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Rocking Your Quilt Workshops: Lessons Learned from a Metallica Concert

Updated: Apr 10

Tori McElwain from the Quilt Patch by Tori

Grab Your Free eBook, Design Your Workshop, here. 

As workshop instructors, we're always seeking innovative ways to engage our participants and create memorable experiences. Surprisingly, attending a Metallica concert provided valuable insights into event hosting that can be applied to workshops, courses, or events of any kind. Whether you're a metalhead (like my husband), a Tylor Swift Swifty, or a part of Beyonce's BeyHive (all had amazing concerts in 2023!), there's much to glean from the dynamics of such high-energy events.

While stuck in traffic after the concert, I was reflecting on the experience and I made note of 10 key takeaways that can elevate your workshop hosting game:

1. Surprise and Delight

Metallica concerts are renowned for their surprises – from unexpected song selections to guest appearances. Similarly, workshops can benefit from injecting moments of surprise and delight. Consider introducing unexpected activities, guest speakers, or bonus materials to keep participants engaged and excited about what's to come.

One way I've incorporated surprise and delight in my Level 1 Quilting workshop was to have my students learn the burrito method of creating a pillowcase. Without fail, I would get comments like "Are you sure this is going to work?," and "I don't see how this is going to be a pillowcase..." I would insist they trust the process and without a doubt, they would smile or outright laugh when turning the burrito inside out to discover an almost complete pillowcase!

2. Leave Some Mystery:

Just as Metallica doesn't reveal its entire setlist beforehand, leaving some elements of your workshop shrouded in mystery can build anticipation and intrigue. Embrace the unknown and allow participants to discover valuable insights as the workshop unfolds.

This is key when presenting a technique that is not obvious upfront. If you're teaching a collage-style applique workshop, an English Paper Piecing Workshop, or a pattern that incorporates a fun piecing technique - don't give away your process until your students are in the workshop with you. See how the mystery can build anticipation and enjoyment!

3. Embrace Traditions and Rituals

Metallica concerts are steeped in tradition and rituals, from the opening riff to the closing encore. Incorporating familiar rituals, and teaching some of the history or background information about a technique or pattern within your workshop can create a sense of community and belonging among participants.

My husband knew they were going to walk out to a particular song, he knew that they would be using a circular stage, he knew when to chant, when to cheer, and when to hold up the phone flashlight (what used to be a lighter) and slow down. The ritual of a workshop can be similar, where we can anticipate that there is time to set up the equipment, an opening introduction, time to work, and time to socialize. We can anticipate when to ask questions and that the instructor is there to guide and help us become successful. If your workshops are set up a bit differently, no worries! Introduce your workshop framework, and set a new tradition for your students.

Following the traditional workshop framework or teaching them your unique setup can set them at ease, but don't forget to sprinkle in some surprise and delight! Such as an exclusive copy of the pattern with additional information, or a full colored worksheet that walks them through each step, or maybe they get an exclusive coupon to your digitally recorded workshop to help them finish their quilt.

If you want to know more about this, I wrote a blog post about how to use background information here.

4. Have Fun

Metallica concerts epitomize the essence of fun and enjoyment. Similarly, workshops should be engaging and enjoyable experiences for students. Many join workshops for the social aspect and because it looks fun! Infuse elements of playfulness and excitement into your workshops to foster a positive and dynamic learning environment. If it's not fun for you, it certainly not going to be fun for your students.

How can we infuse more fun into a workshop? You as the instructor and guide have an amazing power to sway the energy in the room. Walk around, don't sit in one place, cheer them on, and have them share their progress. Tell stories when you can and when appropriate. You can use fun materials in your workshop examples, wear a crown so you're easy to find (great for large workshops at a quilt show), host your workshop at an unusual place, bring a fun snack - whatever you think can add some fun try it out!

5. Don't Just Observe, Participate

At a Metallica concert, audience participation is key to the overall experience. Likewise, encourage active participation from workshop attendees through interactive activities, group discussions, and hands-on exercises.

Metallica used a circular stage and was able to move around and engage the audience all around the arena. Be sure you're using the same tactic and moving around within the room or on camera - changing angles and views. You can also engage participants who are quiet with questions, ask the opinion of those who have shared they have been quilting for a long time, and show how you have applied this skill to your pattern in real-world projects.

Again, don't sit in one place. If you're sewing alone and working on a project while students are working, your students will not feel seen, engaged, or very willing to ask questions. Walk around, socialize with your students, observe and compliment - participate as much as you can to help them engage and fully participate in the workshop.

6. Keep Them Guessing

This one automatically applies in many workshops, simply because your students have come to learn. I observed that Metallica keeps audiences on their toes with unexpected twists and turns throughout their performances. Similarly, keep workshop participants engaged by introducing unexpected challenges (within reason) or thought-provoking questions that spark curiosity and critical thinking.

When I taught free motion quilting, for example, I had students start with basic designs and gave them at least one challenging one to attempt before the workshop was over.

7. Offer Exclusive Merchandise and a possible VIP Experience

Metallica concerts often feature exclusive merchandise and special experiences for VIP ticket holders. Consider offering unique perks or bonuses for workshop participants, such as access to exclusive resources like tip sheets, expanded or exclusive patterns, access to a digital workshop, one-on-one or small group follow-up sessions, or early access to future events.

Here the lead guitarists riffed and created an exclusive song just for the night to enjoy! They then recorded the concert and sent all VIP Ticket holders a CD of the entire concert! What a great way to include exclusivity!

This is ideal for a larger workshop, one with many participants or one that covers multiple days, or a complicated technique workshop. If you're teaching online, this could look like tiered pricing and maybe even a goodie box for an event (think sewing retreat) that lasts a couple of days.

8. Be Clear on Expectations and Time

Clarity is paramount at both Metallica concerts and workshops. Clearly communicate the workshop agenda, objectives, and expectations to participants upfront. Respect your student's time by adhering to the schedule and allowing and informing them of breaks and transition periods.

9. Incorporate Moments for Reflection and Recovery

Even with the high energy of a Metallica concert, there are moments for reflection and recovery. I mentioned above that my husband knew when to pull out his flashlights and calm it down a bit (he was rocking out almost the whole time). Similarly, set breaks and opportunities for participants to reflect on the material covered intentionally. Let them pause reflect, recharge, and process their learning experiences before they leave the workshop.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to ask them about their favorite part or if they had any "ah-ha!" moments. You can read more about that here.

10. Involve the Local Community (for in-person workshops)

Metallica concerts often engage with local communities through charity initiatives or collaborations with local artists. Similarly, consider involving the local community in your workshops through partnerships, guest speakers, or supporting local businesses.

What could this look like to you, the instructor? If you're teaching for a shop or Quilt Guild, reach out to other local shops and Quilt Guilds to see if they'd like to book you as well. This could look like a book signing or pattern signing event set up at a Quilt Shop or even a local bookshop. Would you have the opportunity to be an in-person guest for a podcast or YouTube show?

Don't underestimate the power of advertising your in-person workshops to your email list and on social media. Be sure to tag the location when sharing on social media so the platform can share it with those who are local.

Let's Rock Out!

Attending a Metallica concert, or any high energy exciting event, offers valuable insights into event hosting that can be applied to workshops, courses, or events. By embracing elements of surprise, tradition, participation, and community engagement, workshop instructors can create dynamic and memorable experiences that leave a lasting impact on their students. So, rock on and elevate your workshops to new heights!



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Grab Your Free eBook, Design Your Workshop, here. 


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