A Strong Body for Strong Workshops

I’m in the midst of an intense week that has me facilitating co-creation workshops for six days back-to-back. Every day starts around 7:00 and usually wraps with dinner around 9pm. In the middle, there’s a lot of standing around putting stickies on walls, coordinating sketching exercises, and leading folks through various other activities. Facilitating workshops is hard work. Doing so day after day for more than a couple of days is very intense. It’s cognitively and physically exhausting, and only works if the facilitator takes care of his or her body. For me, this means:

  • Eating healthy foods in small amounts. Many workshops treat meal times as work/social activities, and many of the “social” foods in our culture (such as pizza and sandwiches) can be carbohydrate- and fat-rich. Eating lots of carb-rich foods in the middle of the day can lead to reduced performance in the afternoon; you don’t want to be crashing at a time when you’re supposed to be helping energize others. Also be wary of snack foods meant to keep team energy and morale up. (Our workshop features a big tub of animal crackers.) I keep healthy snacks in my backpack; it helps me resist the temptation of indulging in sweets.
  • Not drinking too much. There’s an important social component to working successfully with the same group of people over several days. Workshop participants often decompress by sharing a few drinks at the end of the day. A glass or two of wine or a cocktail may be ok, but be mindful of not over-indulging; you don’t want to try to lead a workshop while fighting a hangover.
  • Getting lots of sleep. Your body needs to recuperate after long days of work. Especially when drinks are involved, you may be tempted to hang out until the wee hours. Not getting enough sleep can seriously impair your effectiveness as a facilitator.
  • Meditating. I often start the day by sitting silently for 15-20 minutes, observing my breath. Doing so clears my mind and helps me prepare for the intense day ahead. Meditation requires no equipment; it’s an easy practice you can do anywhere at any time.
  • Working out. This is often harder to fit into workshop days, especially if schedules start early and end with dinner/drinks. However, it’s important to move your body—especially if you’ll be spending the rest of the day in a conference room. During workshops, I prefer to exercise by going for a run outdoors, even if it’s cold outside; I’ll be spending most of my time during the day inside an office or hotel and this is a good opportunity to get some fresh air.

Workshop facilitation is an intense cognitive activity; you must head into the day with a good idea of what you will be doing and what you expect to get out of it. But it also has an important physical component. The mind won’t be as effective if not supported by the body. When I’m leading workshops, I think of myself as a kind of athlete; as with other athletic endeavors, training, preparation, and discipline lead to better results. Taking care of your body is paramount if you aspire to lead workshops successfully.