A recipe for creating a great workshop

Recently I was lucky enough to attend a workshop taken by Jeremy Keith on responsive enhancement, this was part of the Build Conference.  At some point I will be writing up my thoughts on the content of the talk but in this short article I would like to discuss some take away points on what I thought was excellent about the workshop itself.

Because I am in the second month of a diet, food has been playing a fairly large role in my life, so I will begin by writing this up as a recipe.

Recipe: Excellent Workshops
Serves: 25-30
Ingredients:

  • Expert Presenter
  • Keen Attendees
  • Preparation
  • Beautiful Setting
  • Little Touches

The most important ingredient is of course the presenter; you need a presenter who knows their stuff and when it comes to web design there are arguably few that know more than Jeremy Keith – Technical Director of Clear Left, author of several books and all round web expert.

I have heard him on various podcasts and have read several of his articles before so I was fully aware of how well he speaks and how well he gets his point across and this was apparent in this workshop.

The next thing you need for a successful workshop is keen attendees, forgive me if I pat myself on the back for a second, but I think we were all excellent attendees – 90% of the room were front end developers and all had a good amount of experience in their respective fields and even though the first part of the workshop was a pitch to try and get us sold on the idea of responsive design I think we were all sold from the start and eager to learn more.

Getting a chance to chat to a handful of folk in your field is sometimes just as energising as the knowledge you acquire at events like these.

Even if you have the right speaker and the right audience, without preparation things like this could fall on their arse very quickly – luckily that wasn’t an issue. Sitting on the desks as we entered we had;

  • Glasses
  • Water (for the glasses I presume)
  • A pen (from The Merchant, a damned nice writer at that)
  • Some paper
  • A USB stick with the entire presentation material and code samples on it.

Obviously those first lot of things were small niceties, but having that USB with everything prepared was just awesome, and for some reason I find it infinitely more useful than having the slides and content up on something like Slideshare, I think it is because something like a USB pen feels more like a gift than anything else.

Knowing the content and samples were to hand meant that you only had to take notes on a fairly small subset of the talk, which meant you could spend more time properly listening. [Side note: you should read how I write up conference talks, if that interests you!]

One small thing was the presentation files were saved as .key which means I need to download a reader to view them on my Windows machine.

This wasn’t the only prep work done, Jeremy was able to pre-empt a lot of questions and it came across very clearly that he had spent some time pondering over various elements of the workshop, which immediately turns his opinion into his informed opinion – which as an attendee is very reassuring.

If you have these three things I think you are going to be in for an excellent day, but the gravy of this recipe has to be the next two points;

The beautiful setting that the workshops took place in made everything all the more memorable, The Merchant hotel is lovely, the staff were professional to a fault and you were really able to learn in comfort.

Something like this was always going to be well attended, but I think the fact it was put on in a central and nice part of the city helps too.

Finally - The little touches, probably the least important things in terms of getting something out of the day but potentially the most important in terms of remembering the event long after the day is over, here are some of the little things that made the day.

  • The food was beautiful.
  • An internet connection was provided and it worked.
  • A gift bag was left for everyone.

The food being beautiful may sound like an odd thing to comment on, but there is a massive difference between dry sandwiches and bottled generic water and what we had, and this wouldn’t have been cheap to provide.  Before hand there was croissants and bacon rolls, for lunch there was fish and chips, burgers and tartlets and throughout the day there was plenty of tea, coffee, soft drinks and nibbles available.

Some people may list having an internet connection as more of a requirement, I don’t think it is, especially since our smart phones do everything for us over 3G now anyway, but it is a real pet peeve of mine when an event makes a point of telling you there will be internet but it is just rubbish, normally this is due to underpowered hardware that can’t cope with the increased numbers - there must have been close to 150 extra people in the building on the day I was there and the internet coped fine.

Finally - everyone received a personalised gift bag from the conference, this included various build branded items (all related to hands on American style building materials, a branded carpenters pencil, for example).  Everyone loves getting something for nothing (like the USB stick) and this little package of things escalate the organisers from being good to being great.  An excellent touch.

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