Estimating the workshop duration is often as difficult as calculating the price for training. In the latter case, the difficulty is in finding out how much your customers are willing to pay and in proving the value of your services to them. Duration is tricky because it has a direct influence on the quality of your services: you need to get the maximum learning effect in the allotted time without tiring your students out too much.
In some cases, an all-day workshop could become a good solution. And in other situations, breaking your program down into smaller sessions will provide better results.
However, simply deciding what duration is fitter for your course is not enough. The planning process for each stage should be approached with all seriousness too. You also need to consider external factors that can affect your perfectly thought-out curriculum. Overseeing them may lead to a workshop session becoming longer or, on the contrary, shorter than expected, damaging your reputation and budget.
We took a look at the courses of our customers to find out the average length they tend to choose for their training. At the same time, we thought of different scenarios and circumstances that will allow you to find the appropriate duration for your course and collected recommendations to help you stick to the time frame you have chosen.
When a longer workshop (6-8 hours) is better?
The usual length for intensive workshops packed into 1 day or, sometimes, 2-3 days, is 6-8 hours per session. They include presentations, exercises, and group discussions divided by breaks. There might be several presenters responsible for different stages or providing various perspectives.
Long sessions could become a serious test for many students so you as a facilitator will have to put efforts into creating the suitable sequence of different activities and choose the right time for breaks.
With all this, running a long event may seem like a task too difficult to handle, both for potential participants and a workshop organizer. But in some cases, this is the best choice.
In-person workshop. To take part in a face-to-face workshop, students will have to get to the location first, possibly — from somewhere far away. It means spending time and money on transportation and accommodations. Therefore, attendees of in-person workshops would want to get the maximum value out of each session instead of having to travel to the venue for multiple shorter iterations.They need to feel that it was worth their time getting there and a long workshop with lots of content would be perfect for this.
What should also be taken into consideration when hosting an in-person workshop is various fees you have to pay for renting a venue each time. Making sessions longer will minimize the number of days you need to pay for, which will help cut down the expenses.
Workshop for advanced learners. In-depth topics imply thorough explanation and complex exercises that stretch out in time. Advanced level attendees would be more likely to engage in activities, maintain a productive discussion, and prepare a lot of questions that might require detailed replies from you. A long workshop would be more satisfying for this situation as it will allow you to fully respond to your students’ needs.
Compliance workshop. If a company needs to implement new guidelines or ensure compliance with certain regulations, it’s better to hurry up and run longer sessions to get the results faster so that company can start operating under new standards as soon as possible. After covering the main points, you can enhance the effect by follow-ups or additional exercises at a slower pace.
When do short sessions (2-3 hours) work well?
In many cases, there is a wiser solution than trying to cram the entire workshop into a couple of days. Your students will remember more information if it’s divided into bite-sized chunks presented in regular intervals.
Multi-session training can last from a couple of weeks to several months, with the length of each session usually being 2-3 hours. This time frame is enough to explain the new idea and give students materials to think it through until the next session.
What else is great about multiple short sessions is that they create a stronger sense of bonding in a class than intense workshops. People that are meeting on a regular basis for several weeks start to feel more like a community. It will have a positive effect on a group work and an overall impression of a course.
Find more insights about building a sense of the community among your students in our interview with Pia-Maria Thorén, the creator of Agile People.
Virtual workshop. Online training works best with short-term sessions. Sitting for a long time in front of a computer leads to serious health issues, lowers students’ concentration, and diminishes the learning effect. If you have a lot of content to cover, you can split it up into multiple short sessions which won’t exhaust attendees and will allow them to consume the information gradually.
Tip: With Workshop Butler, you can create a schedule for events with multiple sessions to give workshop participants a clear understanding of how long each session lasts and how many of them are in the course.
Workshop for beginners. Starting something new is difficult and takes a lot of our inner resources. That’s why making long workshops for beginners might be counterproductive. By trying to share as much material as possible you risk creating an incomprehensible mixture in a learner’s head. Instead, try fitting the most essential content into a shorter workshop and give your students a chance to digest a new topic.
Retraining workshop. If an organization wants to change focus or expand their line of business, their employees will have to switch on the new course too. Such transition doesn’t happen overnight. It means that you can take time helping employees adapt to changes and teach new qualifications step-by-step. Not only will it make learning stick better, but it will also allow people to understand and accept the shifts in their workplace.
Although, there might be circumstances when retraining needs to be done in a timely manner. The start of the pandemic is a perfect example for such a situation. Many companies had to drastically change their processes and switch to remote work quickly. Getting on a new track as soon as possible was essential for the stability of operations and required intensive training sessions.
When different durations can be combined?
Sticking to one duration is not always necessary. If it’s an extensive course, you can alternate longer and shorter sessions depending on their purpose. For example, make a longer introductory session in-person where you present the workshop topic, set a certain tone, and give participants a chance to know each other. After that, move online and schedule shorter video calls to handle one task at a time.
Listen to Episode 8 of our podcast, where Jeroen Molenaar shares his vision of a hybrid approach, combining several-day live sessions with online micro-learning.
Planning workshop stages
When you decide upon the workshop duration based on learning content and your audience’s specifics, the next step will be estimating each stage of your course to see how it fits into the chosen time frame.
The more thoroughly will you break down each stage, the less chances that something will interfere with your calculations.
Think how much time you will need for:
- Greetings and introductions
- "Breaking the ice" and getting the process going
- Presenting the material
- Completing exercises and discussing materials
- Answering questions
- Listening to feedback and wrapping things up.
The accuracy in calculations will depend on your time management skill and the information you have about your audience: level of their expertise in this area, their knowledge of each other, and willingness to take part in your workshop.
Greetings and introductions. If the major part of your workshop is you giving information to attendees, maybe there is no need to spend a lot of time on introductions. But if you plan active discussions or working in small groups and your students are strangers to each other, you should make efforts to create a friendly atmosphere. Take into account whether your students need to introduce themselves or they have known each other prior to an event, then think how much information about themselves they should provide in order to be able to cooperate. Based on these assessments, try to estimate how much time will be enough for it.
"Breaking the ice" and getting the process going. This part is the logical continuation of the previous one and the same aspects will be important here. You need to think how long it will take to liven up your class before getting to the main part of your session.
Presentation of the material is the easiest stage to schedule because you will be the one doing the talking. Still, even here things might not go according to your plan. If you see that your audience doesn’t get what you are talking about or looks bored, you’ll have to improvise to change the flow of the session for the better. Make sure to leave some leeway in the presentation time for such situations.
Practical work and group discussion. The duration of this stage will depend on students’ qualification and their enthusiasm. It is strongly affected by how well you handled the introductory part of your event. More advanced students will probably faster complete even complex tasks than those who have just started grasping the basics. Attendees who have come to your event of their own free will and with clear understanding of why they need it, will be more actively working on the materials you are offering them than those forced to attend by their organization. And people who know each other will perform tasks more efficiently and smoothly than strangers.
Answering questions is the most difficult one because you can’t predict how many questions you will be asked and how much time it will take to answer. But if you are delivering the same workshop over and over, you might start getting the grasp of what questions you are usually asked and how to answer them.
Wrapping things up shouldn’t take much time. You might wrap up fast if the audience wasn’t responsive. If a workshop was a success, many of your students might want to share their feedback and gratitudes.
Tip: use online forms to collect feedback instead of spending time on it during the workshop. See our review of the best form builders for creating evaluation forms.
Some factors may not be part of your plan, but you can expect them to happen anyway. If you take measures to avoid them beforehand, there are less chances that the workshop duration will change because of them.
Getting back after the break tends to take longer than the time limits set for it. It may not be a big deal for an online session, but if you are renting a venue with an hourly rate, this delay might increase the cost of your workshop for you. Especially, if there are more than one break in a session.
To avoid this problem, try planning a longer break initially and announce it shorter for your attendees.
Uncooperative/inactive students will drag out the exercises you offer them and will reach results longer than it would have been with an active audience. There is no 100% guaranteed method to create a lively atmosphere, but there is at least a way to minimize risks. Try learning as much as possible about your potential students before the event starts. If it’s corporate training, consult those who hired you. And if it’s a public workshop — run a short survey to find out about your students’ background on the workshop topic, their expectations, and the degree of their enthusiasm. The more knowledge you have, the better will you be able to adapt content and estimate the time needed to cover it.
The choice for the date and time can also play its role in students’ activity. For example, participants attending a workshop on a weekday evening might be more reserved and less concentrated because they are already tired from the whole day of work.
Too much time spent on familiarizing with materials/software. If your course contains lots of handout materials, you need to add time for students to familiarize themselves with it. And even with these preparations, there might be difficulties because each person consumes information at their own pace. For someone, just skimming the hand-outs will be enough to grasp what they are about, while others would prefer to take their time and read it more thoroughly. Here you will be left before a choice: wait for everyone to finish reading the materials and make some of your students wait or proceed after most of your attendees are done. Naturally, the more workshops you run, the more precisely you will be able to estimate time for such activities.
There is also a different way which can balance these two imperfect choices — distribute materials before an event allowing your students to familiarize themselves with the information in a relaxing atmosphere. Of course, it won’t work with any topic, but could become a good solution for many cases.
The same can be done with software if you are going to present an interactive workshop. Some students might fall behind the rest of the group struggling to understand how the app or program works. You can either add some time for this process or send an email with a short explanation about what software you will use and how to work with it before a session starts.
If approached consciously, duration can contribute to your workshop’s success enhancing the learning effect of training. Students don’t usually pay much attention to timing unless it interferes with their schedule, but this parameter can greatly affect their performance during the session.
When asking yourself how long your workshop should be, think of the following:
- Medium you are going to deliver the training through
- Your audience’s level of knowledge on the topic
- The amount of new information their minds will be able to process at this point
- Your workshop goal
- The level of urgency to achieve this goal for your client.
When you’ll get the rough idea of the perfect duration for a successful workshop, move to detailed planning and think through each stage of your course. Do not forget to take into consideration external factors like delays, uncooperative students, or difficulties with using the software during interactive exercises.Try to find possible workarounds to minimize the effects of such factors beforehand.
Being in control of every possible aspect of your training, including timing, will help you become a workshop leader not only on paper, but in reality too, and give a sense of confidence to your audience encouraging them to follow your guidance.