Pub Rants

Perfecting A Workshop

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STATUS: It’s another late one.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AIN’T NO SUNSHINE by Bill Withers

I spent this evening working on my PowerPoint presentation for a workshop I’m giving this weekend. I’ve been doing this particular class for more than 2 years but about 4 months ago, I had a real epiphany on how to teach writers the art of perfecting that pitch paragraph in query letters.

I hadn’t had a chance to revamp the presentation until now. My only wish is that I had this realization sooner. This might sound odd but the best feedback I’ve ever received is when my husband sat in on one of my classes and really critiqued the heck out of it (and he’s not even remotely in the field of publishing so he had a fresh perspective). I made a ton of changes after his input.

Guess he’s not afraid to tell me where it missed. Big smile here.

I know that conferences often have participants fill out evaluation sheets at the end of each workshop but as a conference presenter, I’ve never once seen them. I think the evals are mainly used to see if the workshop was beneficial to the attendees and whether it’s worth having again at that conference.

But I wish that conference organizers would also distribute an eval that could be shared with the presenter. I’d love to know from those attending what worked, what missed, what was confusing, or even what really rocked and more time should be spent on XYZ. Then I would have a real shot at perfecting this workshop (and it might not have taken me 2 years to hit my realization…)

I’m a former corporate trainer so that’s part of why I’d probably like this. And I know from my corp. train days that I often received a lot of evals with comments such as “great workshop.” Although that made me feel great, it’s not that helpful in pinpointing weak spots in the presentation. Maybe list one thing you loved about the workshop (‘cause, hey, everyone likes to hear praise), one thing you didn’t, and then a specific suggestion on what would have made that better.

Can’t hurt and it can certainly help me to tweak for the next workshop I give.

22 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    You could hand out comment cards that allowed for anonymous input at the end of the workshop. Have a simple multiple choice check box for the good / great / needs work choices, then ask your questions in your last graph with a line or two for each answer. If there’s a box they can drop them in where the feeling anonymity is preserved, you could probably get some pretty honest feedback.

  2. CAL said:

    As someone who gets to fill out these evaluations a lot, I rarely attend one that changes my life. The “great workshop” is written in the hopes that the presenter won’t feel as if they did a bad job. They probably did for everyone else, but they didn’t do it for me, and yet I couldn’t tell you why.

  3. suelder said:

    Have you thought about creating your own evaluation? It doesn’t have to be long, just one sentence, like:

    What is the one thing in the workshop that you think you’ll use?


    What is one thing you wish had been included in this workshop?

    or both.

    (and educator who writes her own evalution)

  4. beth said:

    If you don’t get the evals back from the organizers, why not create a short eval that you distribute and collect at the end of the workshop? I know that, were I in attendance, I wouldn’t mind doing something like that, especially if you preface it as you’ve done here; basically that you’d like feedback in order to improve.

    Also…you could post your presentation here! We’d give you feedback (and I’d LOVE to hear what you have to say!!)

  5. Amy Nathan said:

    Those sentiments are the same as with writing group feedback. “Great work” initially sounds wonderful – until you realize that while it’s complimentary, it’s not constructive.

  6. Julie Weathers said:

    Now this sounds interesting.

    If I ever get a chance to take one of your workshops I will send you an evaluation. I used to teach real estate classes, so I know honest evaluations do help.

    Good luck witht he workshop.


  7. Ulysses said:

    As a technical trainer, I find I share your pain. My team has found that the usual “Did you like it?” questions are not very helpful. Instead, we’ve gone to “List 3 things you liked about this course,” and “List 3 things that you would do to improve it.”
    Even so, I find the response to be rather weak, so I’ve been verbally bringing these kinds of questions up at the end of sessions. The feedback and resulting discussion is terrific.

  8. Adaora A. said:

    Good luck!

    I wish I could see it. It would be great to hear what you have to say. It’s a good thing you give great information here.

  9. kap said:

    E-mail the conference coordinator and ask. When I organized conferences, some presenters requested input on their performance from me and from comments left on the evaluation sheets. Wasn’t a problem.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Interesting post.

    I think sometimes the oposite is true of agented writers. All you get is “what’s wrong” with your manuscript comments from your agent and your eventual editor. Sometimes it’d be equally helpful to hear a part of the ms that really made someone laugh, or a specific bit of dialogue or scene that captured them.

    If I knew what they specifically liked I’d be inspired to do more of it. They have no problem telling you the 85 things they think are wrong with the manuscript but can’t tell you at least one or two specific things they LIKED about it?

    I want more feedback about the stuff an agent or editor liked than them saying, “Great job.”

    “Great job,” much like, “great workshop” doesn’t give me any indication what actually made them buy the book or take me on as a client.

  11. lizr said:

    Maybe you can create a separate email account just for comments from people who attend your workshops. Hand it out at the workshop and let attendees know you’d like feedback.

    Of course, you would risk getting all kinds of other questions and spam if somebody hands it out to everybody they know, but it might be worth a try.

  12. K Simmons said:

    Speaking as one who has left similar “great whatever” feedback, that means that the presentation was solid but failed to engage me as a listener. I can’t really go into that much detail about what I liked and didn’t like because I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was there, I listened, I probably learned something, but I didn’t have any questions or think about it on the level necessary for critique. I think you’d find that if you requested more info on an evaluation that the extra questions would either be left blank or answered in an equally unhelpful way.

  13. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    I have to ditto this. As someone who makes a nice portion of their income off colored pencil workshops, I find it really helpful to get feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

    I’ve thought about creating a feedback form that I could collect later, but until then, I just ask the participants afterwards (as they’re leaving and shaking hands and saying bye to me) if there was anything they would’ve liked to see done differently.

  14. Wakai Writer said:

    Bah! It seems I missed your epiphany by a year. I’d love to know what it was ;-p.

    At any rate, I had hoped to provide some critical feedback on your workshops that I went to at the PPWC last year, but the only thing that sticks out in my mind was a practice pitch workshop in which one of the guys picked to pitch had an absolutely incredible platform (he was an established screenwriter with lots of connections in Hollywood). So his pitch was great—but not terribly educational beyond reinforcing the “Connections help a lot” idea, and took up a lot of time.

    I have more notes, but they’re in Colorado and I’m in London. If you’d really like more feedback let me know and I can e-mail some when I get home in about a month’s time.

  15. NathalieGray said:

    Just a quick comment not quite related.

    The e-mail doesn’t seem to work at Nelson Agency. Has anyone been able to reach you, Ms. Nelson?

    Thank you and have a great day!

  16. Tracy said:

    Kristin — I was lucky enough to attend your Query workshop last year. I found it well organized, interactive (which was terrific), informative, funny, and it altered the way I create my queries. I’m not really sure there was anything I would have suggested you changed.

    It’s one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended, and I’ve been to a lot of workshops.

  17. Anonymous said:

    I agree with k simmons. My expectations at conferences are very low. I’ve been to tons of writing conferences and I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Besides, what’s helpful to me at this point in my career (agented, not published) might not be helpful to someone who is just starting out, or has published several books.

  18. LindaBudz said:

    As someone who puts on meetings (though not in the writing field) for a living … we use our evaluations to figure out how to improve the program for the next year. We’re always looking ahead, not so much worried about what’s past. But yes, if a speaker asks for their scores/comments, we always share.

    That said, if you want specific feedback on your presentation, I’d definitely recommend developing your own questionnaire. You’re probably looking for more specific input than the meeting planners.

  19. Janny said:

    I admit, I’m at a loss to understand anyone putting “great workshop” on an evaluation if it didn’t do anything for them–or if it couldn’t even hold their attention long enough for specific feedback. That’s not a “great” workshop, by any definition. So why would anyone do that? Fear of hurting someone’s feelings? Indifference? A feeling like you “have to write something” on the sheet?

    If a workshop does nothing for me, I say so, on the conference evaluation form. I’ve even gone so far as to request that certain presenters not be allowed to present again–they gave out bad information, they were rude or condescending, or they promised one thing in the topic of their talk and then went off on tangents during the actual “workshop.” Or sometimes all three. (!) Those are sure ways, IMHO, to wear out your welcome…and I don’t want to come to that conference, or other conferences, and be subjected to that person again if I can help it.

    I’ve also raved on evaluation forms, when the occasion warranted–and once again, I try to be as specific as possible. But either way, this information is valuable to presenters and organizers alike…not to mention future attendees.

    So please, whatever format you use for feedback, be honest. You don’t have to be sarcastic or rude, but if the presentation didn’t engage you, say so. Or, if you’re not inspired to say anything specific, don’t even turn in a form. Better the conference organizers should have fewer forms rather than a whole bunch of forms with “great workshop” scribbled across them simply out of some misguided sense of politeness.