Workshop Advice by Jessica El Mal

Commissioned by ROOT-ed Zine

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About Jessica​

My work is both deeply personal and yet draws on the universality of the human experience through a balance of digital techniques, aesthetics and interaction. ‘The Digital Forest’ commission explores how sensory experiences of nature for black and brown communities can exist online and I also run an art and nature group for migrant artists called ‘This Garden’. All projects tend to address global structures of power through critical research, multidisciplinary methods, and speculative future imaginaries centered around collaboration, co-curation and collective knowledge systems. Previous projects have been with FACT, MAMA Rotterdam, MIF and Journey’s Festival International, Collegium for Language in a Changing Society, Let’s Keep Growing Longsite, Furness Refugee Support etc.

Zoom can be a daunting place, but with these handy 5 things to think about when planning a zoom workshop, you can make sure you're well prepared and ready to deliver a fantastic workshop - whatever you do!


1. Accessibility 


We all want our workshops to be as accessible as possible and this is something everyone has to think about when taking workshops online. Think about how much data your workshop might use up and if this would plausible for anyone without wifi at home, the same goes for if there are materials needed you are just expecting people to have in. Offering small bursaries for data top-ups or sending out materials can be a simple way to get rid of some of those barriers to entry. There are also things we can do within the workshop to make it more accessible like enabling captions so participants can read anything being said, and practices like describing anything visual (from the people speaking to any images you may share) to make sure anyone with a visual or cognitive disability can get the best experience within the workshop.  Whatever your workshop is, considering accessibility should be at the top of your agenda!


2. Setting the Tone


In many ways, the zoom workshops starts before we even go on zoom and actually starts from the minute people sign up. I like to use whatsapp to give out my workshop information, but maybe you will use email or eventbrite. Whatever method you choose, this is your chance set the tone before the workshop. Be clear on times, if the participants need to bring anything or get anything ready but also things that might make them feel comfortable. Some examples are; 'please feel free to eat and drink during the workshop' or 'we understand that people have care responsibilities and will not mind any little ones coming into shot or making noise'. Have a think about what tone you want to create and use it to your advantage!


3. Breaking the Ice


In real life, ice breakers are an integral part of any workshop to get people comfortable with each other and comfortable to speak. Over zoom though, they take a little more thought. My favourite ice breaker is the very simple 'get into pairs and you have one minute to draw each other' which just wouldn't work over zoom, so I had to adapt it. I first use the chat function to privately message each person someone else's name, then give them one minute to draw that person. To make it more fun I add a rule that they aren't allowed down at the paper and must keep their eyes on the screen. Then everybody can laugh and bond trying to guess the really bad portraits of each other, and it's a good way to lighten the mood and initiate introductions. This is my favourite, but think about how to adapt yours to a digital form. 


4. Speaking up


The most awkward thing about zoom is that we can't just chat naturally, with everyone on mute, or people accidentally speaking at the same time it can become an introvert's nightmare! Think of how to ensure everyone can and will feel comfortable enough to speak. For example, after every activity I like to get everyone to take it in turns to explain what they did, with the previous person speaking nominating the next person to alleviate the pressure and awkwardness. Maybe a different way will work for you, like using the hands-up function or using the chat, but its worth giving some extra thought!


5. Time Away From the Screen


Sometimes it can be nice to mix things up a bit so that people don't spend the full two hours or however the long the workshop is staring at the screen. Have a think about if there are any mini activities like writing or drawing which people can do away from the laptop, with their mics and cameras turned off if they want to. This creates a nice atmosphere of people coming back to the zoom with different experiences/outcomes to share. If you do choose to incorporate time away in your workshop, be sure to give clear times to come back so everyone isn't waiting ages for the next activity to start, and also think about having some music lined up to 'share computer sound' - this can create the atmosphere you want in everyone's individual homes.

Thank you to Jessica for writing this article for ROOT-ed on some great tips and tricks for your workshop. 

Get in touch with Jessica:


Instagram: @elmalart