the need to find short, on-point examples of the various techniques. Why didn’t I flag all those great examples the first time I spotted them?

2.            When you notice a great example of a writing technique in your reading, flag it.  Even if you never lead a workshop, it may help you with a snag in your writing later.

3.            It’s good to have a plan B.

It’s difficult to judge in advance what you will be able to accomplish in the allotted time. Much will depend on the participants. Over-preparation helps – if you have extra material handy, you won’t panic when you look at the clock, thinking your time must be up, and you discover there’s still half an hour left.

The participants in my workshop are energetic and enthusiastic writers, so my plan B was to be prepared to cut material. It turned out to be a good plan, because they threw themselves into the exercises and came up with great samples for the discussion.

4.            It’s good to have handouts. Writers like to see examples of a technique, to be able to analyze them.

5.            Small bites, well-chewed, work best. I discovered it’s difficult to deliver an overview of a topic and still focus on practicing a technique. For example, there are six methods of characterization, but you can’t deal with all of them adequately in a short time. If I were to lead a similar workshop again, I would outline the six methods and then select one (two at most) to discuss in depth.

6.            Writing exercises that address the techniques are fun and allow the participants to immediately try out the techniques being discussed.

7.            Allow plenty of time for participants to share the results of the exercises and for the group to comment. The workshop should be a communal learning experience.

8.            After the workshop, make notes on what went well and what could be improved. Then make adjustments to your presentation so that the next time you lead a similar workshop, it will be smoother.

I’ve attended some fabulous workshops and seminars and have tried to make note of things those presenters did well and that I would like to emulate – handouts, being prepared, ability to manage questions from the audience, to name a few.

What are some of the presentation techniques that you think work well, that make or break the presentation in your eyes?

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About Charlotte Morganti

Charlotte Morganti has been a burger flipper, beer slinger, lawyer, and seasonal chef de tourtière. And, always, a stringer-together-of-words. In addition to her law degree, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her short fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review and The Whole She-Bang 2. Her first novel, The Snow Job, was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award in 2014 for the best unpublished crime novel. She lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband and the quirky characters who populate her fiction.