Make Your Workshop Live

10 October 2014

How do you get the attention of your audience in a requirements workshop? By synthesizing your main messages in a clear format. That format, in essence, is a drawing.

workshop live

Kill complexity, get engagement

I recently had the opportunity to work as a business analyst for a large project within the financial department of an expert in delivery services. I was asked to lead & facilitate a series of workshops in order to validate the requirements with both business and ICT stakeholders.

This was a “huge” undertaking, involving over 1.100 requirements and many E2E business processes. I was challenged by finding a good way of organizing the workshops and to get the full attention of all the participants, as the analysis was really elaborate…

Organising workshops 1

The reality is that your typical analysis artefacts are a little bit “daunting” for a non-analyst audience …

Organising workshops 2One day, the workshop went particularly well. It concerned Direct Debits, but that’s less important, as the lesson that I learned can be applied to any of you, in a multitude of situations. I introduced the workshop, like usual. But this time the reaction and feedback of the audience was particular energetic and positive.

What did I do better this time?

Simplify and understand

It seemed that my “conceptualization” hit the correct triggers, was on spot… What was crucial, it seemed, was that my intro framed the most important concepts in a simple visual. but the impact was profound. I conceptualized the scope of the meeting in a 2 by 2 matrix.

Organising workshops

This matrix was drawn on a flip chart at the start of the workshop, representing scope. Basically, when you synthesize a limited set of concepts into a simple visual, the audience “gets it”. Hello, audience buy-in…

Organising workshops 4

In fact, by definition, your synthesis must be limited to let’s say 2 - 6 major concepts.

“Synthesize” and captivate your audience

There are lots of ways to “draw out” your synthesis in a visual format e.g. Value chains, city maps, etc. But I notice that when “limiting” yourself to a very simple picture, your audience automatically starts to make the relationships between the concepts, and that is CRUCIAL.

Two concepts can be clearified with a yin-yang symbol. Three concepts can be synthesized with 3 circles, commonly known as Venn-diagrams:

Organising workshops yin-yang Organising workshops Venn-diagram

Four concepts are often synthesized with a 2 x 2 matrix, the one used in my case. This is also a common visual spatial cue used by management consultants: Organising workshops 2x2 matrix


Five concepts can be synthesized in a pyramid. Note that this is more or less consistent with the 80 - 20 rule. Feel free to make the base of the pyramid wider when it supports your view better. Organising workshops pyramid

You can also use combinations of the above to make your point. Below an example from the well known book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Organising workshops

Get creative

For example, a house is often used as a strong visualization for software architecture. Below a visualization used as a basis for the Project Management maturity road-map discussion at AE.

Organising workshops  sketch

Note that when working with experts, it might be better to start with the elaborated analysis. You prove that you know what you talk about… Then proceed to the synthesis to make impact.

A snappy synthesis is especially powerful when trying to persuade your audience. This experience was reinforced when I read “Presenting to win, the art of telling your story” by Jerry Weissman.


Until we can see something, in many ways we can’t really know it at all.

"To draw is to make an idea precise"
Henri Matisse, 20th century French artist

The end.

Igor Torfs

Written by Igor Torfs

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