Starting a peer workshop

Someone recently emailed me and asked me about starting their own peer workshop. I have a small amount of experience in the topic. I've run a number of IWSTs (a small local workshop) and two WOCs (a longer three-day workshop). I've attended many other peer workshops, including WHET, WOPR, WOCT, STMR, STiFS, and AWTA. They are all in some way or another in the LAWST-style.

Here are bits of my reply:

Depending on your personality type, you might be able to facilitate. I don't know what personality types make good facilitators, I just know not everyone is a good facilitator. If you ever need a facilitator, and your workshop is LAWST-style, there is a good chance AST will provide one for you.

I recommend two books:
- Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making
- How to Run Seminars and Workshops

To get AST sponsorship, follow the LAWST-style and submit an email to the AST VP of Conferences ( It's that easy.

Plan on a three-day workshop costing you around $1,500 out of pocket all said and done. You can do it a bit cheaper or a bit more expensive - depending on the market and your connections in that market.

Be clear on your expectations on what you want the outcomes to be. That will help guide your invitations and content selections. Scott Barber has noticed some interesting dynamics on this topic. I hope he posts them as a comment to this post.

Be very clear about what it takes to attend. If it's invitation only - make it invitation only. Be painfully clear about what that means. Does that mean I can just email you to get an invitation? Say that. This is the largest barrier to entry for people attending. If they feel it's 'closed', they won't try to come. If they feel it's only for the 'elite', they won't try to come.

Get a website. Right away. Unless you want a small community, you need a public face. WOPR has a great marketing group (Ross, Roland, and Scott) and they do an /excellent/ job at getting new blood into the workshops.

Send the call for participation well in advance. Send it more then once.

Keep a relatively constant stream of communication to your attendees. Send emails 60 day, 30 days, 15 days, and 7 days before the event. Start a YahooGroup following the workshop for veterans.

Get ready for rejection. It's the hardest part. People commit and then they back out at the last minute. I find that the hardest part.

Be ready for people not to publish anything following the workshop. It takes someone special to actually follow up on workshop promises. This is the second hardest part. (I still have outstanding promises to AWTA from January. I have good intentions. It's hard...)

If you have other tips (many readers of my blog have attended or run their own peer conferences) please feel free to post them.