Running an Online Interactive Workshop – Experience & Takeaways
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Running an Online Interactive Workshop – Experience & Takeaways

On 23 August 2020, Seek to Speak held its first-ever event: a Freedom of Speech Workshop launched under its Civic-Series initiative.

This article candidly chronicles our experience in launching the workshop and some key takeaways learned along the way. We hope to inspire other educators to also carry out similar interactive online workshops of their own!

From overcoming her insecurities to planning the launch to adapting our content – this article digs deep so others can discover the exact steps our founder went through to conduct the workshop as well as to avoid the (many) mistakes we made in the process!

Freedom of Speech Workshop: Experience & Takeaways

By Ain Aissa

The Inspiration 

Since the historic general election in 2018, I was inspired to incorporate more civic elements within my public speaking classes with the Malaysian Institute of Debate and Public Speaking (MIDP). For example, when the government announced the national budget, I had a whole class dedicated to how our budget is decided. My students had a lot fun pretending to be different ministries pitching for money to solve existing problems. After that class, my students became more curious about our government’s machinery — and I was more determined! – especially since the country’s voting age was also recently reduced!

While I was looking for online resources to recommend to my students during the semester break, I came across the Economist Education Foundation’s website. It was a platform that provided resources to educators for free and one of these resources was a Freedom to Speak deck which completely aligned with Seek to Speak’s ethos! The resource also had the benefit of a “civic” angle as it was all about our rights and liberties, governmental duties, as well as policies.

I knew then that I would like to teach this workshop — I just needed to launch it. 

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Launching the workshop

When MIDP’s classes ended at the end of July, I knew that I would have some free time to conduct the civic workshop as I planned. Since the start of the movement control order (MCO), students have been used to the idea of interacting and learning online — which meant I could also conduct the workshop from the comforts of my own home! Heartened, I told myself that I would definitely carry out the workshop in August during the semester break.

Thinking that I had a lot more time, I finally sat down on 11 August to plan when and how I should launch the workshop. That was when I realised that I was only free on 23 August as I had already made other commitments on all the other weekends. I knew from my experience with MIDP that holding classes, even online ones, during the weekdays was not a good idea. After all, participants would not want to listen to a workshop after they had spent hours in school — and I wouldn’t have the energy after a full day in the office!

Almost immediately, I had doubts running through my head: was there enough time to put everything together by 23 August? Would anyone even attend the workshop? Should I just shelve it for later?

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I kept going back and forth about it until my husband sat me down and said, “Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? People not signing up? So what? Then just reschedule or teach those who actually came and wanted to learn. It’s not like you’re charging for the session and want to turn a profit!”

And he was right. Who cares if not a lot of people signed up? I went back to my “why” and realised that as long as one person benefited from the workshop, I would have achieved what I set out to do. So the next day, I posted the workshop’s promo on all of Seek to Speak’s socials.

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Be sure to decide the aims and structure of your workshop very early on and publish these details in the promotion. Within the workshop’s promo, I made it clear, the 3 topics I was going to cover, how the 1st session would be a lecture and how the last 30 minutes would be an optional guided discussion. I think this really helped people to decide whether or not the workshop is for them.

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The Best Form of Marketing

My sister told me that with targeted ads, and even with very little time, the workshop would be sure to get sign-ups. So in my panic state, that is exactly what I did! I bought RM60 worth of ads for my Instagram and Facebook posts, and while these posts had a lot of traction in terms of likes and views, these impressions never led to any actual sign-ups. I didn’t even get any new followers on Instagram or Facebook. Instead, what got people to sign up was through word of mouth.

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Seeing how crazy insecure I felt about the whole workshop, my loved ones actually shared Seek to Speak’s post on their socials and even in their Whatsapp groups. I also reached out to some of my current and former students who may be interested in the subject. The latter one really got the most traction while the former helped pass on the message to others! I realised that targeted ads are not enough to convince people to sign-up for a workshop. Instead, what really worked was reaching out to people who already knew you or your friends. People just naturally gravitate to the familiar and comfortable.

My target was to get at least 10 students for the workshop with a cap of 15, as any more than 15 students would make the workshop hard to control. In the end, and within 1 week, 13 people had registered. I also had a friend from the media industry who wanted to observe the workshop for research.

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Getting ahead of Technical Logistics

The next issue was what platform to conduct the workshop on. I have used Skype and Google Meets before (with disastrous results) so I decided to go with Zoom and it seemed like a lot of other people already knew how to use that platform. I briefly considered not upgrading my existing Zoom account and instead, thought to get participants to re-enter the call after the time expired. However, I knew that this would look super cheap considering that a Zoom license only cost RM60 a month — so this idea was immediately scrapped!

Another issue I envisioned cropping up was last-minute no-shows. Since the workshop was free, the participants who have signed up lose nothing if they suddenly decide not to turn up. As one who has also been guilty of signing up for free webinars only to miss them after, I knew this was a real risk. Especially since I will be planning my content and questions based on the number of participants in the workshop.

To resolve this, I made it a “term” in the Google sign-up form for participants to contact us if they suddenly couldn’t make it to the workshop. This proved to be useful as I had 2 participants later informing me that they couldn’t make it, allowing me to better plan the session.

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When people started signing up, that’s when I realised that I needed to make an email for Seek to Speak because it would look odd if the confirmation email came from my personal one and it would be hard to track sign-ups with my already messy personal inbox. So that is exactly what I did. In hindsight, I’m surprised it took me this long to do so!

Armed with a new email account, I sent out confirmation emails to all the participants with a reminder to immediately revert should they later be unable to make it. In both the Google form and email, I also asked participants what they hoped to learn from the workshop and if they had any questions that needed addressing. This helped me craft better content for the session. I also scheduled the Zoom call in my Google calendar and invited all of the participants so that they would be reminded of the workshop, 30 minutes before the start time.

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Relevant & Valuable Content 

In terms of content, it was fairly simple to translate the Economist Education Foundation’s resources into slide shows. But I knew I wanted the students to be more aware of local issues, so I added many additional local examples. I initially intended the age group to be between 13 to 17 years old but in the end, I had youths as young as 10 and as old as 28 signing up. This made structuring content a bit more difficult because the knowledge had to be easy enough for the kids to understand but challenging enough that the older participants wouldn’t feel like the workshop was a waste of time.

It helped that I made sure to print out the list of participants beforehand and pre-planned my questions in advance. I took note of who was older and reserved harder questions for them to answer while I made sure to consistently check with the younger ones whether they understood what I was saying.  
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I made sure to be on the call 20 minutes before the workshop’s scheduled time and encouraged participants to enter the call up to 15 minutes beforehand to avoid technical issues. When people started joining the call before 3pm, I was sure to chat with everyone to make them comfortable with speaking before starting the actual workshop.

By 3pm, only two participants had not entered the call so I began with the ground rules, emphasizing the need to interact with each other during the session and informing everyone that the session would be recorded. Save for two participants who dropped off and on the call, we faced no other technical issue during the session. It turned out to be a blessing that only 10 participants were able to sit through the workshop in full as it ran really long!

I initially wanted the first hour to be me giving a lecture and occasionally posing questions to be answered through the chatbox, thinking that the students would be shy. However, I quickly discovered that everyone had a lot to say and were all keen to answer my questions verbally.

Throughout the hour, I had so many participants responding to my questions and participating in all of the activities that the first session ended 30 minutes later than expected. The second session, which was supposed to last for only 30 minutes, also stretched to over an hour with many participants giving their views on the subject, guided by some questions I had posed. It felt so rewarding and satisfying to see how the students reflected on everything we had learned.

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Getting Feedback 

At the end of the workshop, I prompted everyone to answer a quick survey and made sure that the survey was anonymous. I also asked whether they would be interested in joining a speaking club, which is something I am currently thinking of launching.

Through the survey, I found out that all of the participants had appreciated the session and some even gave helpful suggestions to incorporate in the next session. This really helped me gauge the success of the workshop and the likelihood of them returning for future events. I was very happy to see so much positive feedback and have decided to publish them on Seek to Speak’s socials in order to increase the platform’s credibility. 

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Since the whole workshop was recorded, I made a short video featuring various moments from the session. I felt like this was important to show how varied the workshop’s content was and how open everyone was with sharing their views. I then emailed everyone my thanks for participating as well as the slides I used for the session.

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Conclusion: Yes, I’d do it again!

I really enjoyed teaching the workshop and connecting with youths who are so informed and positive about our country and the rights afforded to us. I would definitely like to do more workshops in the future and will be sure to plan the launch appropriately. 

I am also considering collaborating with other like-minded NGOs on Seek to Speak’s next workshop in order to improve our content and reach. Do you have a topic or NGO you would like us to cover or collaborate with? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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