If It’s Not Hands-On Training, It’s Not a Workshop

Peggy Duncan, Outlook expert trains people how to conquer email overloadI was about to register for an event the other day because it was described as a workshop. Before I clicked PAY, I sent the coordinator an email for clarification. “Is this a workshop with hands-on activities or a seminar with a talking head in lecture format?” Turns out, it was a seminar.

I’m seeing this too often…event producers using words interchangeably when their meanings are completely different.  You should take care in choosing the right definition for your event because participants in the know will expect a certain experience based on your description.

If you sign up for an event that’s described as one thing and it turns out to be something else, get your money back. Hope the definitions below help.

Conference can be a mixture of seminars, panels, and workshops usually based on a theme and separated into tracks to appeal to different skill sets and interests.

Congress is very similar to a conference, but with more formality featuring delegates or representatives.

Seminar is a meeting on a specific subject or educational class in a lecture/talking head format with Q&A that can prompt audience interaction.

Summit is a conference or meeting of high-level leaders, usually called to shape a program of action.

Symposium is typically a more formal or academic gathering with multiple experts who present on a particular topic.

Workshop will consist of some type of hands-on application to whatever is being taught, either individually or as a group.

Be careful when you choose the verbiage to describe your event. If it’s not as described, I want a refund.



  1. Peggy, Good article overall. With all due respect, I partially agree. Seminars can be marketed as “seminars” or “interactive seminars.” My seminars are always interactive with my audience. (I do not use a lecture/talking head format. Today’s audience would get bored too quickly. They have to be involved.). My workshops are more involved with timed activities and definitely hands-on). According to my Random House Webster’s Dictionary (your article prompted a lookup), a “workshop” is described as ‘a seminar or small group that meets to explore some subject, develop a skill or technique, carry out a creative project.’ Whereas, a “seminar” is ‘any meeting or exchanging information and holding discussions.’ Therefore, I can see how easy it is to get them confused. A seminar is not just a lecture; there can be audience involvement. Yes, it can all get confusing.

    1. Hi Gloria, I’m just now seeing your comment and apologize for the delay in responding. On seminar, I usually always add the piece about Q&A accompanying a lecture format, and sure didn’t mean to leave that out (I’ve edited the post). We mean the same thing (lecture format/talking head…meaning there is an expert teaching a particular topic).

      That Random House definition sounds off. A seminar is not a workshop.

  2. Peggy I would agree 100%! One of the first things I do when doing any event consultancy is to get organisers to follow a very similar line. I also tell them if their congress or conference has an exhibition they should put that in the title. Plenty of similar tips onhttp://www.gallusevents.co.uk/knowledgebase/downloads/

Comments are closed.