Posted On March 2, 2011 by Print This Post

Finding the Perfect Workshop to Present by Keena Kincaid

I’m so pleased to welcome author Keena Kincaid back to Romance University. For writers like myself, the thought of presenting a workshop makes us break out into unpleasant red spots. But Keena’s going to help us select the perfect workshop so as to avoid such undesirable complexion problems.

Happy Wednesday, Keena!

Perspective and passion are keys to creating a great workshop

One of the best ways to learn this crazy business or improve our craft is to listen to the authors who have gone before us. Whether online or in person, we have access to workshops on everything from point-of-view to medieval herbal lore so that we can become better, more accurate storytellers.

Developing and presenting your own workshop is a great way to give back to the writing community and raise your visibility among peers. However, it can be an intimidating undertaking, and more than one person has told me, “I could never lead a workshop because I’m not an expert.”

You don’t need to be an expert. Yes, it takes a deeper-than-average knowledge of a given topic, but what makes a workshop a success is the presenter’s passion and unique perspective on the subject.

The steps to developing a good workshop are threefold:

  • Know your strengths
  • Dig for the details
  • Find the right angle

We all know more than we think we do, and we can turn this knowledge into a workshop that others will enjoy. The trick is to put it together so that it’s unique enough to garner attention and universal enough to peak interest.

Know your strengths

First off, don’t be intimidated by the idea of presenting yourself as knowledgeable in a given area. Experts are often too steeped in minutia to be understood by someone not equally immersed in the subject matter. However, a student of the subject is passionate about the topic. If you have a passion for a given topic—whether it be Regency underwear or the bathing habits of the American cowboy—and know what’s important without getting into the weeds of academic debate and can break down a complicated subject so beginners can understand it, then you have the makings of a valuable workshop.

Another area to consider is your day job. Honestly, you don’t have to be a commando jumping out of airplanes to have knowledge that others may want. Remember that our heroes and heroines come in all occupations, and it’s the little details that add realism to a story.

For example, are you a pediatric nurse? What about a workshop on common injuries to kids, treatments and recovery time? Are you product manager for an agriculture firm? A workshop on modern farm life would be very interesting. Did your company go through a hostile takeover? The ins and outs of living through that could be fascinating.

Dig for the details

As you search for possible topics, ask yourself:

  • What kinds of questions do my friends ask me? We often know more than we realize. So, take a moment and think about what questions you’re asked. If you’re unsure, ask your friends. An outside perspective may be enlightening.
  • What topics/subjects am I passionate about? We all have our favorite eras of history, pastimes, etc.
  • What did I need to learn? We’ve all struggled to master something that others seem to breeze through. Whether it’s an element of storytelling (craft) or building a brand (business), leverage the knowledge you worked so hard to gain by sharing it with others.

Once you think you have a topic, take a moment, or three, and think through each detail thoroughly. For example, going back to the pediatric nurse. We’ve all seen or gotten a shot (or a jab, if you’re in the UK) but what exactly goes on? When do people tense up? Before or during the shot? Which body parts get tense first? What happens if the medicine goes in too fast?

The goal is to be able to identify both the obvious and obscure. The former will help engage participants in the workshop; the latter helps them to understand it thoroughly.

If you’re thinking of a subject, such as an historical time period, you need to be able to explain the previous events that shaped the culture, the overarching events, such as the news story everyone would’ve known about, as well as the details of daily life.

Find the right angle

There are multiple ways to learn so sometimes a new way of looking at common subject provides the perspective someone else needs to “get” it.

For example, I present a workshop called Dirty Little Secrets of Character Development. The workshop grew out of a game friends and I played one night. Basically, a woman walked by with a man, but something about the couple was “off.” All four of us noticed it, and one friend said, “there’s a dirty little secret there somewhere.” We each gave our guess as to what it was, then explained why we thought that, i.e. how they were dressed, walked side-by-side but not in sync, her almost too-short skirt and too-perky-for-her-age breasts, etc.

The game turned the wheels in my mind, and as I developed characters for the book I was working on, I began to play around with their dirty little secrets and how body language revealed those secrets. I incorporated all that into my story (which was my first sale). Yes, the workshop is another way to get at Goals, Motivation and Conflict, but it’s a way that most people grasp in an instant and that deepens their understanding of GMC.

So as you think through topics—particularly those dealing with craft—think about the perspective you bring to the subject and how that could provide a different spin.

* * *

Thanks, Keena!

RU CREW, did Keena’s lecture give you ideas on crafting a workshop unique to your passions? Are you more willing to give presenting a workshop a try after hearing you don’t have to be an expert on the subject matter?

Join us again on Friday for debut author Tracy March’s discussion on how to use dialogue to convey the perfect message.

Keena’s Bio:

Keena Kincaid is a true history geek. The author of three historical romances, she can spend hours perusing the Oxford English Dictionary online or debating the merits of the 12th century renaissance.

She studied history, English and philosophy at Wittenberg University, concentrated on medieval history in graduate school at Miami University in Ohio, and keeps up with academic research and thought as a member of the Medieval Academy of America. What she likes best about writing medieval romances is the ability to creatively—but logically—fill in gaps in the historical record while telling a love story.

Kincaid’s novels are available from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Borders and other booksellers. You also can find her at, MySpace and Facebook (and she’s always looking for new friends).

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31 Responses to “Finding the Perfect Workshop to Present by Keena Kincaid”

  1. Hi Keena,

    Thank you for joining us at RU again! I’ve listened to a lot of RWA workshops over the last few years and the ones that keep my attention are the ones where the presenter provides examples to help solidify her meaning.

    What do you do to work through your pre-workshop nerves?


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | March 2, 2011, 5:15 am
  2. Thanks for having me here today, Tracey. I love visiting RU.

    I worked in the corporate world before this gig, so I’m used to public speaking and presentation. I don’t usually get nervous. However, when I presented my media training workshop at RWA a few years ago, I had serious stage fright. I think it’s different when you’re talking with peers vs. people who are paying a lot of money to be there. Nothing really calmed my nerves until I got on stage, but I did avoid the espresso that morning. 🙂

    Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 2, 2011, 7:14 am
  3. Hi Keena!
    I’m so new to being published (my first book isn’t even out yet!) that I never considered presenting a workshop. I am by far no expert. But I get what you’re saying, if I’m passionate about a subject, (like revisions), and I do my homework, I may be able to pull off a decent workshop. My post about revisions here on RU went well. Maybe I’ll give it some thought!!!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | March 2, 2011, 8:29 am
  4. Hi, Wendy. Do give it some thought. Also check to see what other workshops are available in your subject. It’s a bit like starting a business. You have to find your niche. But it’s worth the effort. I love doing my workshops mainly because of all the great people I meet while doing them.

    Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 2, 2011, 8:41 am
  5. Hi Keena, I really liked your Dirty Little Secrets – it’s awesome how you encapsulated such a great trick! I’ve got a placeholder in my five-year plan that says but I really didn’t know how to even go about discovering what I might be good at teaching. I’m starting to think in the direction of what types of tricks I use that I just naturally fall into, but are techniques others might be able to use as well. So thanks for the nudge!

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | March 2, 2011, 9:03 am
    • Hmm. Part of my post disappeared…what it should have said was – “I have a placeholder in my five-year plan that says conduct workshop…”

      Posted by Kat Cantrell | March 2, 2011, 9:04 am
    • Hi, Kat. Thanks for the praise for Dirty Little Secrets. I always love giving that workshop.

      Don’t stress about coming up with a workshop. It’s part of your five-year-goal, so chances are your brain is going through ideas even though you may not be aware of it. And ask your friends what you’re good at explaining. They’ll let you know.

      Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 2, 2011, 11:29 am
  6. Morning Keena!

    I love online workshops! I learn so much, and most of the instructors are so knowledgeable and helpful. I also have the RWA discs and play those in my car on trips back and forth to work. I’ve also met quite a variety of people through the workshops, that have remained friends and helpmates in writing.

    How much time to you devote to an average month long class?

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 2, 2011, 9:04 am
    • Hi, Carrie,
      The time a workshop takes really varies on the workshop. The DLS workshop can be very intensive (about 10 hours a week) because it requires a lot of back and forth between me and participants as they work out their characters’ secrets and the story arc.

      The medieval survey workshop doesn’t take as much time, although I do have to research the questions I get.

      My media training workshop (I was a pr strategist and media trainer in a former life) really should be a 1/2 day session so that I can work with individuals to help them develop their key messages and practice answering tough media questions, but so far, no chapters have given me that much time. I guess I should start proposing it for retreats, rather than workshops. 🙂

      Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 2, 2011, 11:36 am
  7. Hi Keena,

    I love the idea of using your job as a starting point. I was an accountant. There was a scandal at a local bank about embezzling funds. I thought about how they got caught. Too greedy and a dumb mistake. Not that I would ever engage in criminal activity.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 2, 2011, 9:21 am
  8. Hi, Keena. Thank you for being here today. I love the Enthralled bookcover!

    I like your Dirty Little Secret trick. What a wonderful way to develop characters. Tracey, Kelsey and I talked about putting together a workshop and after reading this post, I think I may have to bring the subject up again. Just warning you, girls!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | March 2, 2011, 9:33 am
  9. Keena – Thanks for a great blog! I love your “Dirty Little Secrets” story – now I’m wondering what was off with them, too.

    In my case, I’ve noticed I view people differently depending on what I’ve been reading. After a binge read of Karen Rose’s books about a year ago, I was seeing psycho killers everywhere!

    Your workshop advice is VERY helpful Thanks so much!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | March 2, 2011, 9:51 am
  10. Keena–and hi, Tracey!–You have excellent points on conducting a workshop–any kind of workshop. You’re right–all of us have the knowledge of some kind to conduct one. “What do others ask you?” This is a good hint about the content of a workshop. I’ve given “talks” and really, I’m a born teacher. I’d do more talks/discussions if there were a need here in town. Thanks for the good information. Celia

    Posted by Celia Yeary | March 2, 2011, 3:36 pm
  11. Keena –

    Thanks so much for being at RU today. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and I’m still searching for my teaching niche. I did teach an online class on Texas through one of the RWA last year. Lots of fun, but not a lot of demand for it :). However, I hope the few who took it enjoyed it and got something from the lectures. One person told me she’d never enjoyed history more – LOL.

    How often do you add a new workshop to your repertoire? And do you think it’s easier to get speaking engagements once you’re published?

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 2, 2011, 3:49 pm
    • Hi, Kelsey. Good questions.

      I try to add a new workshop every year to 18 months, but interestingly my first (DLS) is still the most popular.

      I don’t know if it’s easier to get speaking engagements once you’re published. I didn’t offer mine until I’d already sold. However, if I had to say yes or no, I would say, yes, it is–especially when it comes to topics on craft. Whether it’s true for fair, I think having a published book gives you credibility that you might not have had before you sold.

      Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 2, 2011, 4:37 pm
  12. Keena, what a great post. I’ve often thought about giving a workshop–a short one–and always backtracked with too many what if… I used to give presentations in my former life but during that glorious time I was the director, confident in her knowledge. Now I am a published author whose heart pounds every time I read a new review for one of my books. A sigh of relief attests that I will never get rid of my self-doubt as I wait for my readers to tell me they like my books. You have my deepest admiration for being able to present a long workshop and answer the questions that come to you.

    Posted by Mona Risk | March 2, 2011, 4:16 pm
    • Hi, Mona,
      I still get the jitters whenever I see that Google alert about a new review. I don’t know if that ever goes away. I see public speaking/teaching as completely different, but maybe I’m delusional. LOL!

      Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 2, 2011, 4:51 pm
  13. Keena (and everyone)–

    Thanks so much for joining us today! I really enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on this topic.


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | March 2, 2011, 8:05 pm
  14. Thanks for having me Tracey. I always enjoy visiting RU.

    Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 3, 2011, 9:13 am
  15. Hi Keena,

    No wonder you are so good at marketing. You were a PR maven in a former life. That fits!

    I also give a few workshops on writing. They grew out of my desperation to improve my own craft, and I agree that we’ve all learned more than we think we have.

    I enjoyed reading about your workshop journey and Dirty Little Secrets.

    Posted by Maggie Toussaint | March 3, 2011, 6:48 pm
  16. Thanks for coming by, Maggie. I learn as much, if not more, than my students each time I give a workshop.

    Posted by Keena Kincaid | March 4, 2011, 9:06 am
  17. Keena,
    What an inspirational post. If anything, I get a little nervous thinking about presenting a workshop simply because I’m not sure I’m qualified. Thanks for the boost of confidence!


    Posted by Stephanie Burkhart | March 7, 2011, 2:33 pm

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