What Is the Difference Between a Workshop & a Seminar?

By Neil Kokemuller; Updated July 05, 2017
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"Workshop" and "seminar" are often used interchangeably, as both offer you education or training to boost your career. However, a seminar is most often a stand-alone event where the content is delivered by presenters in a one-way communication format. A workshop is a more interactive experience for those attending.

Structure and Timing

In contrast to a conference, a seminar is typically a one-day event. It may last anywhere from one to eight hours. One or more expert speakers or people with first-hand insights on a topic will usually share information with the audience. Seminars often take place in ballrooms, large conference centers or auditoriums. A workshop is a often a component of a conference -- or even a seminar. It typically lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours, though some people do use workshop in place of "conference." A workshop takes place in a smaller meeting room, conference room, classroom or computer lab.

The Role of a Conference

Knowing the role of a conference helps you to better understand the difference between a seminar and workshop. A conference is usually a multi-day event where participants stay overnight and engage in various activities. While seminar and conference are often used distinctively, workshop and conference have a close relationship. During a workshop, it is common for participants to break apart from the large group to attend smaller interactive sessions, often referred to as workshops or breakout sessions. These workshops allow participants to gain specialized information or training on a sub-topic.

Presentation Format

One of the clearest distinctions between a seminar and workshop is the level of interaction. According to SpeakerNet News, the most common point was that workshops involve more interaction. A seminar is a lecture or presentation from one or more people to a silent audience. A workshop is a more hands-on experience. You engage in discussions and activities to improve skill development and knowledge retention.

Audience Size

The audience at a seminar is typically much larger than the audience at a workshop. Since a seminar involves imparting of information, the audience is only limited by the seating capacity in the host facility. A workshop most often includes anywhere from five to 100, though larger groups are possible. The limited size is intentional to ensure interaction with and attention to each participant. Plus, workshops may involve small-group interaction, and the leader may want to interact with participants one-on-one.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.