Step literally into the shoes of your participants and sense their view in terms of learning activities and discussion topics. An Empathy Map with head and body helps map the learning needs and habits.

participant's shoes

I love the Empathy Map (check here and here how it works), I recommend it, I use it. It’s a helpful and easily applicable tool to put organizers and facilitators of workshops, face-to-face meetings and conferences in the shoes of the participants. Successful learning events are useful for participants. Seeing the workshop’s planning through the eyes of a participant can help a great deal in designing a workshop that really makes a difference for the ones that attend it.

Empathy Map with head and body

I just realized what I miss in this tool. The body. While preparing a workshop we “think head”. During our work-time we are mainly “head”. As workshop participants, we experienced it ourselves many times; we were stuck to our chairs, as “thinking and reflecting heads”.

And precisely that bothers me. We have to think about participants as whole persons with head, body and heart. The empathy map includes emotions and actions, hearing, seeing and thinking. But still, we see the participants from a head’s perspective.

Step into the shoes of your participants

Somebody at the ALIA 2013 had the great idea to draw two feet on paper, put it on the floor and let the organizing team step literally into the shoes of a participant. This way of approaching an Empathy Map offers the opportunity to sense the planned workshop form a participant’s perspective.

I am Xana. I will participate at the face-to-face meeting next summer.
I say…
I see…
I hear…
I do…
I think…
I feel…

And I am Teo; I will also participate at the face-to-face meeting next summer. I say…

And I am Layla….

Step into the shoes of Xana, Teo and Layla and speak in their voice. Discuss your learning event. Listen to their stories. Eventually you want to go back to the last workshop evaluation and check what people said; or make some stakeholder interviews with key participants.

Make the person as real as you can.
Adam Payne on: What is an Empathy Map

Learning is experiencing

Sensing the workshop from a participant’s perspective makes their needs and interests regarding purpose, content and process visible but it also helps identify the type of learning activities most suitable and effective for their needs.

Sitting through presentations, having conversations in circles, listening to discussion reports etc. is not enough. As meeting organizers and facilitators we want to allow for deep learning. Learning is experiencing. Learning needs emotions, and I would add learning needs being in motion.

How do you use the Empathy Map? How do you bring the participants’ voice into the planning process?