What great late night talk show hosts taught me about hosting successful digital workshops.

From Johnny Carson to Jimmy Fallon, late night talk show hosts have been a staple of North American entertainment for decades, delighting live and TV audiences with witty jokes, musical acts and interviewing the biggest and brightest movie stars, politicians and sports figures with often uncomfortable questions eased only by a dash of humour and a sprinkle of charm.

In my 20-year career, I’ve participated in, and moderated, hundreds of workshops ranging from the truly thought-provoking and enlightening to the pointless bloviating of buzzwords and endless repetitions of we can’t do this because … or the dreaded we’ve already tried all of this and none of it works.  

So, what can Carson, Letterman, Leno, Colbert and Fallon teach us about successfully moderating and getting the most out of our workshops?  

Here are 5 key late-night talk show inspired principles we can apply to have more successful digital workshops:

As a moderator, you are responsible for creating an environment and workshop activities that get the best out of the participants. Your job is bringing the best out of the participants, showcasing their ideas and creativity, making them the stars of the show. 

  • Highlight other people’s ideas ahead of your own.
  • Know when to expand on a topic and when to move on.
  • Callout participants who had great or unexpected ideas, make them feel good. 

Late night talk shows use a variety of different segments to entertain their audience, interviews, musical performance stand-up comedy and more.  Your digital workshops also need a variety of exercises that breed creative thinking and bring the best out of the participants.  Namely:

  • Group activities foster teamwork but can lead to group think or repress ideas from more introverted members.  Balancing group and individual activities ensure that every participant has a chance to showcase their ideas.  
  • Voting and Q&A activities are great way to create consensus within the team.  A group that recognizes the value of other people’s ideas is more likely to feel confident in putting forward new and innovative concept.

When preparing to write this article, I watched old clips of Jay Leno and David Letterman, whom I believe to be the best late night talk show hosts ever.  I was amazed to see how they treated up and coming stand-up comedians with the same respect and gave the same attention to them as they would famous movie stars or musicians.

As a workshop moderator, hierarchy (or seniority) should not be a determinant of which ideas have more value or are considered.  Whether it be the CEO or an intern, a 20-year company veteran or someone who just started yesterday, ideas coming from a workshop should be valued on their merit, not on the status or seniority of the person who proposed them.  

There is a reason why every late-night talk show begins with a monologue from the host.  Not only does it set the tone for the entire show, but it also gets the audience ready for what is to come.  As a moderator, your introduction to the digital workshop is your chance to set the tone and pave the way for everyone to bring their best creative ideas. 

  • Make people smile, everyone has better ideas when they are in a good mood.
  • Make people comfortable, remind the participants that are no right or wrong answers, only different perspectives. 
  • Be clear on expectations but don’t put unnecessary pressure on anyone (most participants will be stressed out by the thought of having to come up with ideas).
  • Make a joke or two. 
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You cannot be mad at someone who makes you laugh.  It’s as simple as that.

-Jay Leno

Workshops should be fun.  It is a rare opportunity for participants to detach themselves for the day-to-day operational grind and think about what could be.  Here are some easy ways to make your workshop more fun for you and the participants.

  • Bring fun snacks (candy and popcorn are always good)
  • Pop culture references will make people smile, don’t hesitate to put them in your presentation.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself.
  • Have a great icebreaker question that will make everyone comfortable.  

(Hint:  I always ask people what their favorite toy was growing up.  It immediately brings all participants to a better place).

Want to get the most out of your digital workshops?  Contact us today and let us unleash your team’s creative power!

About the author:  Mathieu Lachapelle is Vice-President Innovation and Commercialization at Sidekick Interactive.  With over 20 years of experience in digital product management, sales and innovation, Mathieu has successfully deployed large scale digital solutions across many industries including eCommerce, media, classifieds, loyalty, education, and logistics.  Mathieu’s focus is on leveraging technology to solve human pain points in commercial interactions.