Planning a content strategy workshop for your university, college or school

By Posted in - Content Strategy & Strategy and Planning & Workshops on August 25th, 2017 0 Comments

We run a lot of content strategy workshops and content training sessions for schools, colleges and universities. But some of you might want to run content strategy workshops without commissioning our help. So, I decided to write this post to share a little help with your planning for free.

Content strategy is a vast topic and there’s a lot that you need to consider up front to plan and structure a workshop that really serves your needs. I’m going to take you through some of those considerations to help you plan yours. Or if you do want my team or I to facilitate one for you, this is good starting point to consider your brief.

1) What do you mean by content strategy?

This is pretty critical. Do you mean content strategy is its fullest sense, looking at how all content connects together, should be structured, should meet audience needs, and should be managed and governed? Or are you really just wanting to run a content marketing workshop (a subset of content strategy) and come up with some great editorial ideas?

Our definition of content strategy at Pickle Jar is:

The process of supporting organisational goals by planning, creating, distributing and maintaining content in a way that is useful and usable to your audience, and understandable and adaptable to machines and intelligent systems.

So, are you looking to cover all of that (put aside a couple of weeks in your diaries!) or something else altogether? We all use the term differently, so let’s start by working out what that means to you.


2) What’s your intended outcome?

What do you want the session to achieve and why? There are a few goals that you might consider planning a workshop for. They all influence the structure and content of the session in different ways:

A workshop as a learning experience

Essentially this is an interactive training day, but the objectives of the day can be expressed as learning outcomes. By the end of the day your colleagues should know something new – whether that be new information or new approaches.

Write a list of 3-4 learning outcomes that you want the day to have and plan your activities based around that.

A workshop to gain stakeholder buy-in and gather information

With these workshops you’re looking to get people on board with what you’re doing, so there are some learning outcomes to be considered. But to do that, you may also want their input, views and opinions, so the activities that you craft will equally focus on extracting information.

Write a list of what you want them to think, feel and do through this workshop as your starting point.

A planning workshop. 

Here you’re really getting your hands dirty and digging in to actually developing a strategy, a plan and takeaway actions. These workshops may require some pre-work. Come ready to share audience research insights, for example, to ensure that the planning activity has a solid basis.

Consider that a proper content strategy is the sum of weeks and months of work – don’t try to shoe-horn it into a day. However, in a day you may be able to establish gaps in your knowledge, agree some overarching elements (including alignment to your organisational strategy) and identify work packages for the development of the actual strategy itself.

Write up objectives for what you want the outcomes of this day to be and be sure to include a means of capturing and following up on actions that arise. Be sure to allow time after the day for completing the plan and filling in gaps. You probably won’t get it all done in just one session (not if you’re doing it properly). 


3) Who do you need or want to attend?

This, of course, depends on the objective of the session. But with content strategy workshops – especially ones that dive into connected content and information ecosystems – you’d be wise to include a range of people from across your institution. Good content strategy is a basis for information management and that can extend well beyond the realm of the marketing and communications office, so involve others. Ask yourself:

–   What knowledge and skills do we need in the room?

–   Whose roles may be impacted by the discussion we have? Involve them!

–   Who are the people that we need to understand or to influence?

–   Who doesn’t fall into these categories but can really add something to a workshop either because they have a great creative mind or they bring a certain energy to a room? A professional facilitator should play that role for you, but you may also have people within your organisation that you can invite who will bring that extra “spark” to lift the session.


4) Where are you going to hold it?

Don’t just go with whatever room is available. For a good content strategy workshop, no matter what the objectives, you’re going to want to get people working, moving around, and getting involved with all kinds of visual activities. So, I advise:

–   Get a big room with space for seated and standing discussions and break-out work

–   Try to layout the room cabaret style (people seated around tables), but also able to look at a presentation screen or central point without getting a sore neck

–   Decent natural daylight

–   Proper temperature control. If you’re facilitating the session, you’re likely to be pacing around a lot and will feel warmer than those seated, so make sure they dictate the temperature, not you. Dress in layers to allow for this

–   Make sure you have access to good AV tech that actually works, wifi and enough plug sockets for people to plug in if necessary.


5) How should you structure it?

This again depends completely on the objective, so I’m not going to outline activities and segments here, but some core considerations you should make are:

–   Don’t start so early that people are in danger of arriving late. I normally find that a 9.30am arrival for coffee with a 10am start time works well and gives people time to clear a few emails first

–   Leave a decent chunk of time (45 minutes minimum) for lunch and encourage your colleagues to get out of the room for a walk and fresh air

–   Plan for morning and afternoon comfort breaks but keep your schedule flexible enough to switch the timings of these. A good facilitator should be able to read the energy levels in the room and know to push a break back if the room is buzzing, or bring it forward if the energy is dipping or people are disappearing to the bathrooms mid-activity!

–   Allow for the early-leavers who have to dash off to pick up their kids. You don’t have to end the session early. However, it’s good to know in advance if some people do need to leave early so you can plan for it. Also, you don’t want to think that they left because they were bored!


6) What will you do with them?

Again, actual activities are specific to different types of workshops, so I won’t go into detail here, but considerations that you should make when planning a workshop are:

–   Don’t talk at them too much. Up to 45 minutes for a single opening presentation is about okay, but any presentation elements throughout the day should then be much shorter

–   Be sure to break up presentations with discussion, exercises and activities

–   For activities early in the day, don’t be afraid to leave the room for a second or two while they get started or set them something really straightforward. For some people, making that first contribution can be terrifying and having the facilitator out of earshot for a second may make them feel less exposed to start speaking up. Don’t disappear for too long though – you may be needed for clarification purposes

–   Plan discussion and question sessions to give them meaningful structure and a clear purpose. Don’t ever just do a “so we’d now like you to have a chat about this” approach. Provide discussion topics or specific questions to give a framework to their discussions

–   Plan the day to take into account energy highs and lows. The post-lunch slot can be a killer so either save the most exciting and invigorating parts of your content for those moments, or have them do a really interesting activity then. An exercise that involves them moving around a bit can be handy to avoid the post-lunch lull

–   Get them to do activities in a blended approach. One activity might have a template for them to work through, another could be post-it note based, another might involve them drawing, another might be a card-sort activity, another might have discussion topic stations laid out around a room that they move between. Mix it up to keep them interested. Use the space wisely and widely – get them moving to keep their energy up.

Above all else, make sure you have fun. We learn more when we laugh. And you need to make it fun for yourself too as your energy will influence the rest of the room, so make sure you keep your own energy high, you keep yourself interested, and keep yourself well nourished too.

Sleep well the night before. Wear clothes that are comfortable but make you feel empowered and energetic (probably not your gym gear though). I always make sure to have a big breakfast on a day when I’m running a workshop as there’s a strong chance as facilitator that I have to skip lunch. Drink plenty of water through the day. Don’t be afraid to commandeer a jug or a whole bottle for yourself.

Need help?

At Pickle Jar Communications we run a range of workshops, strategy development sessions and training for clients across a variety of needs. If you want the professionals to craft and deliver your content strategy workshops, get in touch to discuss how we can help with yours, or sign up for one of our forthcoming ContentEd open workshops in London.

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