an abstract illustration that suggests people in a workshop


Before we get started, do you know what an experience map is? If not, you’re not necessarily in the wrong place, but get to understand the basics of experience maps before hosting a workshop.

If you’re thinking about creating an experience map, chances are you’re trying to better understand what a specific audience goes through, improve a specific business process, or both. In most cases, you need to talk with others in order to fully understand what you need to illustrate. Hosting a workshop to create an experience map can help add detail and accuracy to the final product. It’s also a way to build understanding and consensus among workshop participants. Here are some things we’ve learned about successfully hosting an experience map workshop.

Define a single experience – or business process – that you’d like to explore.
Marketing or web professionals who work for colleges or universities might use an experience map to understand:

  • What high school students experience as they submit general applications
  • What graduate students see as they apply to a specific program
  • What transfer students go through to initiate and complete the transfer process
  • What current students must do to register for classes
  • What alumni must do to give a small gift online
  • What potential research partners go through to investigate research opportunities

Each map illustrates only one process. So if you’re mapping multiple processes, you must host multiple workshops.

Choose a few audience types or personas to map.
When we create an experience map, we usually base it on the journey of one to three very specific personas an institution wants to understand. A state university, for example, might want a better picture of the path an undergraduate takes to apply. So that institution might model three personas based on its three biggest markets, perhaps: a persona for urban, in-state prospectives; a persona for urban, out-of-state prospectives; and a persona for rural prospectives. The personas will vary dramatically based on the institution or process, and I recommend basing them on real interviews and data.

Determine the starting point, middle points, and ending point of the experience you’re mapping.
The point of an experience map is to understand a specific experience, and you will typically need to break that experience into a beginning, middle, and end. For an experience map based on the undergraduate application process, you might choose these steps for your map:

• Initial investigation (of all possible schools)
• Narrowing of choices (institutions the prospect applies to)
• The moment of decision (yay)
• Transition into becoming a student (a time of uncertainty)

Determine who should participate.
This typically includes people who own the process you’re trying to understand. For a recruitment-based map, you’d want people from admissions. For a fundraising or alumni engagement map, you’d want some of your advancement colleagues. Workshops are an opportunity to break silos – consider inviting strategic thinkers from a variety of different areas.

Share context for the workshop with participants a few days in advance.
Sharing context gives participants a chance to prepare. We typically compose the framework for the workshops, lay out any personas or audience types we want to map, and ask a few questions for them to answer to set the stage. We also try to keep the documentation short – we want people to come to the session energized.

You can also share an example experience map or blank format to help the audience understand what you’ll be working on together during the session. In digital work, we often forget that our clients aren’t deeply schooled in the jargon or format of our deliverables. Seeing an example can help clarify the purpose of the meeting.

Understand how you’re going to compose the map and prepare the space before the workshop.
Are there enough seats in the room? Is the room arranged so participants can talk with each other and see the experience map you’ll build together? Work through issues like these before people show up to the session.

Will you create the first draft of the experience map on a whiteboard? Make sure it’s clean. Post-its on the wall? Bring enough pens for everyone. Using Google Docs? Set up the document framework before the meeting.

If you minimize or eliminate time spent setting up after participants arrive, you can start collaborating as quickly as possible.

Bring two people to lead – one to facilitate, and one to record comments and fill in the experience map.
It’s tough to speak and engage the audience if you also have to stop the process to take notes. That’s not a problem with this model, as one person is the “mouth” of the workshop and another is the “hands.”

Let a person with a dynamic personality facilitate the meeting. There are few things more forgettable than a boring workshop. And if you bore people, they wont’t show up for your next session.

Limit the workshop’s length – it should take between 90 and 120 minutes.
This is a guideline, but I’ve found this range of time to be ideal for most collaborative sessions. It’s long enough to roll up your sleeves and get some real work done, but it’s short enough that people don’t typically lose steam or focus.

Leave five minutes to discuss next steps at the end of the workshop.
How can participants view session notes? When will they see the finished, digitally enhanced experience map that you create based on the workshop? Did this process expose a need to understand other processes or meet again? Take time to answer questions like these.

Want to know more about experience maps? Join us for Using Experience Maps to Improve Both Promise and Process on Tuesday, June 9.

mStoner Staff

AUTHOR - mStoner Staff

mStoner, Inc. helps clients to tell their authentic stories by clarifying their unique brand value proposition, creating a content strategy to communicate the brand effectively, and implementing compelling and dynamic communications across the web, mobile, social media, print, and other channels. We focus on research, data, and results.

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