Should workshops cost more in person?

For the first time since February of 2020, a potential client asked me for a workshop delivered in-person, rather than through a videoconference. I’m going to have to charge more. But it’s an interesting question if the client is actually getting more value from the in-person session.

Some quick history

Before 2020, I delivered my clear writing workshops almost exclusively in person. It just seemed obvious that they’d be better with me at the head of a room full of people, connecting, making them laugh, and prodding them to complete exercises which we’d then discuss.

I last did that in February of 2020. Since then, two things have happened:

  1. I adapted my workshop to videoconference delivery.
  2. My business exploded by a factor of ten.

I had considered cutting my prices for online delivery, but I’m glad I didn’t. The participants were getting very much the same value as they had during my in-person sessions. And based on the popularity of the video workshops, price was clearly not an obstacle. Training budgets either stayed steady or increased during pandemic times, which meant there was no falloff in demand.

How the two formats differ

For me, the content across the two formats is virtually identical. Here’s what’s different.

In person, I’d be able to handle a room of up to 40 people. I’d present by walking around in front of a big screen showing my slides. We did five or six exercises, customized based on writing samples from the client. Typically, the people in the audience wrote those samples, so they learned from applying my principles to analyze their own work. The session typically took three-and-a-half to four hours, with three breaks. I also leave printed materials for the audience to keep at their desks to remind them of principles they’d learned in the session.

By videoconference, I’d limit participation to 20 people, since it’s hard to keep track of people’s reactions in a video array with an audience bigger than that. I’d share the slides in a separate window. I divide the workshop up into two 90-minute sessions, typically on successive days, or a week apart. There are no breaks. I still use exercises based on participants’ own writing. After participants have completed an exercise, I ask them to post parts of their answers in the chat window, which allows me to see all of the responses, and also for them to see each others’ answers. I provide links to online PDFs instead of printed materials.

From the participant’s perspective, video has many advantages

When participants learn in an in-person session, here’s what’s better for them:

  • I can handle more people at once (which is more economical for the client for larger groups).
  • I can see and react to people’s faces and body language better.
  • People react to each others’ attitudes in subtle ways that you can’t match online.
  • People feel a shared sense of purpose from spending a half day in a room on the same problem.
  • People generally concentrate without distraction, since it’s hard to hide if you’re multitasking in an in-person training session.
  • Meeting in person avoids video meeting fatigue.

When participants learn in by video, here’s what’s better:

  • No need to travel.
  • Everyone is in a comfortable environment: their home office.
  • Everyone can see each others’ answers.
  • It’s easier for shy people to ask questions and participate.
  • Participants can get right back to other tasks as soon as the session is done.
  • The client does not need to pay my travel expenses.

Which is better? I’d say it’s about even. You have to balance the convenience for the video participants with the more emotional connection they get from the in-person session.

From the trainer’s perspective, it’s far easier to deliver virtually

The preparation for me is very much the same either way. It’s the delivery effort that varies.

Here’s what’s better for me in-person:

  • I can see and react to people’s faces and body language better — I can tell if they’re “getting it.”
  • Free snacks (usually).
  • No multi-tasking means I feel like I have people’s full attention.
  • I can take a selfie with the group and spend extra time before or after with the people who hired me.

And here’s what’s better for me in a videoconference:

  • No travel. Travel is a hassle. And it means possible exposure to COVID.
  • I don’t have to waste time on airplanes. I can complete two 90-minute sessions in a total of 180 minutes, not two days.
  • It’s equally easy for me to deliver to people in other countries as to deliver to people in the U.S.
  • I get to see everybody’s answers and pick the best ones to analyze.
  • It’s easier for me to include everyone by calling on people by name — I can see their names in the video array.

In-person isn’t much better, but I have to charge more for it

Looking at all those points, it seems like in-person has very few benefits for participants over videoconference, provided that the participants fully engage on video.

However, the travel is a big obstacle for me. I can do just as good a job by video, but in-person it takes far longer. I’d much rather have dinner in my own house than hotel room service.

As a result, I need to charge more if you’re flying me in. For a recent quote, that amounted to a $2,000 premium — plus travel costs.

I’ll do whatever is best for you, the client. But you may end up paying more.

I’m curious, for others who do training in person or by videoconference. Do you charge more for in-person? And do you think participants get more out of it?

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  1. I believe virtual is the way to go. Besides all the ‘no need to travel, etc’ tangible benefits, what I’ve seen is that the ability to chunk the learning and deliver in multiple short sessions, instead of one long one, allows for a better learner experience and better knowledge transfer. It gives leaners an opportunity to learn a bit, practice it, reflect on it and get feedback before moving on to the next skill. A traditional ‘live mutli-day’ program presents so much information that its tough to retain it all. But because of the costs of flying in intructors and learners, that’s been the traditional format. COVID has taught us that not only is virtual training easier and less expensive, its actually more effective in most cases.

  2. I’d add that conducting writing workshops remotely allows you to go in and view the writing as it’s happening in real time via Google Docs or Office 365. You can make annotations, easily share the writing, and not have that weird experience of looking over someone’s shoulder. Count me in as an advocate for remote workshops.

  3. I have a client that is offering online, hour-long webinars and in person workshops virtually.

    FREE online webinars get hundreds of participants. PAID get scores of attendees, if that.

    Live workshops get scores of attendees but not nearly as many as pre-pandemic.

    Do you offer your writing workshops to individuals? If not, what is is the minimum group size?

    1. My clients are organizations. I don’t counsel individuals, except as an editor. Masses of unrelated people get less out of a workshop than a group at a company does.