Purpose of a Seminar

by Janet Beal; Updated September 26, 2017

The mere thought of a business training session is likely to produce the following four-letter-word: "Yawn!" Just contemplating leading one more training session, talking and talking to a sea of bored faces, is enough to make you--and your colleagues--sleepy.

To change everyone's behavior, encourage energetic participation and create a team-building atmosphere, try making your next training session a seminar.

History

Seminars have their basis in the Latin word for "seed." Originally meetings of scholars for the purpose of sharing and nurturing the seeds of ideas, seminars assume participation by all attendees. Sometimes a seminar is described as a "round table"--even if it's held at a square table--to emphasize that all attendees are on an equal footing, working face-to-face and interacting as discussion progresses, rather than waiting to the end of the session to fill out "feedback" forms.

Types

While seminars can be of several types, they all contain some egalitarian element. Perhaps your seminar begins with a single presentation, and then breaks attendees into small working groups, each of which discusses and reports on one element of the presentation. Perhaps you ask several attendees--or all--to present parts of the project for discussion by all. What matters at a seminar is an experience of working together.

Significance

Working together is key to a seminar. Attending a seminar is not a passive experience--everyone should have a way to contribute. Rank matters much less than in daily work (secretaries, for example, are not the only people in the room capable of taking minutes or providing refreshments--your supervisor becomes a different person when she spent last night baking brownies for the meeting and both the boss and the new file-clerk want the recipe!).

Implicit in a seminar-style meeting is that everyone's opinion counts. The point of a seminar is less to teach than to share. We've all seen the television commercials in which the lowest clerk in the mail-room provides the solution to the company's biggest problem. This may not happen at your seminar, but creating an atmosphere in which all feel comfortable expressing their ideas is ideal for the seeds of new ideas or points of view to grow.

Function

When does a seminar format work best for a business meeting? Not exactly when you might expect. Since a seminar is essentially a format for problem-solving, a seminar is useful when people disagree. (If two participants disagree vehemently and unbudgingly, their conflict may be best addressed by setting some previous limits on the size or scope of the disagreement, so that the whole working group is not overwhelmed.)

A seminar is a good tool for department heads or representatives, because each can provide some authority on his side of the problem. Getting them together may be the best way to interrupt an endless "blame-game," in which processing and shipping agree only that each is responsible for the failures of the other!

Having to explain a problem to people with differing points of view may contain the seeds of the solution. Tracking and retaining repeat customers, for example, may need efforts from shipping, advertising, billing and public relations. Giving informed department reps a chance to swap ideas and air frustrations in an atmosphere of give-and-take, rather than blame-and-defend, can produce positive results and new respect among colleagues--who knew the key to this mess lay in labeling? Nobody, till the seminar.

Effects

The more employees and their leaders feel valued by a company, the better effects on company performance are likely to be. "Feedback" forms completed at the end of a training lecture are likely to tell the present what he already knows--good info, well-organized, useful handouts, yawn, yawn, yawn. The inch of dust in the bottom of the suggestion box is found in organizations where employees feel their opinions and ideas are ignored.

A seminar will not solve all an organization's problems, but it can directly address issues of sharing information, clarifying communication, and working cooperatively without fear of judgment or loss of status. If training sessions still seem like a dull way to spend the day, consider creating a seminar, and see the benefits of a new way of working together.

Expert Insight

Creating a seminar for your organization can seem daunting. Many kinds of expert help are available. Consider talking with members of any professional association relevant to your business; most have speakers' bureaus and may well offer seminar leadership as well. Professional colleagues may also be good sources of local consultants. They can be expecially helpful if they have attended the seminars offered. An internet search can also yield more results. Leading seminars has developed into a huge profession and a search can take time. Listings of motivational speakers are enormous. You can narrow the search considerably by keywording both seminars and the issue you wish to focus on: team-building, ethics, accounting, financial management. Add you exact business type to focus the search even more tightly. Below are a few sample sites found by internet search. You will, of course, do a better search with your criteria in mind. Expert help can made a difference in success and provide you with models to conduct your own future seminars.

About the Author

Janet Beal has written for various websites, covering a variety of topics, including gardening, home, child development and cultural issues. Her work has appeared on early childhood education and consumer education websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University and a Master of Science in early childhood education from the College of New Rochelle.