Workshop planning 101

I've been asked a few times recently about the workshop programme that Christine and I run, both for our own choir members and for external groups. I thought it might be useful to our audience if I set out how we go about planning workshops and seminars for our singers and clients.

1. Start with the audience

Whatever sort of session you're planning, the starting point has to be the participants. What do they want from it? We didn't always get this right when we started out - we'd come up with fantastic ideas for workshops and be surprised that the take-up wasn't what we'd hoped.  You know what?  We hadn't asked anyone what they wanted!

When you're creating workshops for singers you already work with, it's easy to ask because you're already communicating with them. It's trickier to ascertain what external clients might want (and we've never had the budget for extensive market research) but perhaps you can call on existing contacts to critique your ideas, or see what sessions are being run by other people, either in your own area or elsewhere.

What are the participants going to get out of the session? Before you think about anything else, you need to be specific about this. I'm not talking about whether you'll be working on breathing or intonation or interpretation, but the need that your participants have that you're going to fulfil. Do they want to get more enjoyment out of being choral singers? Do they want to excel at something? Perhaps they're looking to build their confidence (if you haven't checked out our podcast on people's need for autonomy, mastery and purpose, it's here).  Once you've got the basic purpose of the session pinned down, you can work on the tangible things that will delivery that benefit.

2. Sketch out a basic structure

How long will the workshop last? Will you need breaks? Create a skeleton structure so that you start to get an idea of how much material you'll need, like this:-

Session 1 - 45 mins

Break - 15 mins

Session 2 - 30 mins


Don't forget that novice singers won't have your stamina! Even experienced singers won't want to sing for long stretches without a break, so make sure you give them time to relax and chat. Breaks are also really important because they give participants the opportunity to compare notes, make new friends and bond as a group. If you're doing a whole day's workshop, you'll need plenty of down time and a decent lunch break. Personally, I think a whole day of singing, say from 10am to 4pm, is a bit much and I usually suggest a maximum of three hours' singing time, broken down into sessions of no more than an hour and a half. Of course, you'll get tired too, and you don't want to finish the workshop looking worn-out and not giving the group your best.

3. Pick three things

To make sure that your workshop is clear and concise, pick three topic headings that clearly state what you're planning to cover. So, if I was planning a workshop on performance skills, I might choose:-

1. posture & body language

2. confidence

3. microphone technique

The give me a clear framework for the session and prevents me from rambling off into irrelevant territory. Why three?  I don't know, but it seems to work. If it's a long session, those three topics could be broad and I might break them down into sub-topics. If it's a short session, the three items might be quite narrow. Just make sure that each section of the workshop supports the overall purpose that you identified at the beginning.

4. Plan a "sacrificial" section

If you've read any of my previous articles about rehearsal planning, you'll know that this is one of my particular focuses when I'm planning anything. I'm not that great at predicting the timing of my sessions, sometimes the time just flies by, other times I'm wondering how to avoid finishing early. I've developed a system whereby I have an additional section, usually something related to the third focus of my workshop, that I'm ready to ditch if necessary. It will be something that's not critical to the session, but something that's interesting and engaging and well worth doing if we have the time. It's amazing how much less stressful a workshop is when you know that you're in command of the time and the material!

If you're planning any workshops, I'd love to hear how you get on.  I used this planning structure for a workshop today and I used my whole sacrificial section, despite thinking I had too much material!

See you next time.

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1 comment

Victoria Hopkins

I totally agree Chris. What we're always looking for, I suppose, is that perfect combination of a keen audience and a passionate teacher.
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