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Seminars vs. Workshops

Kevin Quinley

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This may be a dumb question, but what exactly is the difference between a workshop and a seminar? Do you see them as synonymous and interchangeable terms? If not, what exactly differentiates a workshop from a seminar?

— Ian Cook

I tend to use the words interchangeably in my program descriptors, mostly for variety in the text.

There is a sense, however, of a seminar being a bit more of a traditional training session, with the preponderance of time spent in presentation of material from the front of the room. A workshop seems to imply relatively more time spent interactively, perhaps in facilitated activities, where the participants generate some form of product (e.g. goals for the coming year, a strategy for dealing with a customer, etc.) at the end of the session.

That said, I have never had a client raise the question or seem to care. Go with what feels best for you.

— Kelley Robertson

My interpretation of a seminar vs. a workshop is...

Workshops get participants fully involved in the learning process: small and large group discussions, activities & exercises, opportunities to practice applying the concepts that are presented.

Seminars tend to be more one-way from the presenter without opportunities for practice or application nor do they actively engage participants in the process.

— Carol Pierce

One presenter may give a seminar on self-publishing, presenting all the information to the attendees. S/he is doing the “work” while the audience is doing the active listening.

When I present a workshop on self-publishing, I share the information with the attendees in an interactive format so those present are actually doing part of the “work.”

We may both be sharing the same information, but we are using two different presentation styles based on the specific needs of that particular audience at that particular time.

— Ron Katz

I do both and I call it what the client wants to call it. Here are a few general guidelines that I have found.

  • Workshops are usually longer, often 1 to 2 days.
  • Seminars are usually 90 minutes to 3 hours.
  • Workshops include far more interactive exercises.
  • Seminars are frequently more lecture driven with less participant interaction other than answering questions.
  • Often the questions at a seminar are at the end of the presentation. At a workshop, handle the questions as they arise and often turn them into group discussions.
  • Workshops are usually smaller, 25 people or less. Seminars are often over 100 people.
  • Workshops usually have a workbook handout of 50-100 pages.
  • Seminars have more limited handouts, often just a printout of the PowerPoint presentation.

The words are often used interchangeably, but these are the differences I see. I use the above “definitions” when discussing with clients what they want.

— Meggin McIntosh

It’s not a dumb question. I get it, too, from my workshop/seminar participants.

Here are my distinctions (even though I do sometimes use them interchangeably):

Workshop is more “hands-on” for the participants. They are going to be working, thinking, doing, processing, creating (maybe physically), up and at ’em moving around, lots of interaction, etc.

Seminar is going to involve more individual thinking, working, writing, processing and maybe some with one or two people sitting close by, but it won’t be quite as active. This word sounds more serious than workshop. I use lots of humor when I’m working with folks so I always plan to have people laughing as they learn, but the word "seminar" still sounds like it’s going to be a more serious event than a workshop does.

— Marsha Petrie Sue

For my clients, the words are synonymous. Plus they also have added “breakout” and “concurrent” to the list. I am more interested on how my clients view the words as I am sure there are many “definitions” of each word.

— Do Mi Stauber

I’ve been researching this too as I broaden my presenting business, and have found definite opinions that contradict each other! So here is mine: A seminar, to me, recalls an upper-level college class where a small number of people sit around a table, discuss, take notes. A workshop seems more active, participatory, hands-on. So for my participatory, day-long presentations (not really just presentations, because people are working in small groups, individually, and interactively in the large group) I use the term workshops.

— Rebecca Morgan

I use them interchangeably, but technically, I would say a workshop has more hands-on skill building, say like presentation skills, whereas a seminar, while it could be interactive, isn’t as much skill building. Also, some people’s seminars are just 4-8 hour speeches!

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