Experienced workshop leaders will no doubt have their own tried and true techniques, but first-time leaders may benefit from the following suggestions:
- Understand your role. This is an opportunity for you to inspire personal growth within yourself and among workshop participants. As a facilitator, your role is not to lecture, but to help participants find their own answers. During activities, circulate around the room to offer assistance or to help move discussions forward.
- Avoid counseling. The workshops are not an occasion for couples therapy. Personal issues may come up during the course of discussions and can be acknowledged. For example, you might say, "I can hear that you feel upset, and I encourage you and your partner to explore that issue outside of the workshop." Couples needing to work through major personal issues and problems will be better served by private counseling or consultation with a minister.
- Build trust and offer comfort. Learn all participants' names as quickly as possible and practice active listening. (See "Listen" below.) Invite participants to take comfort breaks as needed.
- Be prepared. Use the Spiritual Preparation and Leader Reflection and Planning sections in each workshop.
- Encourage participation.Principled Commitment is not intended to be a lecture series. Invite everyone to participate in discussions and activities, with one caveat: never insist that anyone speak in front of the group. Let participants know they may "pass" their speaking opportunity to another person.
- Respect participants' time. Begin and end each workshop promptly. Do not repeat material for people who arrive late; doing so reinforces their behavior and penalizes those who arrive on time. Consider speaking privately with habitual latecomers to explain the effect their late arrival has on others.
- Follow the workshop agenda. The basic content can be covered within two hours. Alternate activities and optional discussion topics may be added if time allows or if participants wish to meet for longer or additional workshops. Approximately 45 minutes before the scheduled end of the workshop, check to see whether the remaining activities can be completed on time. If not, you may want to shorten or eliminate an activity. The closing is an exception, as it is a good way to wrap up each workshop. If you wish to continue an activity or discussion past the regular ending time, consider telling participants how much additional time is needed and offering them the option to stay or to leave at the usual time.
- Create a "parking lot." Discussions can quickly become sidetracked from the main topic, and many times, these new directions are worth exploring. In the interest of time management, you may wish to jot a few words about the new topic on a self-adhesive note and post it on a wall — the group's "parking lot" for ideas. If time allows at the end of the workshop, return to the parking lot and ask participants whether they would like to discuss the issue(s) posted.
- Remain neutral. If conflict arises, remain neutral. Listen to and acknowledge each point of view before reminding participants that few absolutes exist within human relationships. Then move the discussion along to the next topic or activity.
- Circulate during activities. As activities are being completed, circulate around the room to ensure that participants understand the tasks. Offer input when appropriate.
- Communicate between workshops. You may need to communicate with participants to remind them of upcoming meeting dates and times, to prompt them to bring materials needed for workshops, to alert participants of cancellations due to weather emergencies or other circumstances, and to gain feedback and answer questions.
Leaders who take the following steps may find that they have enhanced the workshop experience for themselves and their participants:
Review. Read the curriculum to become familiar with it. Choose the activities, optional discussion topics, and at-home assignments that will suit your participants' needs and the time allotted for the workshop.
Gather. Each workshop includes a list of materials needed.
Plan. Discuss with your co-leader who will lead each part of the workshop's discussion and activities. This will help the workshop run smoothly.
Communicate. Call or send notes to participants to remind them when and where the workshop will be held and whether they need to bring anything special, such as art supplies. If participants have agreed to take turns bringing refreshments, remind hosts when it is their turn.
Anticipate. The day before each workshop, check weather reports, ensure that the meeting room remains reserved for you, and touch base with your co-leader to ensure that every detail has been addressed.
Listen. The practice of active listening enhances understanding and lets speakers know they are being heard. Try the following techniques for active listening. It is not necessary to employ every technique repeatedly; restating every point a speaker makes, for instance, would be annoying rather than affirming.
- Make eye contact. Look directly at the person who is speaking, nodding your head to acknowledge comments being made.
- Engage physically. Face the speaker with uncrossed legs and arms, and lean toward the speaker. Avoid body language that shows disinterest, such as fidgeting or yawning.
- Restate. Reiterate the speaker's main points to ensure that you understand them.
- Summarize. Outline the speaker's main ideas.
- Ask. Request additional information or clarification.
- Give feedback. Show how you can relate to the speaker's experience or ideas.
- Offer support. Respond compassionately, even if you disagree.