Since people who couldn’t attend have been asking me about the recent Conscious Heart Workshop last month, I’ll share some details about how it turned out, both from my perspective and that of the attendees.
As a refresher, what was unique about this workshop (our 11th since 2009) is that there was no pre-set theme and no pre-planned content or structure. The idea was to go with the flow of inspiration all the way through. It was also intended to be a co-creative event, meaning that attendees could influence how it turned out if they felt inspired to do so.
Let’s start with what the attendees thought of it…
A few days after the workshop, I emailed the attendees a simple survey to share their feedback with me. The survey gives them the opportunity to rate different aspects of the workshop, to answer a few questions about their experience, and some space for anything else they want to share. People can include their names or submit it anonymously if they wish. I also invite them to share some feedback that I can post publicly with their name or initials if they’re okay with that. The feedback is used to improve future workshops and to come up with new workshop ideas.
For this workshop, on a scale of 1 to 5, the average ratings were:
Workshop Content – 4.3
Workshop Exercises – 4.2
Social Experience – 4.6
Workshop Staff – 4.9
Transformational Effect – 4.4
Overall Value – 4.6
Compared to the previous workshop (the August 2014 Conscious Life Workshop), the May 2015 Conscious Heart Workshop received slightly lower marks for content and exercises, but it gained higher ratings for everything else. People found it to be a better social experience, a better value, and more transformational for them. It’s also great to see how much people appreciated the staff. Ann and Kevin did an especially outstanding job of helping to create a friendly, positive, and encouraging vibe and cultivating a positive social experience, not just in the workshop room but after hours as well.
The two most important ratings I look at are the Transformational Effect and the Overall Value that people received. These can be tough to gauge because they change over time, so the ratings above are based only on the short-term impact during the workshop itself and the week afterwards. I learn more about the long-term impact from follow-up emails that people send me, sometimes months or years later.
People especially seemed to appreciate the intimate audience size for this event. It was a smaller group this time — about 30 people — which made it easy for everyone to meet and get to know everyone else in some fashion. There was plenty of opportunity for people to actively participate and to influence what we covered.
This workshop attracted more first timers than usual. Normally we’ll see about a 50-50 ratio between first timers and alumni at recent workshops. This one was closer to 85-15, so the majority were first time attendees. My expectation going in was that we’d get mostly alumni for this workshop, but the opposite happened. Maybe that’s because an unstructured, go-with-the-flow workshop appeals to different people than a structured, topic-based one. By and large these people weren’t new to my blog though. I’d say that the typical attendee has been reading my work for several years, which is what we see at every workshop. The most engaged readers are the ones who attend live events.
Here’s some additional feedback that a few attendees shared, with permission for me to share it publicly:
Having only 30 people there was awesome. I felt like I got to know everyone there. If you could continue to offer workshops that attract small numbers, I would appreciate it
The social experience was the most valuable thing to me. Being in AA, I have a large social group that is pretty positive and growth oriented, but it still isn’t the same as what I found at the workshop. It inspired me to find my own social circles here at home that are committed to other types of growth. Specifically, finding people that are doing things that would blow my mind in terms of relationships and lifestyle.
Discussing topics at a workshop adds much more weight to them. There weren’t a lot of new ideas for me, but they felt new. Things that I had previously thought of as just an interesting idea are things that I now plan on actually doing (e.g. as an individual cell, how can I offer the most value to the rest of the body?).
Kevin is also awesome and I appreciated him hanging out with us each night. He kind of served as a guide, not only for Las Vegas, but also for how to have a really great social experience. I don’t think it would have been the same for me without him.
And of course, Sasha. That was amazing to see him there and he was another example of caring and giving.
It gave me a glimpse of a better way to live. A way that is more fun, free, kind, and caring than what I’m doing now. That all came from seeing people actually living that way.
– Bob McCullough
Steve Pavlina’s workshops are top-notch, paradigm shifting trainings. I felt that the ideas presented were challenging my paradigms in many ways.
I’ve been reading Steve’s articles for many years and it was like I’ve ‘known’ a lot about him. Meeting him in person was like coming to see a very old friend. The feeling I get was that the real person and the blog content is totally congruent to who Steve Pavlina is and hearing every word was like a trip down memory lane.
Steve’s content not only laid the foundation for me in my early days for my personal development journey, I find that after many years, I constantly go back and use these ideas and paradigms as a reference point for my growth and further pursuit for an even better future. Coming to his workshop for the first time is like coming full circle and I am ready for a new journey again.
Experiencing the content in an experiential way makes the already paradigm shifting experience even better.
I thoroughly enjoyed and am very grateful for the ‘Steve Pavlina experience’!
To be greeted on the morning of day 1 with a warm hug was special, and something I haven’t ever experienced in a workshop. Steve has a very unique way of combining a variety of topics, yet keeping a comfortable flow.
– Ryan Hamar
Personally I thought the workshop turned out beautifully. The inspired, go-with-the-flow approach worked even better than I expected. There was certainly no shortage of inspired content, and we included many exercises and activities that got people out of their seats and interacting with each other in different ways.
Since I didn’t have to design the workshop in advance, this was the easiest workshop ever in terms of my personal workload. For that reason alone, I could really get used to this format. The week before the workshop was exceptionally light. I was able to just relax and look forward to the experience. The same was true during each day of the workshop itself. Instead of waking up at 3am and spending hours reviewing and mentally preloading what we’d be covering each day, this time I slept in late (till 5am), had a leisurely breakfast, and walked and meditated in the park.
One reason I wanted to try this format was to see if it would be a viable way to do three-day workshops. Based on attendee feedback and my own impressions, it’s all-around obvious that the inspired format is completely viable. We could easily do many more workshops like this.
I especially loved that I didn’t feel tethered to any pre-planned content. This freed me up to devote all my attention and energy to the people in the room and whatever was arising in the current moment. I didn’t feel distracted by having one part of my mind always attending to the schedule or the next planned piece of content. I never had to mentally weigh the trade-offs between sticking with pre-planned content vs. breaking from it to go with the flow. Consequently, this workshop gave me the best “mind like water” experience I’ve had delivering workshops thus far.
I loved the flexibility and the stimulation of the workshop. I went into each day with a childlike sense of excitement and giddiness, not knowing what we’d be doing each day and feeling delighted by that uncertainty. That made speaking so much more fun and stimulating for me. I love spontaneity, and this style of speaking feels so wonderfully natural to me now. I feel like it’s really going to spoil me from wanting to do more pre-planned events or talks.
Of course I still felt responsible for doing my best to help the attendees have positive growth experiences, but with each progressive day, that responsibility felt lighter as staff and attendees alike contributed more of their own energy and ideas to the workshop. It became increasingly co-creative as we went along.
For instance, during the afternoon of the third day, we had group breakout sessions, whereby attendees could participate in one of four discussion groups with 5-12 people in each group. That idea was suggested by one of the attendees; it wasn’t something I’d ever done in a workshop before. I figured we’d go for about 15-20 minutes, but when I checked in with each group, they all liked it and wanted to keep going, so we did that activity for 35 minutes. People told me afterwards that they got a lot out of sharing focused time with like-minded people who wanted to delve into a specific topic together. So now this becomes another tool in our toolkit that we could potentially use again.
It was nice to be able to budget time for activities on the fly instead of determining the time budget for every segment in advance. When I do all the time budgeting and planning in advance, I’m really just guessing. For segments similar to what I’ve done in the past, I can rely on previous experiences with other audiences, but the reality is that every audience is unique. Usually my guesses are reasonable, but sometimes I feel I’m devoting too much time to some ideas and activities and not enough time to others. With this workshop, however, we could dynamically adapt how much time we spent on various topics and activities. I could observe the level of interest and engagement from the people in the room as we went along. If something was clearly getting a lot of traction, we could stay with it. As interest began to fade, we could switch topics or activities. For the most part this balancing happened easily and organically, without actually having to think about it deliberately.
I definitely like on-the-fly balancing better. It aligns nicely with how I write too. I write articles to share ideas with sufficient depth, not to hit some arbitrary word count.
Usually when I look back on a workshop, I can identify some notable mistakes. Usually these are time budgeting mistakes, whereby we end up spending too much or too little time on some aspect of the topic to be explored. Such mistakes are unavoidable when everything is planned out in advance. I have some flexibility to break from the schedule, but it’s risky if I break from it too much since then some other potentially important piece might not get covered. When I look back on the workshop, I can’t seem to identify any significant mistakes or errors in judgment where I wish we’d done things differently. It all seemed to flow really well. There are always opportunities for tweaking things, and I know we could have tightened up some parts, but we moved things forward at a good clip and covered a lot of ground.
Before doing this workshop, I’d wondered if we might be at risk of bouncing around from topic to topic too often. Would it sometimes be too chaotic? That didn’t happen. We created a nice flow throughout, exploring each topic with sufficient depth for a reasonable amount of time, and then we’d flow into something else. There were some tangents, but I don’t feel that any of them were excessive. Some tangents opened up whole new avenues that people wanted to spend time addressing. Who’s to say what constitutes core content vs. a tangential idea anyway? In this workshop the audience was able to have a say in deciding that.
We shared a LOT of laughs during this workshop. There were so many funny jokes and humorous moments, all arising spontaneously. I was blown away by just how much humor and fun people brought to it, especially on the second and third days when we were warmed up and connecting so nicely. I loved how this workshop packed in a lot of entertainment value, none of which was pre-planned.
I really liked the social energy at this workshop too. The vibe was mutually supportive, caring, connected, and playful — sometimes REALLY playful. During various exercises, there was stand-up comedy, a very hyper bear, magic tricks, juggling, a room full of heroes, co-creative artwork, co-creative theater, and even some completely unexpected full frontal nudity.
I imagine you might be wondering about the nudity. During a Master and servant exercise, which I’ve used before at some previous workshops, someone gave the command to his servants to “Get as naked as you feel comfortable doing.” Well… there was apparently quite a lot of comfort! 😉
For this workshop I stuck with the intention of keeping it fully inspired all the way through. I gave myself permission to rely on past experience and to jot down ideas that came up during the workshop if I wanted to, but I didn’t pre-plan or pre-decide any of the content and activities. Whatever ideas or suggestions came up during the days of the workshop were fair game to include though. So if I got an idea during lunch, I could write it down on a small notepad to remind myself to consider including it later that day. I found that helpful, and I felt under no obligation to use the ideas I jotted down. By writing down some ideas that seemed inspired, I didn’t have to waste mental energy trying to remember them. That’s helpful when three or four ideas would come through in close proximity. I never ended up jotting down more than a few words each day though, just some trigger words to help me remember suggestions and ideas that came up during times when I couldn’t immediately include them.
I can envision a slightly modified hybrid approach that might work a little better, which would involve having a handy reference list of good activities and exercises to potentially include, i.e. effective exercises that we’ve done at previous workshops. That would help me be more present since I wouldn’t have to hold such ideas in the back of my mind while conducting the workshop. I could simply scan the list and pick something when it seemed like a good time for a relevant activity. That wouldn’t preclude me from doing some inspired or co-creative exercises that came up on the fly as well.
One oddity about this workshop, at least from my perspective, is that since there was no pre-written plan for it, I had to rely on memory afterwards to recall what we actually covered and the activities we did. After it was over, I wrote about the experience in my journal, so I’d have some record of what happened. For all of our prior workshops, I could simply review the planned material and the schedule to refresh my memory. But those planning tools never existed for this workshop.
Since this workshop had a very experimental format, I probably did less promotion for it than for any previous workshop. I just wanted to have enough people in the room to have a respectable turnout and to at least cover expenses. This wasn’t because I was worried about having the workshop not turn out well; I felt pretty confident that it would work. I wanted to attract people who genuinely liked the concept and saw good potential in it, without needing a lot of convincing to sign up. People who might be skeptical about the format wouldn’t sign up for something like this. In retrospect I feel that was a good decision. It showed me that this format certainly can work extremely well, partly because only those people who are willing to invest in such an experience will sign up for it. With a room full of people who expect it to work, we do indeed make it work.
It’s a delightful realization that we could run this unstructured type of workshop many more times, and it would be unique and different each time.
Another advantage would be that people could attend the “same” workshop again and again if they wanted to, and it would be like going to a different event each time. I don’t want to overstate that potential at this point since I’ve only done this type of workshop once so far, so I don’t really know how similar each one would be. I suspect that would depend on how far apart they are in time. The more time that passes, the more they’re likely to evolve.
One reason I’ve run most of the previous workshops only once is that I love growth and stimulation, and there isn’t much growth for me in delivering the same workshop over and over again. I recognize that it would be beneficial for people who missed a unique one-time event like the Subjective Reality Workshop in 2011 or the Conscious Life Workshop in 2014 if I were to refresh and rerun them at some point, but every time I’ve thought about doing that, the idea felt uninspired. I find it more stimulating to keep creating new experiences each time. I learned many years ago that in order for me to feel fully engaged in my work, I have to make sure that my work commitments don’t feel like an albatross around my neck. I want to make sure the work I do still feels fresh and engaging to me each year. I think that’s better for everyone. We can all recognize the speaker or teacher who’s been regurgitating the same material for so many years that there’s no joy and passion in sharing it anymore. I love that my work helps so many people, but I’m not willing to lock it down in such a way that takes me out of alignment with my own path of growth. I want us to keep learning, growing, and exploring together year after year.
This last workshop really hit the sweet spot in that respect. It was fun, social, and transformational for attendees, and it was wonderfully stimulating for me. If I were to repeat it, I could still find the experience fresh and new because it would be like doing a whole new event. We’d have the flexibility to keep trying new things, and every audience would bring something different to it.
Based on the outcome of the Conscious Heart Workshop, I’ve been pondering what to do next in this area.
One variation would be to have some themed workshops but with the inspired, go-with-the-flow format of CHW. Then we could cover focused topics which are known to be popular with my readers, such as relationships, lifestyle design, abundance, and entrepreneurship. It would probably be easier to sell tickets to such events since then people would have at least some idea about what would be covered. Personally I’d prefer a totally unthemed event, so we’d have maximum flexibility to address the challenges of each attendee. But I recognize that it may be harder to sell an unthemed workshop.
Since people tend to get so much value from the social experience and the ongoing social connections, one idea is to do a super social workshop where connecting with other attendees is the main point. With Ann and Kevin’s help, I’m sure we could include some structured (yet optional) social activities for the evenings and after the workshop too.
One suggestion I sometimes receive is to do an advanced workshop. The idea is to host some events for people who’ve already passed a certain threshold in some area of life, such as enjoying a sustainable purpose-driven lifestyle, a happy and positive social and relationship life, a thriving business, etc. One advantage is that the people who attend might have better networking opportunities (i.e. more pros and fewer novices in that area of life).
For example, imagine a workshop for people who’ve been vegan for at least a year. We could do deep dives into the social challenges of being vegan, explore the subtleties of vegan lifestyle that most people never experience, share vegan meals together, and more. Or imagine a workshop just for people who are already exploring open relationships. We could delve deeply into the subtleties of exploring that type of lifestyle, without worrying about losing the interest of the mono-minded. I can see the appeal of this type of event. The tricky part would be figuring out what standards to set. Everyone who has suggested this idea has had a different standard in mind, one that was of personal interest to them.
Using the inspired approach for workshop delivery gives us the potential to do a lot more workshops. If I don’t have to personally pre-plan all the content and activities and if we can draw upon the collective intelligence of everyone in the room, that gives rise to significant advantages.
It took me a solid month working full-time to plan the first Conscious Growth Workshop in 2009, and the content was based on my book, which was already written. As I gained experience, I was able to reduce that planning time for a new workshop down to two weeks… then one week… then down to 3-4 days. Now it’s down to zero. I truthfully didn’t spend even one minute pre-planning the content and structure for the Conscious Heart Workshop. And to think that it only took me 25 years of working on my personal growth (and a concurrent 11 years of working on my speaking skills) to reach this point. 😉
I haven’t committed to doing any new events yet — nothing else is planned or scheduled for now — but if/when an inspired idea comes through, it’s certainly doable.
This was our 11th workshop, and it’s my new favorite of all the ones we’ve done so far. Conducting these events brings so much fun, joy, growth, and connection into my life and into the lives of people who attend them. I feel like this last workshop in particular was a huge leap forward. It gives rise to so many new possibilities, based on going with the flow of inspiration in the moment instead of pre-planning the details in advance. I love that it aligns so nicely with how I like to live and work in a broader sense too.