Is it a Presentation or a Training Session?

Written by ida

March 24, 2014

Compare the following sentences:

  • I’m making a presentation
  • I’m running a training session
  • I’m teaching a class
  • I’m facilitating a meeting

There are a number of different reasons for standing up in front of a group:  to entertain, to sell, to inform, to teach, to solicit input, and so on. Here’s my pet peeve. The word presentation is used far too often as an umbrella term to cover all of these different scenarios.

“So what?” you ask. Well, here’s the problem.  Your choice of words, the label you use affects your mindset and your actions. It affects

  • how you prepare for it
  • the behavior you expect from the people in attendance
  • how you refer to those people (e.g. audience, trainees, prospects, participants, learners)
  • the final outcomes you expect
  • even how nervous you are

The label you place on what you do also sets up certain expectations in the minds of the attendees  – specifically, how they are expected to behave during and after the event.

A Presentation

Consider this scenario for a moment: You’ve been invited to attend a presentation. What do you anticipate is going to take place?

Well, usually a presentation involves one-way communication. The presenter will be talking at the audience members and may also be showing them some slides. There may be some time allocated at the end for a question-and-answer period.

What will the audience leave with that they didn’t have when they first came into the presentation? The answer: increased awareness or knowledge about a particular subject. That’s it.

If we look at this from the presenter’s perspective, s/he can’t expect people to do anything other than watch, listen, and perhaps take some notes.

A Training Session

On the other hand, if you’ve been invited to attend a training session, you will no doubt have other expectations.

What does a training session look like? It involves two-way communication – interaction between the instructor/facilitator and the participants/trainees. Attendees generally know that they will be expected to participate – to practice – and possibly to discuss and ask questions as well. The purpose of a training session is for participants to be able to perform differently afterward – whether it’s at work, in a relationship, during the performance of a sport or hobby, or in some other applicable situation. There’s very little chance of that happening after a presentation, but after a training session – much more so.

As the instructor/facilitator, you prepare for a training session differently than for a presentation. You prepare questions, interactive activities, practice exercises, and debriefing questions. You plan learner participation and expect to see improvement in skill. You also expect the learning to stick.


Let’s address the issue of nervousness for a moment. Derrick, a participant in one of my train-the-trainer workshops remarked at the end of course, “I’ve been reborn. I’m a whole new instructor now!”

What had triggered this insight? Derrick had gained some new perspectives that had dramatically impacted the way he saw himself at the front of the room. The old Derrick assumed that when conducting a session, he was entirely responsible for the “dog and pony” show.  The new Derrick was relieved to discover that by orchestrating participation from his attendees, he could create a more dynamic collaborative learning environment – one that caused him much less “performance anxiety”.


Select your words carefully to reflect the expectations and outcomes you want from the group in front of you. Not every situation in which you stand up in front of a group is a presentation – nor should it be. A presentation has its place. If, however, you’re expecting attendees to come away with enhanced skills and a change in their performance after the session, it’s a training session. Chances are you should be giving many more training sessions and fewer presentations.

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