Workshop Prep · Zhen Xian Bao

Workshop Prep for 100+

Thirteen tips for a successful, humongous workshop.

Image of workshop project at MoMath
This was a free workshop that happened this past weekend. We had a full house and then some.

Last week, as I was prepping for a workshop at the Museum of Mathematics I began writing this post because I feel like I have some useful things to say about getting ready for a large workshop. But, until right now, post-workshop, I didn’t get any further on this post than its title. Therefore, helpful tip #1 should probably be, don’t think that you will have what it takes to write a blog post while getting ready for a large workshop.


Preparing the covers for the project, which included scoring the fold lines, making a slit for the ribbon closure, and adhering double sided tape

Tip #2

To avoid stress, start prep at least a couple of weeks in advance. Everything takes time to research and order. You just can’t procrastinate about getting ready. I designed the paper I printed for the project months in advance. That allowed me to figure out the right paper for the boxes and the covers weeks in advance. Deciding on the cover came before deciding on the ribbon we’d use.

Tip #3

Don’t over-prepare. There’s a not-so-fine line between over-preparing and under preparing. I try to do only what I think is essential. If I do to much prep, people have less of a connection to the materials and they will also finish too quickly. I had to prep the covers quite extensively because they required a slit to be precut on the folds.  I did not cut out the papers because I knew people could do that themselves. I worried that people would have a hard time sliding the ribbon through the slits in the covers, then I just decided that it would be fine. And it was.

Printing paper
Making Copies. I check every copy, so I print over a course of a few days as I’m doing other things.

#4 : Get a close estimate of how many people will attend then bring more than is required. I was told I should have enough materials for 120 people, but, to be safe, bring enough for 140 people. I brought even more than that. I quoted a price per person for materials so that there won’t be any surprises with receipts.

#5 : Figure out what technology will be available. This includes scissors, glue sticks, and pencils.  I asked to do a presentation on a big screen, and I asked for a document camera. I sent the presentation slides to MoMath a few days in advance, and, before I arrived,  confirmed my files would work with their technology.

I want to mention that the document camera set-up at Momath was brilliant. Usually with these things the presenter has to have their backs to the audience so that they can see what the big screen is showing. Not here! The document camera was hooked up to large screens in the front AND backs of the room. Not only were the people way in the back better served by not having to see all the way to the front of the room, but I could face the people in the room and see what was showing on the screen in the back. What a great system. I think there were a total of 4 screens so people even in the far back corner had a good view.

#6 Of course have a good sound system set-up and a great tech person to provide instruction about what clickers do what, and how to wear and turn on the mic. I was fortunate to have a kind, responsive and awesome tech person showing me how to work the big screens and the little clickers. It was hard for me to focus on what button to press for this screen or that as people were beginning to filter in, but he got through to me and I lost the clicker only once.

Setting the tables
Setting the table

#7 Leave plenty of time to set out the materials before the workshop begins. It took a number of people working a full hour to get everything on the tables. If possible, find out in advance how many people will be at each table. Since I knew there would be six people to a table I packed some of my papers into packets of six so that they would be easier to distribute.

#8 If at all possible, have written directions available. Fortunately I’ve been working on my written tutorials for awhile. If you have more than one page of hand-outs, print them on different colors. This will help everyone stay organized.

#9 Start out with the easiest part of the project first. If people get frustrated early on you won’t get them back. If they have success early on you probably won’t lose them.


#10 Talk to people individually when it’s possible. I tried to greet every table before we started, to get a feel for the room, and I looked at people’s work at the end. My sense of the room at the end of this workshop was that people were happy.

#11  Ask for helpers and ask them to help.  There were young volunteers to administrators working this room, helping people out. There was one person from Momath who took on the responsibility of attending to the people who came in late. Also, my friend Susan Joy Share came with me to assist.  After the event was over there was scrap paper everywhere. I have never seen such a messy room get cleaned up so quickly. It was wonderful.

#12 Try to design an activity that uses minimal glue. There are so many reasons for this. I will let you figure out my reasoning on your own. But trust me on this.

#13 Try to get someone to take pictures. My friend Susan Share took most of the pictures in this post, and I took the rest. It’s hard to remember to get photos, but so worth it.


I learned something new this weekend. Evidently it’s widely known that if people are asked to register for an event that is free, a significant proportion will not show up, so organizations will book accordingly.  If the weather is good, the subways are running, and the World Series is not on, it may be that the house will be very full, so, as a participant, show up early to get the best seats, and if you are late, know that you might not sit with the one you came with unless you are willing to sit on the floor.

I was also want to comment on how much work went into this 90 minute event for weeks before the event happened. Cindy Lawrence and her team were in touch with me on regular basis for many weeks so that everything would run smoothly.

149 people
A room with 149 people in it

One-hundred and forty-nine people showed up to the event this past Friday. We were ready.

It appears that a good time was had by all.





5 thoughts on “Workshop Prep for 100+

  1. Thanks for all the tips, snd for sll your documentation and suggestions. II’ve done only one paper folding workshop for some choir camp kids, and I could have used your advice! And now I will look more carefully at paper weight.

    I’m one of the people who signed up but did not go, and that’s because I broke my left wrist 5 days before! What a bummer! I’m thrilled to see you had a huge crown, and yay for the AV brilliance. My folding is quite limitied at the moment, but I’m looking forward to 2020! In the meantime, I will study your instructions!


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