The two workshop danger zones

A few years ago, researchers from Ben Gurion and Columbia universities examined over 1,000 decisions made by Israeli judges who ruled on convicts’ parole requests.

At the beginning of the day, the judges granted 65% of the parole requests. As lunchtime loomed, the approval rate dropped to almost zero. After lunch, it went straight back up to 65% again.

There were two things at play here; grumpiness from hunger, and mental fatigue from making so many decisions.

The same occurs elsewhere of course; in a classroom, at work, or even in certain social settings.

What’s less obvious from the study is what happened 45 minutes after lunch. That’s the time we probably all identify with as the post-lunch lull.

These two drops in energy and interest just before and shortly after lunch are particularly noticeable in a workshop setting, especially one that’s running for a full day (or more).

They’re the danger zones. 

As designers and facilitators we want to pay close attention to how we navigate these.

Here are 3 simple tactics to apply.

1. Get hands-on: It’s always worth having a hands-on or other interactive activity in the back pocket in case of energy draining (or something else not going to plan). Putting attendees into small groups and giving them something kinaesthetic to work on can often bridge the energy gap and stimulate new interest in a topic. Depending on the type of group and their learning styles, it could be a short design exercise, tinkering with some code, or telling a story of some kind.

2. Energiser: A more intense exercise that gets people moving, thinking, and on alert can be very effective, even if it’s just for 5 minutes or so. These energiser activities usually involve a larger group and require each group member to be involved and accountable to the rest. The two best places to get inspiration for energiser activities are kids’ games and improv. One example that’s used in both contexts is Zip, Zap, Zop.

3. Change up: Don’t be afraid to nudge the schedule around if there’s a sense of serious energy lulls. Take an earlier or additional break in the post-lunch session, or go for lunch 10 minutes before planned. Even if the food isn’t ready/available, attendees will likely be grateful for a chance to move around, chat,  and start to recharge.

When the danger zones are appearing on the horizon, try reaching for one of these to keep things moving.

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