Audience Analysis for Workshop Performance Enhancement: Preventing False Solutions

I am currently working on a performance enhancement project with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that assists local small business owners (the “Association”). I was given a presenting problem and informed that a solution was already at hand, but what I heard during several preliminary discussions was that the solution prescribed was not based on anything whatsoever and was going to be performed by someone without any experience in the method about to be used. This person also had little, if any, experience in solving the problem the Association was faced with. Upon hearing all of this, I knew I had to step in.

Presenting Problem Low workshop attendance. Workshops are not the ‘bread and butter’ of this Association. Workshops are the primary tool to convert the public into clients of the Association, which is the primary goal. Looking at the workshop as a marketing/public outreach tool aligns with the Association’s perception of how to manage the problem.
Redefinition Of The Problem People don’t know what they want. The Association is not reaching potential clients effectively because they lack evidence of who their target audience is and what motivates them to seek assistance from an association such as this one.
Association Is Asking For Help With Creating more effective digital marketing. Their stated goal for the Association currently is “digital marketing” which is not a goal in and of itself. They are asking me to help them waste money on expensive advertising without knowing enough about the learners’ perceived learning gap, pain, and/or motivation. Marketing may or may not be the solution to build better workshop attendance. If marketing is the right solution, I will teach them which platforms will best reach their target and how to use them. If marketing is not found to be the cause for low attendance, we will explore other avenues together first and only spend money on marketing after the underlying issues are all addressed.
How The Problem Is Currently Being Managed Blame is placed on the learners for not knowing ‘what is good for them.’ Money is being spent on marketing that is ineffective. There is a great deal of disagreement in private about how the situation is being managed versus how other want it to be managed. All management solutions are opinion based with no evidence to support any of them, even the current solution of spending more money on digital marketing.
Attitudes It is assumed that one will lead and all will follow without question because they don’t know any better. Changes to the workshops themselves is unnecessary as the workshops are meant only to inform the audience of the things which they do not know so that they will know that they don’t know it and then want to become a client to learn. New technology is not needed to improve on something they’ve had running successfully for 30 years. There is concern from some in the Association that spending grant money on marketing goes against the purpose of the grant monies received, creating animosity and fear. There is open opposition to creating changes to the workshops themselves, though the grant monies received were specifically for the workshops. Everyone here has an opinion, right or wrong. They are all accustomed to being in charge and having valued opinions. Logic and reason must be brought in.
Politics The Board of Directors must vote on items resulting in changes to how the Association operates. Some feel the need to ‘shop it out’ when any recommendation is made. Changes will be slow. There is a rift in the alignment of Association objectives amongst the Board of Directors. There are also family members on the Board of Directors who remain in alignment with each other regardless of circumstance. I am predicting difficulty with bureaucratic red tape set up by those in opposition to any changes being made as they feel this analysis is unnecessary.
Organization’s Strengths Members are experts. Members are all exceptional Subject Matter Experts from their respective fields and natural leaders. They have a lot to offer to the community, especially once an individual becomes a client with them. They receive a great deal of community support in the form of funding.
Next Steps For Handling The Problem Would like to be taught how to use audience analysis for better digital marketing. Association is at least open now to the concept that they must understand their audience before they can both market effectively and deliver instruction in a way which will be well received. I will begin gathering as much data as possible and use it to help the Association reach a decision on what is needed to increase workshop attendance and thereby increase the number of clients they serve.

I will be spending a lot of time working out resistance with the Association. There is a great deal of pedestal sitting taking place in which the members are burdened by being experts working with people (potential clients) beneath themselves who do not understand what they need or what is best for them. It belittles the potential clients and prevents change from ever happening. It is very clear that this is occurring because there is a lack of agreement between the two parties, but no one within the Association knows or will share with me what the opposing side’s opinion is. Rather than join them on the pedestal and pretend to say that I know what their audience needs, I have explained to the Association several times that if their audience truly did not know what they needed, they would never sign up for a workshop. There must be a pain felt or a perceived gap in knowledge understood in order for someone to take 3-4 hours out of their day to attend a workshop. The only benefit to the audience is obtaining knowledge, so they must somehow know they need that knowledge. The Association does not even serve coffee and doughnuts at the workshops anymore, which they did about 3 or 4 years ago. I have my suspicions about what the audience needs and wants after working with this association as a guest instructor for over two years, but I am not going to voice any of these until I begin gathering data and find honest answers. My suspicions could be right or wrong and right now no one has any evidence to support an answer one way or another.

Due to this pedestal sitting, the top-level problem of the Association lacking a unified objective for their marketing, and the rift in the decisions amongst the Board of Directors, a great deal of time was spent in the Contracting Phase of this consulting project. The interpersonal dimension could not be neglected, but it quickly became clear that my primary point of contact for this project was not interested in examining these issues. When trying to create open conversations, things were quickly flipped around to point out the flaws they saw in me. After I listened and took notes to help address these items in the future, I was requested not to make anyone within the Association feel like they were being observed. It was a resistance attack to show that, “you wouldn’t like someone else grading you” as they said, so I was not to grade anyone else. I am concerned this fear of the project will create more resistance which will either cause a number of delays or will devalue the results found through qualitative and quantitative research due to its critical nature. I have supported the Association several times in expressing their resistance causation openly and directly, but the answers I have been given thus far do not lead me to believe they are open answers. Answers included:

  • It’s so hard to get and keep good volunteers that we can’t risk losing them if they don’t like what they hear,
  • The only true way to do the right thing for the Association is to send this out for competitive bidding,
  • Our workshops are about making people aware of what they don’t know, so I don’t understand how our workshops apply to instructional design – we aren’t giving them instructions, and
  • Our clients don’t know what they want and that’s the only answer you’re going to find.

Of these answers, only the first one addresses a fear, but in speaking with other volunteers I have found that they are all hoping for changes which leads me to believe it is really only one person who is afraid of hearing the truth, which would be the same person that turned the conversation around into an attack on me. Unfortunately, which I have every other Board Member excited for the project, this one person is the final decision maker without a Board vote, which is what I require for this project as I cannot wait months at a time for decisions and approval on pieces of the project.

Time spent in this initial contracting phase was as follows:

Date Task Hours
2/4/2016 client phone call 1.5
2/4/2016 proposal emails 0.5
2/4/2016 contract writing 0.75
2/7/2016 contract writing 3
2/7/2016 client phone call 0.25
2/8/2016 research audience temperature 2
2/8/2016 client phone call 1.25
2/9/2016 create audience temperature survey 2
2/10/2016 contract writing 0.75
2/10/2016 conduct audience temperature survey 0.5
2/11/2016 contract writing 4
2/12/2016 revise audience temperature survey 0.75
2/22/2016 contract writing 1
2/23/2016 contract writing 5.5
2/23/2016 client phone call 0.25

0 thoughts on “Audience Analysis for Workshop Performance Enhancement: Preventing False Solutions

  1. dberg001

    Wow, sounds like an uphill battle. It goes to show that the client is not always right. Your consideration of the politics is very important and I don’t envy you for what you are about to go through to get everyone on board. The additional problem you have is that training volunteers is very difficult because there is no “punishment” for bad work. Volunteers I work with frequently get an attitude that they can do no wrong because they are not being paid. That is another layer of attitude adjustment needed for your project. The volunteers I work with (Boy Scout leaders) are motivated by donuts, coffee, and patches. Just saying “thank you for all you do” goes a long way.

    1. lclif005 Post author

      I work with a lot of volunteer organizations and you’re quite right – saying thank you in a language they understand (doughnuts) is vital!

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