Ever wondered what is the difference between a seminar or workshop?

In articles and workplace conversations, the words seminars, workshop and conference are sometimes used interchangeably.  It is important to understand the distinctions when planning the type of learning event to fit the needs of your audience.

Does it matter?  Yes! 

Once you identify the different presentation styles, you can adapt your planned learning experience based on the determined requirements of a  particular audience and it’s needs.


Common definitions include:

  • “a class at a college or university in which a topic is discussed by a teacher and a small group of students”
  • “a conference or other meeting for discussion or training” according to Google
  • “a scheduled meeting of a seminar or a room for such meetings” according to Merriam-Webster
  • “The sessions are usually headed or led by one or two presenters who serve to steer the discussion along the desired path” according to e-venues
Key Traits of Seminars
  • Seminars are usually 90 minutes to 3 hours
  • Questions and answers usually at the end
  • For  discussion purposes
  • Usually more of an academic content
  • Often more than 100 people
  • Have few and smaller handout materials for the audience
  • Much less hands-on than workshops.
  • Typically targeting educational topics
  • Highlight one or more subject experts
  • Multiple handouts, possibly distributed in digital format


  • “a usually brief intensive educational program for a relatively small group of people that focuses especially on techniques and skills in a particular field”  according to Merriam-Webster
  • “tend to be more one-way from the presenter without opportunities for practice or application nor do they actively engage participants in the process”, according to Kelly Robertson, SpeakerNet.news.
  • “a meeting at which a group of people engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject or project.” according to Google.
Key Traits of Workshops
  • Workshops are usually longer, often 1 to 2 days
  •  Workshop trainer handles questions throughout the event and encourages discussion
  • Requires the guidance of the instructor
  • Workshops are usually smaller, 25 people or less.
  • Workshops usually have a workbook handout of 50-100 pages
  • Specific objective or goal for participants to gain new skills during the event
  • Generally less formal
  • Require more attendee participation
  • Audience has actionable activities and lots of interaction

On another note, there are also conferences….

  • “a usually formal interchange of views” according to according to Merriam-Webster
  • “a meeting of two or more persons for discussing matters of common concern”  according to Merriam-Webster

Key Traits:

  • Multiple Days
  • Organized by major topics and subtopics
  • Multiple speakers
  • 1 or more keynote presentations with guest speakers
  • Requires large support team to support logistics
  • Large audiences, often-times into the thousands
  • If paid events, the ticket prices are typically much larger
  • Often accompanied by special learning sessions prior to the opening keynote

Can you use the terms interchangeably?  Often others do.  Select the format that fits your needs, capacity and budget and plan accordingly.