Half-Day Workshop: Coaching Content Strategy

Two workshop attendees collaborating

My workshop at Smashing Conference by Marc Thiele, used via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Welcome to the Coaching Content Strategy half-day workshop.

This page includes instructions for all the activities we’ll do today. You can also download the presentation slides (PDF).


  1. Gaining buy-in
  2. Strategy mad libs
  3. Sticky-note analysis
  4. Coaching roundtable

1. Gaining buy-in

With your team, spend 10 minutes reviewing the United Airlines scenario you’ve been given and quickly discussing the following questions:

  • Where would you be most likely to hit snags moving forward with content strategy?
  • Who do you need to convince to do things differently?
  • What about your organization’s landscape might cause a roadblock for this project?
  • What sorts of arguments are more likely to work with this leadership team?
  • What’s likely to convince the content creators/peers you need to get excited about your ideas?

Once you’ve discussed, spend 5 minutes deciding:

    1. Which approach(es) for gaining buy-in would you use in this person’s shoes?
    2. Who would you use them with?
    3. How would you start the conversation?

2. Strategy mad libs

Remember those little books where you’d fill in the blanks with random nouns, verbs, and adjectives and end up with a ridiculous story? Today, we’ll use that same idea—except that instead of a kooky story, you’ll work with your team to quickly develop a rough strategy statement for the organization in your group’s scenario.

In the real world, I use this activity all the time when I am trying to get groups of stakeholders to agree on a direction and make decisions on priorities.


      1. Pick a facilitator for this activity. The facilitator will play the lead role from your scenario.
      2. Imagine that you’ve assembled the people in your scenario to discuss and decide some high-level strategy. For our purposes today, just assume this is for the site/organization as a whole.
      3. Spend about 10 minutes exploring both United’s and Alaska’s brand, mission, values, etc., and discussing the following questions as a team:
        • What do you think United wants customers to think and feel when they encounter its brand? Alaska?
        • What would you guess each of the organization’s goals are, based on this information? It’s okay to make some assumptions.
        • What would you guess users are most interested in getting from these organizations? What needs do they have? Do they fly these carriers for different reasons? What are those? (In the real world, we’d research this!)
        • How do you think the post-merger website content could best communicate the values, goals, and needs shown here?
      4. Now, turn to your mad lib worksheet. Give each person 5 minutes to start drafting ideas alone.
      5. Facilitator: guide your team through their ideas, and get them to come to consensus about the best way to fill this out. Use the facilitation skills we discussed to keep the conversation focused, ask clarifying questions, and build alignment.

Find more info and ideas for adapting this approach in my article on Content Mad Libs. You can also download a PDF of today’s mad lib worksheet.

3. Sticky-note analysis

Transfer the facilitator role to another person on the team. Have the rest of the group play the roles from the United scenario, and assess your printed pages against your mad lib.


  1. Each participant should spend 3-5 minutes reviewing each content page. Consider questions like:
    • How well does this content reflect what you decided your goals as an organization are? What about users’ goals?
    • Does anything feel out of place?
    • Is the information well organized and structured on the page?
  2. On each page, add a green sticky note next to anything you see that supports your strategy and seems helpful for your user.
  3. Add a red sticky note next to anything that doesn’t support your strategy or your user.
  4. Facilitator: once you’ve collected all feedback, spend 5 minutes on each page leading a conversation about what you found. Discuss trends, areas of disagreement, etc.

4. Coaching roundtable

For our final activity together, you’ll have a chance to work with new folks from another group—and discuss your own real-life projects. Each person has 5 minutes to discuss their challenge and get feedback from their peers.


    • Have one person at a time share the kind of content coaching challenge they need to tackle.
    • As a group, discuss questions like these (don’t feel like you have to answer all of them—do what’s useful):
      • How could you gain buy-in from your organization?
      • Whom do you need to convince?
      • Which inroads seem the most viable?
      • Where is the team/client stuck when it comes to their understanding of content?
      • If you were going to host a session with that team, what would the desired outcome be?
    • Brainstorm potential activities that would help coach this team to solve the problem. You can use the ones we’ve done today, or use those as starting points to defining new ones.
    • Have each person write down the approach they’re planning to try, and how they’re going to get it started.

Once you start facilitating more, designing activities to aid in the process gets easier and easier. One resource I found incredibly useful when I wanted to start turning meetings into workshops was Gamestorming, which has countless ideas for using activities to gather ideas and make decisions. I don’t use anything from that book as-is, but it helped me generate and improve upon countless techniques.

That’s it! Thank you for coming. If you have questions, feel free to email me using the form at the bottom of the page.