Creating Successful Workshops That Build Your Practice
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
by: Lavinia Plonka, GCFP

Section: Professional Develpment





When I graduated from my training 22 years ago, there were no templates for how to build a practice. Like fledgling birds, we got our certificates and jumped out of the nest. Fortunately, Moshe’s principles apply not just to giving an FI® lesson. They can be applied to every aspect of living. It was applying his principles that helped me develop a practice that I enjoy to this day.

Because when I graduated, there was virtually no name recognition for our work (can you say, Felden-what?) and I had to figure out a way to make a living fast, or else end up performing as a mime for the rest of my life, I had to think of ways to attract and hook people into loving the Feldenkrais Method®.

I found that teaching ATM® lessons was a great way to introduce people, but I noticed that not everyone wanted a “regular practice.” In theater, I often went to workshops to deepen my knowledge. I decided to try teaching workshops that explored themes I couldn’t easily address in an ATM class.

I was fortunate to stumble across a workshop on how to do workshops (Because let’s face it, there is a workshop for everything) back in the 90’s that got me going. Over the years, I’ve refined my approach, and learned how best to capitalize on my strengths and interests. I’ve noticed when speaking with recent graduates that there no longer seems to be a place to “learn” how to create workshops, so I’m offering this two-part article to get people started. I firmly believe that the more people we can draw in by connecting the Feldenkrais Method with our own passions, the more people will become passionate about the Feldenkrais Method.

If after reading these articles, you would like a copy of some worksheets that can help you plan your workshops, just write me.

PART I - Preparation

What Should I Teach?
You’d be amazed at how much you already know, how much you have to share. This section will help you identify your interests and strengths and connect how they might apply to a Feldenkrais® workshop.

What Do You Love?
Take a piece of paper, and in one minute, list ten things you love to do. You don’t have to be noble or esoteric. Don’t edit and don’t think too long. A list might look something like:
  1. Helping people
  2. Cooking
  3. Reading
  4. Feldenkrais
  5. Sc- fi
  6. Dancing
  7. Gardening
  8. Writing
  9. Yoga
  10. Hiking
(OK, these are my ten things, couldn’t resist smiley)
Now look at your list and see if any of the things on your list relate to each other. For example: the Feldenkrais Method and Helping People are obvious. Yoga, hiking, dancing, gardening and the Method all involve movement. Sci-fi and reading are definitely related, but maybe don’t have an obvious workshop connection at the moment. Writing, helping people, the Feldenkrais Method– hmmm. Etc. You can draw arrows, paint stars, make a pie chart. Do it in a way that is fun for you. I like to think about this part as the scan. You’re looking at how you are right now with the notion of pleasure.

Look at your list and ask yourself, how can the Feldenkrais Method help someone do ___________________better? Don’t worry about picking specific lessons right now. Instead, look at benefits.
  • Cooking: easier chopping, less stress in standing, relaxation when preparing a party.
  • Writing: Clarity of intention, free up your creativity, think outside the box.
  • Helping People: Reduce pain, Better Balance, Less Stress.
  • Etc.
It’s kind of like looking at a lesson and asking yourself what functions it can improve, then starting to explore various movements.

Play with as many of the subjects on your list as you want. Explore options. Take it slowly. Rest. Then let the idea that keeps coming back to you be the one you focus on. Remember, this is a process. Nothing is set in stone!

Name Your Workshop
Once you’ve narrowed it down to one idea, you have some fun with it. First, come up with a title. Take a blank piece of paper and go for it. Write down as many titles as you can think of, a list of at least ten possible titles. You can include subtitles now, or wait on that. Your title sets the tone of your workshop. Do you want a little whimsy? Is it a serious subject that needs more gravitas? Are you addressing specific functions? Do you want to feature the benefits in your title or subtitle?

Taking your theme and playing with titles can be just as much fun as an ATM lesson, when you begin to explore a movement in many different ways. For example:
  • Gardening Workshop
  • How to Get Down in the Dirt and Back Up Again
  • Flexible Hips for the Gardener
  • Digging, Raking, Weeding and Other Asymmetrical Adventures
  • Squat and Kneel Without Pain: A Gardener’s Dream
  • A Garden of Delights – Flexibility, Balance and Ease
You get the gist. (And yes, you can use any of these.)

Of course, sometimes the title depends on your audience. You may or may not have a target audience at this point, so save ALL your titles. They will come in handy.

So, now you have a subject you feel passionate about, some possible titles and themes.

Length of Workshop
I’ve taught workshops that range from two hours to seven days. Each of these has different requirements and possibilities. If this is your first workshop, I highly recommend you don’t go beyond one day. Typicaly, the length of your workshop should be determined by your target audience, your venue (and its cost!), and your comfort level. However, before you go further, it’s good to have an ideal length in mind. You can always adjust.

Find a Venue
You may be lucky and have a space of your own. In which case, your challenge will be to attract people to your space. But you may have to find places to teach your workshop. I sometimes hear from people that there are no spaces available where they could teach a class. That’s just not true. Worst-case scenario, you could teach a mini/exclusive workshop in your living room. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Think different.” Here are some suggestions and things to consider as you look for space.

The Basics
30-35 sq ft per person. A clean floor. Heat/air conditioning under your control. Bathrooms. Parking/ accessibility. Do they have mats or are you going to have to schlep?
Where you can find a space like this:
  • churches
  • gyms
  • YMCA
  • dance, yoga, Pilates studios
  • small theater spaces
  • schools
  • pop up stores
  • Masonic temples
  • the list could be endless.
Want to read more about finding the perfect space? Read MaryBeth Smith's recent In Touch article, "How to Find a Teaching Space for ATM Classes."
 
Is your workshop independent or designed for the venue?
If you are renting a space, remember it might take time to build a following. My first workshop had three students, and one of them was my husband. I was thrilled and more nervous than when I performed for 1000 people in a concert hall. Don’t rent a ballroom at $125/hr if you don’t have a market. Start small. It’s better to sell out with ten  people than to lose money and get lost in a cavernous space. We’ll talk about marketing in the next article. But for now, consider taking your passion to a venue that can support your theme.

You don’t want to offer a Feldenkrais Method and Writing workshop at a gym. If there is a special interest group with a space, consider offering a workshop that would interest their clientele. For example, a golfing workshop at the country club, a workshop on sitting more comfortably at a Zendo, ATM lessons for yoga asanas at a yoga studio. In fact, if you’ve chosen a subject that already has an audience and venue, you might be able to pitch the workshop and they can market it to their audience, bringing you new students, and saving you a ton of work.

In order to do that, you’ll need to make an initial contact. It’s useful if you have the name of a person to contact, as well as a name to drop in your letter; “so and so recommended I contact you.” Make your initial pitch short and to the point.

For example: I pitched a workshop at the Asheville Art Museum. Here was my original email (with names removed).

Dear ____________,
_________ suggested I contact you. He said you and he and one of your members, ___________ had had a lively conversation about the Feldenkrais Method. He mentioned that perhaps there was a way to offer a class at the museum. I'm not quite sure how that works, but I am very open to working in the community. In fact, I often integrate art projects into my workshops, and there are many ways the Feldenkrais Method has been used to help artists - both physically and creatively. Maybe we can set up a time to talk about all this - at your convenience?

Feel free to email me, or call at the number below. If you want more information about myself or my work, please visit 
www.laviniaplonka.com.
BTW ________ also knows my work.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Lavinia

This email led to meetings, discussions, and finally a workshop description that was no longer for artists, but for the general public. It actually took several weeks of back and forth.

Here’s what they eventually put in their catalog:

 
This is Your Brain On Art: Movement, Neuroplasticity and Self-image
Date/time: Saturday, October 24, 10:00 to 12:00pm
Price: $15 members, $20 non-members
Locaiton: East Wing | Sol Lewitt Gallery
What to bring? TBD
Introducing The Feldenkrais Method®
Research is showing that art and movement are two of the best avenues for maintaining healthy brains. Mindful practices such as Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement make both body and mind more flexible. This workshop combines Feldenkrais with an art experience that explores the human figure and our self-image. Awareness Through Movement lessons are delightful, safe sequences designed to connect body and mind. The meditative movements emphasize awareness, not performance, and can be done by anyone. You’ll never look at art, or yourself, the same way again.Lavinia Plonka has been teaching the Feldenkrais Method for over 20 years internationally. Her workshops are a creative synthesis of her 30 years in the theater with her Feldenkrais experience. Lavinia’s books and audio programs have helped thousands. She is director of Asheville Movement Center and the beloved columnist of CosmiComedy in WNC Woman Magazine. For more information about Lavinia and the Feldenkrais Method, please visit 
www.laviniaplonka.com
 
To the museum’s amazement, 21 people registered. Only two people were people who knew me. Only two other people even knew what the Feldenkrais Method is. The workshop was only two hours, but it opened a whole new vista for many people and was also a profitable event. I did have to schlep mats to the museum. But seeing all those people doing Awareness Through Movement lessons in the Sol Lewitt Gallery was worth the effort.

Next time: The Joys of Marketing Your Workshop and Planning Your Class

For over twenty years, Lavinia has relished her mission of changing the world, "one Feldenkrais lesson at a time." Like the Queen of Hearts, she tries to believe in six impossible things every morning before breakfast. From there it will certainly become possible.
www.laviniaplonka.com
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Comments (3)
Fariya
6/3/2016 8:00:31 PM
Thanks Lavinia for the great article. I love your upbeat, positive energy!


Joan Jordan
5/13/2016 1:52:31 PM
Fantastic! Love the step x step process and clever examples. Naming the things that I love to do makes designing a workshop so much easier. Thank you for sharing Lavinia!


Cathy Paine
4/21/2016 4:14:08 PM
Lavinia, this is terrific! I can't wait to read the next installment and get going...


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