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What Is the Difference Between a Workshop & a Seminar?

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What is a seminar? What is a workshop? Are there significant distinctions or is it all just semantics? If you’ve been given the opportunity to participate in a workshop or to attend a seminar for work, good for you! Both can help boost your knowledge base and can be great networking opportunities. But before you sign up, or especially if you are tapped to be a speaker at a seminar or workshop, you’ll want to know what they’re all about, how they are the same and how they differ.

Workshops and Seminars: How They’re Alike

Although seminars and workshops can be offered as part of a larger conference, they can also be standalone events. If your business is real estate, you may attend regional or national conferences, in which experts present seminars and workshops. Additionally, either category can follow the conference's theme of the conference or it can be specific to the company or the presenter. And both workshops and seminars are intended to educate their audience on a specific topic or topics.

Workshops and Seminars Have Different Formats

Probably most notable among the differences is the format that workshops and seminars have. Even the most audience-aware speaker at a seminar only allows for so much engagement from its participants. Most likely, the speaker or panel members at a seminar will conduct a presentation, using some sort of slide deck. They’ll provide you will relevant information on a specific topic and then, they'll usually open up the discussion at the end of the formal presentation, to take questions from the attendees. Taking notes during a seminar is valuable for this Q&A session, so any questions that arose up during the talk will have been answered by the presenters. If the seminar has done its job, then notes also serve as an important tool that's valuable to the attendees long after the seminar has ended; this is when you can put the information you learned at the seminar to good use.

On the other hand, workshops, not only encourage engaging with other participants - they insist upon it. You may be asked to complete a workbook or to complete some pre-work before the workshop. Once at the workshop, you’ll be expected to be fully involved in the learning process. Likely, there will be activities and exercises in which you and your fellow participants practice what you’re learning during the workshop. For example, you may be given an example of an effective strategy and then you may be asked to come up with an effective strategy of your own. Or, you may be invited to role play, based on some of the principles you will learn. There may even be quizzes so that the workshop facilitator can ascertain whether or not you fully understand what is being taught. The end goal of a workshop is to provide you with hands-on learning that you can apply to a real-world setting.

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Workshops and Seminars Differ in Length and Size

By their nature, workshops cannot be huge affairs with hundreds of attendees. They usually cap out the number of attendees at no more than a couple of dozen people. The most effective workshops give you an opportunity to have some one-on-one attention from the facilitator, and—sometimes even more valuable—a chance to learn from your peers. Conversely, the speaker at a seminar can impart his knowledge to an auditorium full of people. The largest practical business seminar record was set in 2017 by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in Cambodia. There were 2,304 participants.

Another difference between seminars and workshops is how long they last. Expect a seminar to last a couple of hours. But when it comes to workshops, think in terms of days. Usually, workshops last from one to three days, whereas seminars last only as long as it takes for the presenter to get her message across.

About the Author

Linda Emma is a writer and private marketing coach and consultant. She also works at a small New England college as a tutor, assisting students with course-specific materials and preparation for internship and employment.

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