In a time pressured world, offsite courses and retreats are rarely longer than two or three days. When you are fortunate enough to have this time, it takes extra skill as a designer and facilitator to maintain participants’ interest, energy and learning. Here are a few of my favorite design tips for these occasions:
1. Create a “sub-plot” of secondary activities that complement the objectives of the program, provide variety and create an opportunity for participants to see each other in action.
- At the beginning of the first day, assign each participant to one of the following teams:
- News, Weather and Sports Team which is responsible for opening day two and three with a “talk show” format of things to inform and entertain the participants.
- Energy Team which is responsible for planning and leading activities at scheduled points during the day to raise the energy and fun level in the room.
- Recognition Team which is responsible for observing and recognizing participants for helpful behaviors at the end of each day.
- As prework, identify Harvard Business Review articles that are relevant to the objectives of the program. Have each participant select an article and prepare a 5-minute presentation on the key ideas. Schedule the presentations throughout the session.
2. Design in variety.
- Ensure the agenda appeals to all learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic).
- Build in a mix of solo, pair, small group and large group activities.
- Change the seating arrangements each day or half-day.
- Bring in guest speakers, customers, organizational leaders, etc. for cameo appearances.
- Add an outdoor experiential activity, artistic venture, or volunteer activity for the community.
3. Use a visual roadmap.
- Line a wall with paper. Use graphic facilitation to depict the key activities and learnings each day. Start and end each day with a review of the journey so far.
- Post and review the session objectives, shading the ones that have been completed.
Multi-day sessions are a huge investment in time and cost. Design well to maximize the return.