How I Prepare Communications Workshops for Nonprofit Teams


In my work with clients, I have had a few opportunities this year to prepare communications workshops for nonprofit teams on topics like branding and storytelling.

Having worked so many years from within organizations to build understanding and buy-in around the value of communications in mission-based work, I love the challenge these workshops present me: How do I engage audiences with diverse responsibilities and already full plates in the idea that communications isn’t just worthwhile, but fun?

This is a tall order. So I take it very seriously, which means I invest a lot of time and preparation into preparing a tailored curriculum designed with my specific audience in mind.

Whether you’re preparing your first workshop as a consultant or you’re a nonprofit communicator tasked with training your colleagues, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my approach to developing communications workshops for nonprofit teams.

Communications Workshop for Nonprofits: How I Prepare

Step One: Clearly define goals

I always start with my end goal in mind: What do I want my audience to take away from the workshop, and how will I know if I’ve succeeded?

It’s not always easy to arrive at this goal, and I prefer not to speculate too much or settle too soon on my own agenda. I have this discussion with my clients prior to a presentation, and if that doesn’t completely clarify the goal, I will also put together a quick survey for workshop participants to measure their attitudes, interests and confidence in various skills relating to the subject. I’m careful to design this survey so I can adapt some of it to a post-workshop survey to measure how well I did in achieving those goals.

Here’s a recent example of the goals for a workshop for emerging professionals around storytelling and personal branding:

Audience goal: You will feel more comfortable developing and expressing your ideas in a framework that is both compelling and appropriate to the medium you’re using. You’ll be prepared to craft a blog post about your work, develop an elevator speech to use in networking events and have ideas to take back to your day-to-day work in using storytelling to further your individual and organizational goals.

Step Two: Outline content

Once I’m clear on goals and objectives, I can start to build a content outline for the workshop.

The main structure I use for any presentation or workshop is:

  • Introduction: This is all the housekeeping items that precede the actual content. For example, my introductions usually include a review of the agenda, introducing myself to the audience and vice versa, letting them know I’ll be providing slides and other resources after the workshop, and a brief icebreaker related to the topic.
  • Workshop content: Of course, this is the meat of the presentation–the information and exercises I put in place to achieve the stated goals. This gets a lot of brainstorming and reordering to make sure I present content in a logical manner. I also take care to intersperse the information with opportunities for interaction and activity. A good model to follow is: Introduce a concept, provide an example, then allow the audience to practice it in some way and discuss. Depending on the length of your workshop and the volume of information you share, this can be repeated several times throughout the main body of the presentation.
  • Conclusion: This is the bookend to the introduction, of course. I try to reserve time for a general review and for the audience to ask questions. Then, I either distribute an evaluation form or remind them to keep an eye on their email for a post-workshop survey, and share my contact info again on the last slide in case anyone wants to follow up on something they didn’t bring up during the workshop.

The outline feeds into two subsequent steps: Allocating time and building visuals.

Step Three: Allocate Time

At this point, I like to put down approximate times for each section of my outline. So, if I’m preparing a three-hour workshop, I might dedicate 20-30 minutes to an introduction, 2 hours to the main content, and another 15-20  minutes to the conclusion. I like to aim for some breathing room in the schedule–either to conclude a little early, which everyone loves, or to accommodate conversation if the audience is particularly engaged.

It’s also important to include a break somewhere in the outline for a workshop of that length. I think anything shorter than an hour and a half probably doesn’t need a break in most cases.

Step Four: Build Visuals

My workshop outline serves as a guide for building visuals. I use either Powerpoint or Google Slides and have created a streamlined template that aligns with Collective Reach’s brand standards. 

Of course, I aim to keep words on a slide to a minimum and make abundant use of the notes section. Unless I’m showing a case study or chart, I try to use most slides as visual punctuation — short phrases or single words with a compelling photo.

Because I process my thoughts best by writing, I often write a considerable amount in the notes section–almost a script–at first, and then cut them down later to the main talking points so they’re easier to scan once I’ve familiarized myself with what I want to say.

Step Five: Refine, practice and prepare logistics

Once my slides are complete, I run down a checklist of logistics to get the workshop ready for presenting:

  • Preparing worksheets and handouts for activities, including a duplicate presentation document with cleaned up/pared down notes with relevant links to resources
  • Refining timing – I like to mark down “What time it should be” reminders at the top of my slides every few pages to help me track pacing as I’m going. So, if introductions should have taken 20 minutes but I don’t get to my first slide of the main body of the presentation until 25 minutes after I started, I can pick up the pace a little or selectively skip over more granular points to get back on track.
  • Making a packing list – Although I love presenting workshops, I get pre-public speaking butterflies, and over-preparation helps me work through this. I pack for almost every possible contingency. (Stick with me through the end of this post to download my actual checklist.)
  • Making resources shareable – I like to send a link to a shared online folder with all the resources I hand out at the workshop, plus the slides. (I never actually hand out slides at the workshop because I know participants can’t resist peeking ahead.)

Step Six: Talk to myself constantly until the workshop

This may be a little embarrassing, but from the time I have a solid presentation draft in place until the moment I get out of my car to facilitate a workshop, I am reviewing the outline and speaking as much of it as I can out loud to myself. 

My almost four-year-old has stared dumbfounded at me while I explain the concepts of brand anatomy to him. My chickens have heard more than they ever needed to know about the five elements of effective nonprofit storytelling. Fellow drivers on the highway have probably assumed I have lively bluetooth phone conversations.

It feels ridiculous, but for me, this step is essential. Talking to myself achieves two things: It helps me familiarize myself with the content so it flows naturally, and it helps me catch things that might not work out loud.

Ready or not, it’s time to present!
Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Step Seven: Present!

It’s showtime! Once I get in front of an audience, any anxiety about pacing or technology glitches fades away and I get in the groove. Repeated practice at this skill has helped me gain confidence in nailing my main points, engaging the audience with questions and sharing what I have learned.

That’s not to say I don’t still have room to grow, or that every workshop I present is perfect. For this reason, I always conclude my workshops with a final step: Debriefing and evaluation.

Step Eight: Debriefing and evaluation

It can be scary to ask for evaluation from an audience, but I always do it because I want feedback on where I could improve. I always get thoughtful insights from participants, whether they are remarking on an activity they found particularly useful or suggesting ways I could improve the next time.

I also like to share evaluation results with my client, so they can understand what gaps might still exist in knowledge or buy-in and so they can see how their investment in the workshop has paid off.

More Communications Workshops for Nonprofit Resources

There you have it: The many steps that get me from an idea for a workshop to its successful execution. I hope you find them helpful.

Here are a few of my favorite related resources for gaining confidence in presenting:

How to Run Seminars and Workshops by Robert Jolles – This book is centered on corporate training, and some of the material is really dated. (For example, you can read tips on presenting with a slide projector!) A lot of the advice is universal and evergreen, though. There are great tips for handling “difficult” participants, managing time and organizing your content.

Unsplash – Great free photos for your presentation.

Google Forms – Great for pre- and post-workshop surveys (I find I get more detailed, thoughtful feedback if I don’t hold participants hostage to an evaluation form before they’re allowed to leave.)

Last but not least, I put together this free download: Preparing for Presentations – A checklist.

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Comments (2)

I need to have more Bluetooth conversations. Great article!

Thank you! Talking to yourself is underrated.

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