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 full-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. Mapping user journeys and content
  4. Sticky-note analysis
  5. Content chunking
  6. Coaching roundtable

1. Gaining buy-in

Review your scenario handout with your team, and discuss 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 spent about 20 minutes discussing, decide and write down:

    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. (Everyone will get a chance to facilitate an activity.)
      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 20 minutes exploring both United’s and Alaska’s brand, mission, values, etc., and discussing the following questions as a team:
        • Which values are most important to your organization?
        • 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 10 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. Mapping user journeys and content

Pick a new person on your team to be the facilitator, and have the rest of the group take the roles of the people described in your scenario. Take the mad lib you started in exercise 2, and use it to map out an ideal user journey: one that will meet your user’s needs, while supporting your organization’s goals.

This activity is extremely helpful when organizations are struggling to maintain a user-centered focus. You could spend days working on this, but even one hour trying to think and act like a user does wonders for how people see their content and how willing they are to consider things from a new perspective.


Map out the journey of a person who has a flight tomorrow and used to fly Alaska. They need to know whether they have to pay for checked baggage now that it’s merged with United—if so, they’ll try to jam everything into their carry-on. They used to get a free checked bag with their Elite Mileage Plan status on Alaska, but now they’re not sure how the policies have changed or what that status means at United.


      1. Start by defining what triggers your user’s journey. What are they doing that makes them seek information?
      2. Then, consider what stages they go through—both before, during, and after engaging with the website. Use 1 color of sticky notes to map a horizontal line showing your user’s ideal path over time.
      3. Next, use a different colored sticky to mark the questions they are likely to have at each moment. List those underneath each stage of the journey. What do they need to find out to keep them moving?
      4. Now, start thinking about content to answer those questions. Use one color sticky note to denote content you already have, and one to denote content you need, but don’t have (as best you can, since you only know so much about this organization).
      5. “End” your journey when both the user and your organization succeed.

This is just a lightweight, content-centric approach to mapping out what should be. For a detailed look at mapping user/customer journeys, I recommend Adaptive Path’s Guide to Experience Mapping, which will give you endless ideas for how to bring this process into your work.

4. Sticky-note analysis

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


      1. Give each participant 5–10 minutes to review each content page. Consider questions like:
        • How well does this content reflect what you decided your goals as an organization are?
        • Does anything feel out of place?
        • Is the information well organized and structured on the page?
        • How well would this content help your user on the journey you created?
      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. Once you’ve collected all feedback, your facilitator should lead a conversation about what you found: trends, areas of disagreement, etc.

5. Content chunking

Pick a new facilitator—make sure everyone on your team has had a chance to play the role. In this activity, we’ll start modeling out how our content could be better prioritized and designed, especially for small screens.


Choose one page from your sticky note activity to focus on here. Look through all those red and green stickies, and then follow these steps:

      • What should the purpose of this page be? Discuss with your team. Using this fill-in-the-blank might help: This page will help [user] accomplish [task], which will help [organization] achieve [goal].
      • Turn that discussion into a list of content the page needs to have. For example, you might list things like “product description,” “call to action,” “customer service information,” or “step-by-step instructions.”
      • Once you have a list of what the page should support, prioritize that list. Which content is most important for this page to achieve its goals? Number your list.
      • Now that you have your priorities down, start sketching how this could be organized on a mobile device. How much space does each item need? What sort of shape is it in: is it an image? a 100-word paragraph? a bulleted list? a 20-character CTA?

Voilà! Your prioritized list is actually a content model in the making. You could now apply this to other areas of the site, identifying patterns in the content and priorities those sections need to support. You can also use it for activities like pair writing—which I’ve found an extremely useful technique for learning to write in modular chunks.

6. 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 15 minutes to discuss their challenge and get feedback from their peers.


      • Have one person at a time discuss the kind of content coaching challenge they need to tackle.
      • As a group, discuss:
        • How could you gain buy-in from your organization?
        • Who 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 off 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.

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