The two keys to a killer workshop

Not too long ago, the cornerstone of a building was important for more than one reason. The first reason is because it would be used as a reference from which all the other stones in the construction would be laid, therefore determining the position and orientation of a building.

But there was another, darker reason for its importance.

Superstition had it that the soul of a person would be captured under the stone, and the angry ghost of that person would be haunting the building keeping other ghosts, and ill fortune, away. Some cultures would actually bury people (sometimes alive) under the cornerstone, others would "capture the shadow" of a person by measuring it and burying the measure under the stone. Once a "shadow" had been buried under a cornerstone, the person it belonged to would have lost their soul and therefore die within the near future.

Nowadays, a cornerstone is usually a commemorative stone with the date and the name of the person who "laid" the cornerstone inscribed on it. The stone is still important, though its use is not as literal as it once was.

Just like the cornerstone of a building was important, creating a workshop requires two cornerstones to design a workshop that people will remember.

Two cornerstones

Designing, developing and delivering a killer workshop requires two cornerstones. They are:

  • your audience; and
  • the superpower you want them to have when they walk out.

The first cornerstone is your audience. If you want to host a workshop to say, teach people to make sushi, your audience is going to be people who love sushi and who also love to prepare their own food. You won't attract many (or the right) people to your workshop if you just target people who love sushi, or people who love to prepare their own food. You have to attract people who like both.

Similarly, if you want to host a workshop to teach people how to create a great website, you audience must a) want or need a website and b) want to do it themselves. If your workshop is just about what makes a great website the second requirement goes away and you potentially have a bigger audience.

So the first cornerstone is clearly identifying your audience.

The second cornerstone is a superpower. People come to a workshop to learn how to do something. If you promise them X-ray vision, they need to walk out of the workshop with X-ray vision. If you promise that they will be able to prepare their own sushi, they must walk out being able to make sushi.

That "promise" you're making is a superpower. People are going to walk out of your workshop having learnt to do something they were not able to do before. To many, this will seem like a superpower - something that only a few people are able to do. And if your workshop gives people that new power, they have learnt a superpower.

Why are these cornerstones so important?

I've run a lot of workshops and the biggest problem I've seen in hosting a great workshop is getting people to attend. And to get people to attend, you need to know who they are. Once you know who they are, you can determine how to market the workshop to them - you can email them, post Facebook ads or circulate flyers at the local sushi supplies store.

But for your marketing to work, you must also promise them something they need. It doesn't matter how good you are at teaching people how to make sushi if there aren't enough of them out there to fill a workshop. And it doesn't matter how good you are at teaching people how to build websites if there aren't enough of them out there that actually want to do it.

So you have to find the right people to attend your workshop and you have to offer them something they really need. Without these key ingredients you may have a great workshop - but you may not be able to fill it.

When should you lay your cornerstones?

Finding your audience and what superpower they would like to have is the very first step in creating a killer workshop. You shouldn't be doing anything else on your workshop until you have both of these cornerstones in place - otherwise you're just going to be wasting your time.

The most common reason startup companies fail is because they build something people don't want. And your workshop will most likely fail for the same reason - if you're designing something people don't want or need they won't come.

But beware your own bias. But just because we think someone has a problem doesn't mean there are enough people out there that will actually pay money to come to a workshop (or buy any of your other products or services). We have a bias because we invented the solution, and we see the world through a lens that makes a lot of problems seem just like the one our solution is going to solve.

So we need to be extra careful in finding out if the problem is real and there are enough people out there who have that same problem.

So how do you find the right people, and what they really, really need?

The best way to do this is to start with what people need, and then go and figure out if there are enough of them out there to justify developing a workshop.

So let's start with what people really, really need.

The easiest way to find out what people need is to listen to their problems.

When you get asked the same question every week or every day, you have a topic for a workshop (or an article, or even a business). You're being asked that question because people think you have an answer - you're regarded as somewhat of an expert in your area.

Questions people ask is the most effective way of determining a need. But sometimes your potential audience don't express their problems as a question. They may express it as a problem they're experiencing, or mention something they saw in an article or a book. If you ask them why that is important to them, they will most likely point out a problem that they're having to deal with.

And that's your workshop topic being revealed to you right there.

So next time you host a sushi dinner and people say "I wish I could make sushi like that," you have a potential topic for your workshop. Or "I wish I could afford your website building services" - see the topic right there? They want to be able to build a great website, but they can't afford you. Until you turn it into a workshop.

Once you have a topic, you can find the people to attend. Once you've identified the problem, you can start finding people who have that same problem. The first place to look is the people who've asked you that same (or a similar) question. The next place is their friends and your network - a mailing list if you have it, or LinkedIn or Facebook communities.

But that may not be enough to fill a workshop. So you have to find out what these people have in common and why they may share the same problem. They could all be solopreneurs or small business founders (if you're reading this you're probably in that group - my primary audience). Or they may be freelancers, or members of a specific Facebook group.

The key to finding the right people is to ask the question "would you like to be able to prepare your own sushi" or "would you like to build your own website" (or whatever problem you think they have) - and if enough people say "yes!" you're on the right track.

Multi-purpose cornerstones

Once you have your cornerstones - your audience and the superpower they want - in place, you will find that you will be using them all over the place.

The superpower will appear again and again in your sales copy and even as the headline on your sales page. Not always in the exact same words of course, but the essence will be there.

For example, if the superpower you're promising people is to learn how to prepare their own sushi, your sales headline may be:

How to prepare sushi like a master

Or, if you're going to teach people how to develop a great website, the headline may be:

Build a website that will make designers jealous

Your target audience also appears all over the place. For example, you sales page may start off with something like:

Do you love sushi - but can't afford to eat out every day?


Do you love cooking - but sushi is only for eating out?

Recognize the target audience in there? The point is that your two cornerstones will be used repeatedly to market your workshop, attract the right people and get them to sign up.

But everyone needs to know how to…

I sometimes hear the objection that "everyone" needs to know how to do this, or "I don't want to target just a small segment of my potential market".

The problem with targeting "everyone" is that no one knows that they're everyone. You may know that you love sushi or you're a solopreneur, but that headline that targets "food lovers" is more likely to be missed than one that says "sushi lovers".

There are three things that will trigger a response in your target audience:

  • they need to recognize the problem;
  • they need to see a solution to the problem; and
  • they need to recognize themselves.

This is also called "problem, solution, target audience" - and when you bring those three together you trigger an interest response in the right people - the ones you want to attract.

What do killer cornerstones look like?

Here are some examples of cornerstones for killer workshops:

Workshop Ninja One of the workshops I host is called:

Workshop Ninja: how to design, develop and deliver killer workshops

For this workshop, my people cornerstone are solopreneurs and small business founders who run a service business. These people want to grow their target market and revenue streams by hosting workshops, but they're relatively new to hosting workshops.

The superpower that I'm promising them is design, develop and deliver killer workshops - and that's exactly what they get when they've attended.

Brand Demystified My friend Michael is a creative strategist. One of the questions he gets asked over and over again is "what is all this branding stuff and why is it so expensive?" - so Michael is in the process of developing a workshop to answer that question.

His cornerstones will probably be something like:

  • Audience: small business founders / owners who need a brand or a brand makeover; and
  • Superpower: see through the mystery surrounding branding and understand what it really is (this is almost like X-ray vision).


In this article, we've looked at the two cornerstones that you have to have in place before you can design, develop and deliver a killer workshop.

The cornerstones are:

  • your audience; and
  • the superpower you want them to have when they walk out.

You have to start designing a workshop by getting these cornerstones in place. The best way to do that is to start with the questions you hear from your clients / peers / colleagues - these are the problems they would like to have solved.

Once you know what the problem is - the superpower you're going to teach people - you can find out if there are enough people out there to justify a workshop.

We don't bury people under cornerstones any more

Fortunately times have moved on and we don't sacrifice animals or bury people under cornerstones any more (although some buildings sometimes feel real spooky!).

But just like the cornerstones in times past determined the position and orientation of a building, your audience - and the superpower you're promising them - are going to determine how successful your workshops are.

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