I love an awesome workshop. The one where I can dive in deep and do a bit of messy work to learn something new or figure out how to apply that new tactic I’ve been struggling to integrate into my life and make a practice. The one where I create something a bit messy with someone who knows more than me helping guide me through the tricky bits. The one where I know I’m not struggling alone because I’m working with others as we figure this out together. It’s being in the Room of Requirement practicing Defense Against the Dark Arts with Dumbledore’s Army. It’s that moment I figure it out after fumbling and produce my Patronus.

Recently I’ve appreciated the power of a well-designed in-person interactive workshop because I’ve been seeking that experience, and instead have ended up in Umbridge’s Defense Against the Dark Arts (well, maybe not that extreme) with lots of theory and checklists and tips and inspiration but little actual doing and feedback and guidance.

So, how do you design an awesome and interactive workshop? How do you do Dumbledore’s Army and avoid all things Umbridge?

1. Do a workshop, not something pretending to be a workshop.

A.K.A. Do Dumbledore’s Army, not Umbridge’s Defense Against the Dark Arts.

A workshop is not an inspiring talk, a lecture about theory, a presentation of information, or a teaching webinar. All of those things have a purpose and a place and can be totally awesome, but that doesn’t mean they are a workshop.

The workshop is a place for participants (who all actively participate and aren’t observers) to do the work and practice in a structured, guided way that is facilitated by an expert who knows more than they do and who can help them make progress towards their goals. Humans learn by trying, failing, getting feedback, and doing it again.

2. Be thoughtful about the content and the outcome.

A.K.A. Mastering Expelliarmus Can Save Your Life

Why are the participants coming to the workshop? What do they get out of it? What do you want them to learn to do? And why? Specific examples showing us how this works in real life illustrate the purpose. Always connect the activities back to the larger purpose and the desired outcome.

3. Leverage the human interaction and the physical space.

A.K.A The Impediment Jinx require Partners and Pillows

Be visual. Make an agenda, have a simple worksheet, have signage, show directions visually so people know what you want them to do.

Be interactive. Humans learn best by doing, so have activities for people to do. Pair participants off to work together.

Demo and Do. Show participants what to do and then have them do it. Give them time to struggle a little and practice. Give feedback and ask questions. Remember the work is going on in the participants’ heads and hands so resist the urge to keep explaining and just let the work happen.

4. Nuts and bolts

A.K.A. The Room of Requirement

Decide on workshop size. Do you want a small and intimate group with more intense, hands-on coaching and feedback? Or a medium number of people for more scalability and larger group work? And what does that mean for the cost per person?

Find a Space. Consider sight lines, visuals, and noise. Will it be private or public? Do you need audio and visual (A/V) technology like a microphone or projector? Will food and beverages be provided (I vote yes)? Are you paying or is the space free? Will participants need space to move around or a table to work on? What materials, handouts, and signage do you need? How will people get to and be welcomed to the space?

Recruit Participants. Spread the word. Invite and include those that are ready to dive in and do the work. Avoid members of the Inquisitorial Squad.

Communicate Information. When and where? What time will it start, and when will it end? How will participants get there and what should they bring? What should they expect? Think about how it feels for the participants and how you can make it a smooth and easy experience.

Do the Little Details. Make name tags. Have directions to the restrooms. Brand the worksheets. Design an agenda. Provide good writing utensils. Add some music. Hang Signage. Post hashtags and social media links. Share the WiFi login.

5. Deliver the Content

A.K.A. Wands Out

Welcome. Introduce yourself and what you do, review agenda and logistics, explain why we are here, what we are doing, and what participants will take away from this workshop.

Warm Up & Introductions. Get people talking and moving. This is a great time to find out what they want out fo this workshop or why they are there.

Directions & Activities. Do the work. Dive in and get messy.

Reflections & Feedback. Ask for learnings, takeaways, and feedback.

Closing. Thanks your participants for coming. Make it easy for participants to engage with you further and give feedback.


A well-designed, in-person workshop can be a powerful tool for connecting, learning, and engaging. The experience can also be a lot of work, frustrating, messy, and uncomfortable. An inspiring talk, or more research, or informational lecture might be more comfortable and safe and less threatening to the Ministry of Status Quo—but who wants that? Diving in deep into the work requires bravery. It requires action. And it produces powerful Patronus. And those experiences stick with us. Always.

Rachel Thompson is a human centered designer, workshop facilitator, and creative strategist who helps people create engaging and intentionally designed experiences. She also makes content visual in real time as a graphic recorder. She has organized monthly workshops for two meetups in Washington, DC. Find out more about her workshop and visual services by joining her email list at daringstudios.com.