How to Design Workshops That Appeal to Both the Left Brain and the Right Brain

Over the last two years, I have led 50+ workshops with 2000+ marketing and communications professionals across Asia, so I have become a workshop specialist of sorts within MSLGROUP.

I use a discovery-driven approach in designing and leading workshops, with conceptual frameworks, in-depth case studies, and post-it note gamestorms. This beautiful quote in Richard Bach’s ‘Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah’ sums up what I try to do in my workshops:

Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you.

My favorite parts at my workshops are games that help participants remember what they already know. These games involve large post-it notes, chart papers, marker pens, some doodling and many aha! moments. Let me use three examples to show you what I mean.

Social Heartbeat brand planning workshop

Our Social Heartbeat framework helps brands design powerful purpose-inspired platforms and programs to inspire, organize and energize people around a shared purpose.

We first look for a shared purpose or Social Heartbeat to inspire people, realizing that we need to build a bridge between benefit-driven and purpose-inspired communication. Then, we design a long-term online-offline platform to organize people, in a way that fully leverages paid, owned, and earned media. Finally, we design the consumer journey and create a series of short-term programs to energize people and take them from the benefit, to the bridge and then to the purpose, or the other way round.

I start by Social Heartbeat workshop by asking participants to create a social network profile on a post it note, with their name, avatar name, avatar picture, and five passion tags that define them. Then, I ask them to put up these post-it notes on the chart paper and draw lines between them, if they share a passion tag. We discuss how we connect with others around our passion tags, how some people are more connected than others and how connections lead to all sorts of good things, both online and offline. Then, I point out that less than 5% of the passion tags are related to brands. If people don’t define themselves around brands, and don’t connect with each other around brands, then what is the role brands can play on the social web? It’s an important question for marketers with an elegant answer: brands can help consumers connect around passion tags that resonate with the brand values (I call these shared passion tags Social Heartbeats).

Later in the workshop, I ask the participants to remember the last time they talked about a brand they don’t work for. I ask them to write down on a post it note the brand itself, why they talked about it (the trigger) and how they talked about it (the context or the medium). Then, I ask them to arrange the post-it notes around themes. Most groups arrange the post-it notes around the product categories their brands belong to (usually fashion, technology, gadgets, cafes, mobile or auto brands). Sometimes, they arrange the post it note around the content of the conversation (kudos, complaints, enquiries, recommendations), the context of the conversation (at home, at office, at a mall, online, on phone) or the trigger to talk (a good/ bad product or service experience, an ad, a promo, a contest). Almost always, no one mentions a FMCG brand (soft drinks, shampoo, toothpaste, snacks), which makes me wonder: if no one is talking about the brand that spend the most money on advertising, what should these brands do (apart from getting really worried)? It’s another important question for marketers with the same elegant answer: consumers will talk about these brands only if they stand for the shared passion tags (Social Heartbeats) that consumers care about.

Social Integration Journey social business planning workshop

Our Social Heartbeat framework helps corporations build enterprise capabilities for social by integrating social into their technology platforms, marketing programs and business processes, to drive strategic change and real ROI.

Most organizations go through the social integration with these six stages. They start with inaction, then move to incubation and experiment with standalone platforms and tactical programs, before they are ready to integrate social into their technology platforms, marketing programs and business processes. Organizations can use the framework to not only map where they are in relation to relevant others, but also plan for what’s next. So, it’s both a “how the world works” framework as well as a “how to change things” framework.

Towards the middle of my Social Integration Journey workshop, I ask the workshop participants to create a post-it note for each of the social initiatives in their organization. I ask them to write what they are trying to achieve with the initiatives, how short-term or long-term these initiatives are, and what channel(s) they use for these initiatives. Then, I ask them to draw the Social Integration Journey framework on a chart paper and place the post-it notes on the chart paper. Usually, the post-it notes cluster around one or two stages, which helps the participants map their present stage of social integration. Then, I ask them to identify other relevant organizations and repeat the exercise with their social initiatives on another chart paper. Once again, the post-it notes cluster around one or two stages, but have wider distribution, which helps the participants map the possibilities they haven’t explored yet. Finally, I ask the participants to identify their potential stage of social integration, discuss why they wish to reach there, and discover barriers that might stop them. I have found that workshops participants who engage in this participatory process of benchmarking themselves against relevant others are more open to seeing new possibilities and working towards making them real.

Crisis Curve crisis planning framework

Our Crisis Curve workshop helps organizations map out, plan for and build capabilities to manage crisis scenarios across the four stages of the crisis curve: flash point, spotlight, blame game and resolution.

Based on the interplay between mainstream media and social media at the flash point stage, we categorize crisis situations into three types that need different approaches: real world, slow burn and flash mob. Then, we use our proprietary crisis planning and response toolkit to help organizations plan how they can best leverage social media at each stage in the crisis curve.

Towards the end of my Crisis Curve workshop, I ask the workshop participants to think of a ‘real world’, a ‘slow burn’ and a ‘flash mob’ crisis that can seriously impact their business and draw them on a post-it note. Then, I ask them to imagine each crisis situation going through the flash point, spotlight and blame game stages over three days and, for each stage, map out the best case, worst case and most likely case for each crisis situation. They draw newspaper or television headlines, blog post titles, social network updates, photoshopped parody images and viral video storyboards on post-it notes and sometimes enjoy the exercise more than they should. Finally, I ask them to plan their response for for each crisis situation, by mapping out key influencers, keywords, spokespersons, and messages for each of the scenarios they have created.

Designing workshops for both the right brain and the left brain

I believe that the best workshops are learning and discovery experiences that exercise both the right brain and the left brain. So, I structure all my workshops around a conceptual framework, to appeal to the left brain, but include in-depth case studies that are rich in storytelling, often via videos, to appeal to the right brain. The post-it note brainstorms are based on the frameworks, so they don’t frighten the left brain, but they involve drawing and storytelling, so they don’t alienate the right brain either.

The best workshops, like the best classrooms, also need to find the right balance between learning and doing. In all my workshops, the participants leave feeling that they have learned both a new way to think about their problem (the framework) and practical ways to apply that thinking (the case studies). In my most successful workshop, the participants also leave feeling that they already had all the answers and I have only helped them connect the dots in their minds.

  • Arnoud Bladergroen

    Great post, interesting stuff!