We can prepare all we want as facilitators, trainers, and presenters, but until we get in the room or online, until our content connects with the participant community, we really don't know what will happen. It is at those precise moments that you will curse yourself if you haven't prepared for (or at least thought about) exercising different options for any or all of your major content segments.
When you only have Plan A, you hold participants hostage to your initial thinking even if their responses suggest your plan isn't really working. Instead of shifting gears and making real-time adjustments on the fly, you entrench yourself deeper in the outline and formats that aren't connecting. It make sense to try and stick with what you know, but if what you know isn't working, it is the exact wrong choice to make.
Don't place yourself in that situation unnecessarily. Create workshops and presentations that reflect your best sense of what will work for participants based on the advance research you've done about your target audience. But, and this is a big one, you also want to prepare a variety of teaching techniques for each content segment and a few backup content segments that you can use if your real-time read of the participants calls for modifications to your original plan.
The analogy I would offer is working out with a personal trainer. The best trainers come with an exercise plan for your 60-minute session, but they make real-time modifications in the weight, the pace, the number of reps, and sometimes even the exercises, based on the signals you and your body convey to them during the session. That's the real value of the trainer, not simply having someone say "Come on now. Two more reps. You can do it." This type of presentation modification offers similar value to participants in our sessions … if we come with options and alternatives in mind.
Imagine you're doing a 75-minute workshop. At its midpoint you've placed a 30-minute case study discussion as the primary practical application of new concepts you've introduced earlier in the session. You've envisioned this segment as engaging and highly participative with small groups having very rich discussions. But what if looks like it won't play out that way? What if participant interaction and responses in the first portion of your program suggest they will flounder in the group work, that they don't necessarily have the background knowledge to get the most benefit from the case study you've designed? You have to anticipate something like this happening and have an alternative teaching technique you can introduce almost effortlessly. That means you may need to have prepared some alternative slides for this option, ones you've placed at the end of your deck but can go to easily. You may need to have created some other handout or material that your new activity would require.
Even if you have done this more strategic level of preparation for your presentation, you may still not have brought with you the shift in content or format that participants need, or you might simply not be able to infer from their reactions what adjustments would set you on a better path. in that moment, consider exercising the most powerful option of all: simply describe what you think is happening.
Based on your comments, I'm beginning to think that my content might not be connecting with you as I had anticipated or that I am not using examples you can fully relate to. Is my sense correct?
Whenever I have made such a statement, participants have always rewarded my seeming vulnerability by offering honest and direct feedback that tells me what I need to do to better serve them as a presenter. And isn't that what we are there to do?