It’s happened to many of us and it’s a pretty darn uncomfortable thing to talk about. You know that feeling you get in the very pit of your stomach after you drop a couple hundred (or in some cases a few thousand) on a workshop only to walk away feeling less than satisfied? Do you say something? What happens if you do? Will you upset people in your industry? Will you get a load of judgement from your peers? Will you be labeled as the “impossible to satisfy snob”? Seriously – what do you do when you’re not satisfied with the photography workshop you just spent your hard earned money on?
There are some things you can do post-workshop if you’re not satisfied but there are also some things you can do pre-workshop to help avoid the situation, too. This article explores both.
Self Reflection + Critical Analysis
The easiest way to ensure that you’re satisfied with a workshop is to make sure you’re attending the right workshop. From my observations in the industry, a lot of people sign up for workshops because they “hear that they’re good”. While word of mouth recommendations can certainly lead you down a lovely path, you’re still entirely responsible for making sure that the workshop is right for you. We all run individual businesses and we have all incredibly unique needs. What one person finds amazing, inspiring and worth every single penny you may find dull, repetitive and filled with limited new skills.
Before signing up for any workshop, do a little self reflection, whether that’s in a bubble bath or over a bottle of whiskey. Really sit down and think about what it is you need help with. Is it posing? It is business? Is it working with harsh lighting situations? Before you go spending your savings on a workshop you need to really think about whether that workshop is going to leave you walking away with new skills.
“Teacher” vs Teacher
Shall we just rip the band-aid off? Yes? Good – that’s how I prefer to do things these days.
Just because someone is an awesome photographer doesn’t mean they are a good teacher.
Teaching, like photography, is a skill. You can have some natural abilities to connect with people, but true educators have also taken the time to learn how to be better teachers. How to look for barriers in learning and overcome them. How to teach to a variety of learners. How to teach towards a higher order of learning and not just teach mimicry under a special set of conditions.
Unfortunately in our industry workshops (along with presets – but that’s another topic) are a dime a dozen. Workshops provide a lot of photographers a “quick buck” during off seasons and my personal opinion is that this is just wrong! Some people use their “star power” as their best marketing too, rather than their content. As a buyer, you need to be able to be aware of the exact quality of the product you’re about to invest in.
If you’re going to do to a workshop simply because you’re star struck by the host or the speakers without really reflecting on what’s being taught and how it can benefit you, you can’t blame a poor experience solely on the host.
Speaking Up + Asking Questions
While you’re attending the workshop, use every opportunity you have to speak up and ask questions. Do you feel like something isn’t being address that was on the list? Speak up! Are you feeling like you’re not getting enough chances to shoot during the live shooting portion? Speak up. Do you have questions about the decision making processes behind the live shooting (how to choose the light, the location, etc.)?speak up. Staying quiet during a workshop and then providing negative reviews after the fact isn’t the most productive use of your time. Ask questions like crazy during your workshop!
After the workshop is done you’ll likely have an overall impression of your experience pretty darn quickly and this is, once again, where reflection and analysis are really important. If you’re not feeling satisfied with the workshop, you need to ask yourself a few things:
- Did I identify my own learning objectives before buying my ticket to this workshop?
- Did I thoroughly read the description of the workshop to ensure what I wanted to learn would be covered?
- Did I use all my opportunities to speak up and ask questions during the workshop?
If you answered “yes” to all of the above and still feel unsatisfied with your workshop experience, that’s okay! You’re allowed to be unsatisfied. There are many reasons why a workshop can feel unsatisfying – even if it’s something as simple as overall organization of a workshop. Some learners have an immensely difficult time taking in new information in an unorganized environment and a lack of organization will affect their overall experience, even if the content is good. Some learners feel easily excluded when working in groups and it’s important for a teacher to look for clues of this happening and ensure an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. There are so many barriers to learning and teachers must be keenly aware of this when hosting a workshop in order to try to break through these barriers as effectively as possible.
The Breakup Letter
If you’re not feeling satisfied with your workshop, the first thing you should do is contact the host. Talk it out with them. Simply leaving a negative review somewhere isn’t going to do you any good if you actually want to resolve the issue. Speak clearly, concisely but politely in your emails. State what you feel you did walk away with but also where you’re still lacking a lot of information. The workshop host will often be able to work things out with you in some way or another whether it’s to provide individualized mentoring or going the route of a partial refund (or anything in between those two points).
If the workshop host is not responsive to your emails and does not want to help you feel satisfied with your purchase, it would be fair at that point to share your review but still maintaining your professionalism while doing so. I cannot stress this enough.
While it’s incredibly unfortunate to have a poor workshop experience, it’s exceptionally important to self reflect and set your own goals before attending workshops to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you are unsatisfied with a workshop, talk it out with the host – as reasonable adults – and try to reach a conclusion that will make you feel satisfied and then do your best to learn from the experience before attending your next workshop.