by Bob Beranek
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In the last post we discussed the pros and cons of open discussion training. This week I would like to discuss the training seminar. A seminar is usually a one subject presentation with a question and answer period at the end. It will frequently include an audio/visual component to enhance the program and keep interest high. This is by far the most common formal training exercise. It is used as a method to transmit information such as technical procedures, sales presentations, or management directives.

The formality of the seminar format is one of its principal benefits. Because seminars require advanced planning, a defined time, space and agenda, they demand attention. Those attending usually come predisposed to learn something. The seminar presentation is enhanced by the addition of:

  • Agendas – An agenda is the program clearly laid out and should be brief and generalized. Do not give the program away with too much detailed information or the audience will not listen to what you have to say;
  • Notepads – Notepads encourage the audience to take notes and ask questions but don’t forget a pencil or pen to write with;
  • Handouts – A handout is a great idea but do not give out the information until the end of the presentation or your audience will be reading the handout instead of watching and listening to you; and/or
  • Guest Speaker – If the presenter is a visiting speaker rather than a familiar person, the likelihood of increased interest is further enhanced. The new face and new way of dispensing information seems to make the point better and more memorable.

So, what are the drawbacks to seminars? Mostly it is the time and money spent on organizing the program. Whether you design and deliver the curriculum internally or hire out the presentation to a professional, the time and resources it takes to develop the event can cost more than a box of donuts or a few pizzas. You will need:

  • A method to deliver the audio/visual presentation:
    • Laptop;
    • Software;
    • Projector (LCD or Overhead);
    • Screen; and/or
    • Flip charts, whiteboard, or chalkboard and writing implements;
    • Someone to research, outline, write and design the presentation and handouts;
    • A comfortable location to present the program. The more uncomfortable the audience the less information they will retain. If notes are expected to be taken, tables or writing surfaces should be obtained;
    • An agenda, brochures or other ways to communicate the particulars about the seminar to the potential audience; and
    • Depending on the length of the seminar, there should be refreshments and frequent breaks to keep their attention fresh.

If you decide to outsource your training to a professional, then some of the above will be handled by the presenting organization but the hosting items are still yours to coordinate.

If you decide that the training you want to conduct is a good fit for a seminar style of delivery, make sure you know what you’re getting into. If not planned properly or delivered professionally, a seminar can be an expensive, time-consuming gaffe. If done right, it can be a very efficient training method that will earn you respect and pay you back in increased productivity.

The decision to train begins with what is called a Needs Assessment.  In the last post I pointed out the necessity to track business trends through quantitative measurement. As you track trends, problems are frequently right there for you to see. You may have a customer service issue, a callback crisis, a sales setback or a human resources dilemma. No matter what the assessed need, you need to address it.  How do you do that?  It may be as simple as drafting a new policy and making it known.  It could be the termination of a person who is causing a problem. Sometimes a problem requires the implementation of formal training.

What I mean by “formal” training is the act of announcing, planning and conducting a program to impart new or additional information to employees and staff. I don’t mean taking an employee aside and telling him or her they screwed up and telling them how you expect it to change—that is discipline not training. If you expect the newly imparted information to stick, you must make it known that it matters.  You do this through a concerted effort of presenting a program; otherwise it can go in one ear and out the other.

There are all types of training that can be implemented in solving your problem. Although there are numerous companies that can assist if you want to outsource your training, for our purposes I will be focusing on internal training. This can include open discussion training, hands-on training, seminars or demonstrations. The type of training you choose depends on budget and time constraints, the needs assessment and the results you want to realize. In this series of posts, I plan to address each of these types of training methods and explain the benefits and downfalls of each.

Considering that my blog is called “Technically Speaking,” I think I will assume that the interest of those reading this post is in the technical training arena and not in sales or marketing.  So, I am going to tackle the types of training that would best pertain to the technical or installation training found in the auto glass shop.

Open Discussions
One of the most versatile and easiest methods to conduct is the Open Discussion (OD). The OD can be used to impart almost any information you wish to share, from announcements to new product introductions. The OD is very easy to put together and it is far from threatening to the attendees. But there are some planning hurdles that must be addressed and some pros and cons to consider when using this type of training program.


  • Set a date and time that all can attend.
  • Make sure that schedules are set to assure attendance. If you are lax on requiring attendance, they will be lax on hearing what you say.
  • Prepare an outline of discussion. One problem with ODs is that they can get out of control and the purpose of the training is lost or watered down.
  • Make the venue comfortable and less formal. This encourages discussion and reduces nervousness.
  • Have refreshments or snacks available to promote the casual atmosphere.
  • Assign someone to take notes or minutes of the meeting for future reference.


  • Casual environment encourages open discussion and is non-threatening.
  • The method can be used on a wide array of subjects.
  • Cost of training is minimal.
  • Minimal preparation for presentation.
  • Easily adaptable to include guest speakers or presenters.


  • It is so casual that some may not take the training seriously.
  • It is difficult to control the conversation.
    • Discussion can wander off in directions not desired.
    • Attendees have a tendency to talk over others and miss important issues
    • The effectiveness of training is less than other methods.

The last point under Cons is an important detriment to OD training, “The effectiveness of training is less than other methods.” This is mainly because in an open discussion context your employees are not very far removed from their normal surroundings and they are hearing directives from the same people that give them orders daily. Open discussions can work well as a training method when joined with other programs or when training budgets are strained. Just remember that it will not be optimally effective if you let the discussion wander away from its goal subject.

My years of training experience show that a new venue and a different voice can make the difference if information imparted is retained or lost. That is why the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) recommends a combination of internal and external training programs to get the best results.