Workshop time is precious time, let’s spend it wisely. I sometimes wonder why there are still workshops and seminars in the format ‘input + Q&A + discussion’?

Do we lack imagination to do things differently?

Or is it a question of confidence and courage to depart from the beaten track?

Are we afraid of the void, that there wouldn’t be enough substance; and therefore think an input is the best way to launch a conversation?

In my experience, it is worth to flip our thinking to have more engaging and meaningful conversations.

Let’s start with flipping the seating

The seating order tells a story: What will happen and who listens to whom. How we arrange the room defines whether we will be focusing on one or focusing on many. So, how do we want to sit and be seated? One person standing in front and the rest sitting in the back? If we push the tables aside and arrange chairs in a circle, if we forget the U-shape kind of room arrangements we create the conditions for conversation. The room set-up is a choice (at least when chairs and tables are not fixed).

Flip our perception of people and expertise

If we want workshops that are engaging and learning-oriented, we must move the participants, their experiences, their expertise and their questions and challenges right into the centre of the workshop and into the spotlight.

Sometimes, I wonder if it is necessary to bring in an external speaker or presenter? Have we checked the potential and talents among the people attending? Who is the most experienced person in the room is an interesting and important question we should always ask ourselves.

One more thought: on the workshop agenda, we often see that a person higher up in the organisational hierarchy will give a presentation. Does she want to do this, or do we assume so? Wouldn’t she be willing and maybe even pleased to be in dialogue rather than in monologue?

Flip the workshop design

The participants’ experiences and questions should be centre stage in a workshop. We start with getting to know each other and having a first conversation.

David Gurteen is engaged in bringing more conversation to the table. The Knowledge Cafe methodology is his answer to the ‘input + Q&A + discussion’ mania. In terms of learning and reflection, Q&A sessions are useless and often a waste of time.  We need conversation: through conversation we create meaning and deepen our understanding and draw deeper insights (see more on David Gurteen’s approach on conversational conferences here.)

It is through small group conversations that we manage our knowledge. It takes a diverse group of people with different perspectives to come together in conversation to make sense of the world.
David Gurteen

So, lets design for conversation, inquiry and joint reflection. A conversation can be launched by many things. A simple question brings us in conversation. Through conversation inputs are made by many.

What drives conversation

What drives conversation Possible conversational methods and approaches

The options are endless…


A question, a problem, a challenge, seeking understanding, and finding solutions


World Café

The Circle Way

Open Space

Nine Whys

Flipchart Chat

(Digital) stories

Fish Bowl Discussion

User Experience Fishbowl

Market Place

Celebrity Interview or Chat Show followed by small group discussions or Knowledge Café

Conversational inquiry through Questions

Knowledge Café

Visual Thinking: many ideas by Gamestorming

Poster Session

Quaker Conversation

Six Thinking Hats


Dynamic Facilitation

Pro Action Café

Design for Wiser Action

Lean Coffee focused on action planning


A shared passion and curiosity




form within the work and elsewhere: in the form of new data, results, insights and learning



Ideas, vision dreams


Joint initiatives, projects, plans


What conversational methods are you applying? How does your flipped workshop design look like?

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