Summary of The Workshop Survival Guide by Rob Fitzpatrick

Joel Hooks
Joel Hooks · 21 June, 2022

The Workshop Survival guide by Rob Fitzpatrick and Devin Hunt delivers the step-by-step blueprint for designing and delivering a successful live workshop for a paying audience. This summary focuses on the first half of the book which covers the design and production of your workshop. The second half of the book focuses on the delivery and facilitation of your workshop and is great as well.

A successful workshop is focused on learner outcomes and facilitates those outcomes for the learners that participate. It's your job as the facilitator to design an experience that will engage and energize learners.


#Your job is to help learners achieve their outcomes.

You'll design a Workshop Skeleton that focuses on learner outcomes and iterate on that skeleton.

The workshop will consist 60-90 minute segments that are filled with 5 teaching formats: lecture, small group discussion, question and answer, "try it now", and scenario challenges. These segments will be punctuated with generous breaks to allow learners to recharge.

What you will not focus on is creating elaborate slide decks, and instead you will use slides sparingly to enhance and clarify the various learning formats.

Workshops are different than a classroom in two important ways.

  • It's your responsibility to design a learning experience that will renew and refresh learners and keep their energy and attention.

  • You are not limited in any way or stuck with the binding constraints of the typical classroom lecture format.

Your workshop will leverage the the most appropriate style of teaching and interactive exercise for the subject you are teaching.

To ensure that your workshop is a success, you have to do the work beforehand. You aren't winging it or delivering an off the cuff lecture.

Your workshops depends on you delivering a series of [[trail of value nuggets]] that give learners tangible "a-ha" moments. Every one of these is like a gold coin in Mario increasing your goodwill score as your learners level-up.

Every droning boring lecture or arbitrary questions that result in an ever decreasing number of hands going up depletes your goodwill health bar and spends the a-ha tokens you've worked so hard to gain.

When they signed up for your workshop the learner agreed to give you a significant block or their time, attention, and energy. It's a contract between you, the facilitator, and the learner. When you violate that contract by being boring, or asking the learner to do low-value tasks they will start to distrust you. For the learner, if they aren't receiving a constant flow of value, they will assume they've wasted their time and check out completely.

You've lost them.

They show up with faith in your ability to deliver value and if you don't deliver that goodwill quickly fades and they will be on their phones before you know it. To create a trail of value nuggets you've got to [[design a trail of value nuggets]]. This doesn't mean the final deliverables like slides or exercise. Those are important too, but here you'll be focused on the fundamentals, the outline, the big picture, or what Rob calls [[The Workshop Skeleton]]

Making slides first is a huge mistake and will ruin your workshop be trapping you in the details before you’ve figured out the fundamentals.

Understanding and designing for the [[learning outcomes]] that your learners want to achieve is the most important activity that you should be working on when you sit down to research and design your Workshop Skeleton.

Rob's other book, The Mom Test, is an excellent resource for researching learner outcomes. We also really like Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman's 30x500 and Samuel Hulick's Value Paths framework.

The Workshop Survival Guide describes three pillars of a successful workshop.


#The Audience Profile

You've got to understand who you are designing the workshop for. This is how you know what to include and what to cut. Be specific. Be crispy.

Why are they showing up to this workshop?

What will they be able to take away with them?

How will they "win"?

You've got to understand your audience if you have any chance of developing strong learner outcomes.


#The Schedule

DO NOT underestimate the importance of coffee breaks.

Breaks are critical to your workshops success. For every 60-90 minutes of content you need to give learners 15 minutes to unwind and process what they've just taken in. Stretch their legs. Get some caffeine flowing. Chat a little. Ask casual questions.

Design your workshop around the breaks.


#Learner Outcomes

What can they do now that they couldn't do before this workshop.

Designing learner outcomes is the absolute 100% no-question most important job you have as a facilitator.

Not vague outcomes or loose objectives.

Concrete, no-bullshit, "this is your new super power" learner outcomes.

With a half-day workshop you can expect to get roughly 6 learning outcomes accomplished. That's about 30-45 minutes per learning outcome, but the goal isn't to hit the "perfect number" or cram as many outcomes as possible into a day of learning.

spend more time per Learning outcome as opposed to trying to squeeze in more of them.

Learner outcomes are a cluster of ideas. They are the thesis of your presentation composed of sub-outcomes the come together to form the basis of what the learner needs to know, believe, or be able to do.

It's a fact that you'll have way more ideas and content than you can possibly hope to cram into a single workshop. Your job is to curate resources with a hyper-focus on learner outcomes. Not deliver some vague topic, but a clear set of high-value takeways.

The first draft of the Workshop Skeleton should take about an hour to create. Review your research, think about the learners that will be at your workshop, and most importantly capture the absolutely essential learner outcomes that you can think of.

Stop there. Sit with it for a few days.

Spending time focused on the Workshop Skeleton will allow you to iterate and think more deeply on the value that you'll deliver for learners in the form of outcomes. Keep your Workshop Skeleton close at hand so you can simmer with it, stare at it on your phone or in your favorite notebook, and work it like a piece of raw value clay that will be modeled into crispy learner outcomes.

This rough skeleton is probably shareable. You can get feedback extremely early. You can ask collegues or potential learners what they think.

"how does this feel?"

much of becoming a better facilitator isn’t actually about getting “better”, but rather about doing stuff ahead of time which makes your life easier on the day-of

Your workshop will consist of a flow between 5 [[essential teaching formats]] that support the learner outcomes within your Workshop Skeleton. The formats are the building blocks of your workshop and should allow you to effectively fill in the space between coffee breaks with crispy value nuggets that keep your learners active and engaged.


Lectures should support your Learning outcomes and help extract lessons-learned from other Teaching Formats, but shouldn’t overstated their welcome

Your workshop is not a series of lectures that talk at the learners until they are all staring at their phones or glazed over asleep with their eyes closed.

Lectures should start with a sections key learner outcome, add a few supporting arguments, and not meander into anything that isn't related to the learner outcome.

Small group and pair discussion

Small group and pair discussion allow students to wrestle with clear questions with ambiguous answers

This format is challenging but can be the ultimate teaching format that allows learners to engage and more deeply consider the core learner outcomes of your workshop.

Being able to design and facilitate small group (and pair) discussions is a workshop super power and spending time developing these skills will allow you to deliver successful workshops on almost any topic.

Small group discussions are facilitated and have a purpose. They aren't vague soft questions. They are crispy essential questions that dig into big ideas. These discussions are brief, 2-5 minutes, but the overall exercise will take 10-15 minutes of actual workshop time.

The discussion prompt must support the current learner outcome.

Really great discussions happen when there is no right answer and the question is very clear.

It's your job to facilitate the discussion by instructing learners explicitly and specifically about what they are supposed to be talking about.

Not just saying it out loud, but presenting it visually on a slide that clearly states the question and goals of the discussion.

Good prompts allow for good conversations, and it’s your job to figure them out, in advance, and ensure that they’re clear, interesting, and relevant.

if you're lazy in the design of the discussion prompt you'll lose credibility with learners.


Q&A has a ton of problems, but should still be included after each Learning outcome (or before each break) to catch misunderstandings and act as a schedule spring

Unstructured Q&A sucks. Only confident learners will participate and it's just generally a bad teaching format. Q&A does NOT make your boring lecture interactive.

They do sometimes reveal overall structural flaws in the material.

Q&A is the first thing you'll delete if you are running late. Q&A gives you wiggle room in the schedule.

Instead of vaguely asking if anyone has “any questions"”, be more specific and encourage them to ask questions which are relevant to exactly what you just talked about (and include a helpful reminder about what those things are)

An alternative is the "Post Up" where everybody writes down a question on a post-it note and puts it up on the front wall. This provides you with a mind-reading super power as a facilitator!

“Try it now” builds skills through a bit of hands-on practice, though the prompt must be carefully refined to be neither too easy nor too hard

Learners need to DO something to really internalize the learner objectives where learners will form groups, work from a clear prompt, and then discuss what they've done.

The task needs to be right-sized.

Goldilocks. Not too hot and not too cold. Just right.

Assistance can be baked into the exercise providing clues, waypoints, hints, and how-to so that learners will be able to succeed even when the task is slightly too difficult.

Avoid making them [[draw the rest of the fucking owl]] with a far reaching task and instead consider how you will divide the exercise up into clear achievable sub-tasks in a step-by-step way.

Sometimes learner objectives will require several related try it now exercises.


#Try it now exercise build skill.

Scenario Challenges help foster judgement and critical thinking be asking students to understand, evaluate, and decide how to act in a difficult situation

A scenario challenge requires learners figure out what they they need to do. They provide learners with the opportunity to gain experience which leads to better judgement ant the ability to think about problems related to the learner objectives.

"What would you do if {BLANK}?"

"What's wrong with {BLANK}?"

The first task is to evaluate the situation and identify what matters with some class-wide discussion. The second task is about deciding what action to take and doing it.

A well designed scenario task can easily act as the structure for a full 45-90 minute section of a workshop and combines many of the formats above into a cohesive holistic format.

One thing that you won't be focused on when designing and producing your workshop is a slide deck. Slides are an important tool, but you don't need a lot of them. They don't need to be littered with stock photos or even have a lot of visual styling.


#Do not focus on creating cool visual beautiful slides or presentations.

You can make them look nice, but this should be well at the bottom of your overall priority list. Instead slides will be very focused on punctuating key moments within your workshop.

Do not spend a lot of time and energy on slide deck presentations for your workshop. This is a mistake that many workshop facilitators make.

Slides are used sparingly and for a very small set of intentional purposes.

There are 3 types of slides that you'll have for learners that will effectively enhance their experience and not drag down the overall flow of your workshop.

Essential slide 1: Learning Outcome summaries

This is a single slide that clearly states the outcome that the learners have or will achieve.

The outcome is the title of the slide. Maybe the only text. Clearly stated and obvious. Any additional text will be minor and support or restate the learner outcome.

Essential slide 2: Exercise prompts

Again these are a single slide, clearly presented that articulate what a learner can expect from an exercise and what they are expected to do. for particularly complex exercises it might be required to orient the learner with the slide and direct them to more detailed instructions within a different document like a README or handout.

Essential slide 3: Resources lists (and intro/outro)

People LOVE resources and slides that contain additional resources are valuable for the learner. These resources are the source material and next steps from your own research. A curated high signal list of value nuggets that learners can used to take their learning outcomes to the next level beyond what is covered in the workshop.

You should now have a well-scheduled Workshop Skeleton that focuses on learner outcomes. It won't be perfect, but your Workshop Skeleton is an asset and you can deliver this workshop again combining what you know back into the Workshop Skeleton. The first iteration is the most challenging, but if you care enough to put in the up front work, it is sure to be a success.

One of the long term goals of our workshops is often to convert them to self-paced courses that learners can use to achieve the learner outcomes at scale without you being present in the room with them. In our experience the best courses are the result of play testing the material in the workshop format and many topics translate directly to self-paced courses and books.

If you'd like more details check out Rob's awesome book The Workshop Survival Guide. We also think his book Write Useful Books makes an excellent sequel.

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