I’ve been teaching online workshops now for a few years, and I’ve one coming up for the Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop course with the Lowcountry Romance Writers, and every one of these is a different beast from the others. There are advantages to online workshops, the best being that you don’t have to drive, and with winter still hanging around, that’s a huge plus. But the other big plus is that, for writing, it’s all about the writing and getting the words down and communicating. That’s a challenge with just text, and so it’s why I’m always adjusting these workshops, and adding new things I’ve learned from my own writing.
There are times I feel a lot like a balloon — filled with hot air and not much else, something worth a glance. But the view is always better from up in the balloon. And while maybe I’ve covered the same material before, it only takes one questions that puts everything into a new light and makes it all fresh again.
I’m also a believer in covering the basics over and over again — you do the same thing in dance, you drill. It’s the repetition that actually leads to strong technical skills. That’s true for writing too — you really cannot cover the basics enough.
But all this leads me to think about what someone should expect from an online workshop — what is it possible to get and what is it possible to give. And since I’ve taken a few courses I have opinions about both sides of workshops.
The first job of any teacher is to engage. This means workshops shouldn’t bore. This one can be tricky online because you’re trying to balance conveying a lot of great information with trying not to overload the workshop participants — and everyone has different levels of processing. “The mind can’t absorb what the butt can’t endure” — in a classroom, you can only keeps folks sitting for so long unless you are utterly fascinating. Online that changes. Some folks read faster and some don’t; some folks retain more from what they read, some don’t. So there has to be a fair bit of repeating, balanced with the new information.
And sometimes it just takes saying the same thing several times to make it click. Short sentences help. A lot.
The second job is to inform — and my own criteria is if I get one gem, one golden nugget out of any workshop, it’s worth the price of admission. (And, yes, I’ve had a few workshops where that was missing, but almost every workshop will give you one good bit of advice — everything after that is gravy.)
With the entertaining, and the information snuck in, that covers the basic for any workshop for me. But I do think the best workshops have one more vital element — they’re fully interactive. Teaching has to be a dialogue.
I’ve lurked in workshops and I’ve participated — I always get more from the ones where I dive in and try out new things. I have more fun if I get my hands dirty. And workshops should be a place to fool around and try new things.
I also like teaching workshops more when those taking the workshop are willing to play — give and take is always more fun that either just giving, or just taking.
Which, actually, leads us back to the “show and tell” workshop — fancy that — because stories that both show and tell are also more fun that stories that just show or just tell. It’s all about balance really — in a workshop, or a story. A balance of information and engagement. A balance of give and take. A balance between showing folks how it’s done and telling. And that’s the thing about balance — it’s something that must be maintained. And I think that’s what I’m always looking for in a workshop — a well balanced flow of information.
But what’s your criteria for a great workshop?