Running workshops with a multi-cultural group

Apr 03, 2014 1 Comment by

Ray Poynter 

Being asked to run a workshop is a great honour, a chance to share your experiences, and a fantastic opportunity to learn. I feel that I learn at least as much as my attendees when I run a workshop, especially when running it with a multicultural group.

The benefits for both attendees and presenters depend on preparation. Here are my eight top tips for preparing and running an effective workshop with a multicultural group.

1. Know your stuff
If you have agreed to run a workshop, you should already be fairly knowledgeable in the area. However, use the workshop as a driver to broaden what you know. Find new cases and examples and ensure that your material is global, rather than focused on just a few countries.

2. Check which countries the attendees are from
When you know where the attendees are likely to be from you can research differences. For example if you are talking about advanced quantitative techniques, you will want to keep in mind that the fieldwork in many countries will have to be face-to-face, not online. Similarly, if you are talking about social media, the options available in China are very different from the rest of the world, and text analytics are more problematic in many double-byte languages, for example Chinese.

3. Build feedback into your process
Start the workshop with people introducing themselves. Ask them to explicitly say what they are hoping to learn from the session. This will give you some insight into what people already know, what they are looking for, and it will give you some idea of their command of spoken English (or whatever language you are running the session in).

It is important to build feedback into the rest of the day, to ensure that you are aware of what is being understood and what is not. For example, I might ask the attendees to work in groups to create a SWOT analysis of some aspect of the material covered by the workshop. Alternatively, I might ask the attendees work in groups to apply the material we have covered to a hypothetical business or research problem.

During the group working sessions, move around the room, listen to what people are saying to each other, evaluate whether they have understood the key points.

4. If somebody knows more than you?
From time to time you will have somebody in your group who is very knowledgeable or experienced, and who may know more than you. The best course of action is to embrace the situation, enlist this person and anybody with relevant experience to co-create the workshop. Don’t feel you always have to be the smartest or best informed person in the room, you are the curator.

5. Have a flexible plan
Some days you will work through your material quicker than you had expected, perhaps because the group are more knowledgeable than you expected, perhaps because they are simply less responsive. When this happens you need to use your extra material. My extra material tends to be a combination of tasks, case studies, videos, and asking for more local input from attendees.

Sometimes, the workshop will run behind schedule. Dealing with this situation requires two things: firstly, you need to spot that it is happening early enough to be able to take action. Secondly, you need to know what material you can shorten. You need to decide which material you can deliver in less depth. Think about changing a group exercise into an exercise where the whole room works together (which is normally faster), and where necessary cut out a group exercise completely.

6. Don’t leave the best till last
In many workshops there will be some attendees who have to leave early to catch a train or plane. If you have saved the best for last, these people will miss it, and ever afterwards they will underestimate you. If the workshop has been really good (which to me means lots of interactions, questions, and suggestions), there is going to be pressure on timing. If there is pressure on timing you are likely to need to shorten the last section, and you don’t want to shorten the best bit.

7. Put all of the key words on the screen
In a multicultural workshop there will be people who are new to the topic you are talking about, and who are hearing it in their second or even third language, and who may not be familiar with the context for your case studies. You need to make it easy for the audience to follow the key elements:

  • Avoid using slang, idiom, or regional terms.
  • Use shorter sentences, and avoid sub-clauses in your sentences.
  • Use lists, this makes it easier for attendees to know which points are connected and which are separate.
  • Put key words and phrases on the screen. In your own country a presentation with all pictures might be great, but with a multicultural group, helping those who might be struggling is more important than looking ‘modern’.

8. And in my country …
One of my favourite exercises is to get the attendees to take a point we have just covered and to tell the rest of the room how that applies or does not apply in their country. This exercise helps you assess comprehension, provides great information for the rest of room, and helps ensure that you are learning things too.

Ray Poynter is Director Vision Critical University. He is also founder of co-created research hub NewMR. This month head over to NewMr for the April lecture series from global research specialists, supported by ESOMAR.

Research Challenges & Issues

About the author

The author didnt add any Information to his profile yet

One Response to “Running workshops with a multi-cultural group”

  1. Edward Appleton says:

    Interesting topic, and thanks for sharing Ray. Many of the points seem to me to be eminently relevant to any workshop, and left me wondering about the intercultural specifiities. The challenges of facilitating a multicultural workshop ( I have done a few, and found them immensely challenging when quite a few participants do not share a common native language and their levels of English proficiency vary) are actually huge, depending on how many different cultures you have in the room, and how homogenous their experience/expertise levels are. Masses of stuff can vary – eg B2b vs B2c, FMCG versus slow moving consumer goods, telephone vs face to face versus online versus mobile – per culture. Then there’s language – speed of understanding being a key driver in how quickly you can cover topics. To me the most important thing is to actually contact all participants pre-workshop, understand their expectations (why they’re attending), what type of research they normally use, their level of experience, their language abilities, which country they mainly work in – and ask them to determine eg 3 key outcomes from the workshop. Once you have a list from everyone, you can begin to plan best how to shape something that works best for everyone without having a one-size-fits-all feeling.

Leave a Reply