For one reason or another, there is an unfortunate lack of consistency among security professionals with regard to how they describe instructional classes and specialized activities taking place at their conferences. Many times, terms like "training" and "workshop" are used interchangeably, and this is a problem. Among the experienced companies who dedicate considerable time and effort to bringing deeper knowledge to the professional world, these two words mean very specific things. This page was created to encourage discussion and advance understanding and to help guide both event organizers as well as training staff in the use of the most appropriate terms when classes are being planned and promoted.

Trainings vs Workshops

I cannot count the number of times I or someone else from my company have received an email like this...

"We are launching a new tech conference this fall, called SuperAweomeLeetCon. It will be hosted in Kickass City and we would like to know if you're interested in coming to speak. While we do not have a large budget in this first year for speaker travel, we are also going to be running workshops and if you wish to present at one of them, this would be a good way for you to recoup your appearance costs and help with budgeting! If you can help to promote the training i'm sure that you would get a large number of students. Please let us know if you are interested!"

... almost immediately, this draws the same two reactions from us. One: we immediately wonder if the event organizers are talking about a workshop or a training. Two: we are concerned that this new conference does not understand how running a class differs from presenting a briefing. Let's deal with these two concerns in greater detail.


Point One - Sorting out the Terminology

This page will hopefully untangle some terms that get mixed up very often, and fine-tune these definitions in a way that will make things a lot clearer for anyone who is associated with professional conferences at any level. Let's start with some basic terms...

An event (sometimes with a registration fee, sometimes without) where persons attend in order to learn from one another. All conferences typically feature presentation briefings; some conferences also offer additional learning opportunities, as described below.
A presentation where a speaker or speakers will talk and answer questions for approximately one hour or longer. These speakers usually have great experience and knowledge in their respective fields.
Just a another term for briefing. They may also be called "presentations" by some conferences. This usually all means the same thing as "briefing" however. The one difference tends to be "lightning talks" which are always substantially shorter than one hour.
A person who is presenting a briefing/talk at a conference. Speakers are given free admission to the event and in almost all cases they also have expenses such as travel and lodging covered completely. Food, drinks, and other incidentals are sometimes, but certainly not always, covered by the event. The industry standard is for one meal with drinks to be paid for by the event organizers the night before the event starts.
A smaller session of dedicated learning conducted within the larger conference. Workshops are often of longer duration than a briefing session and they are attended by a smaller (often size-limited) audience. Some workshops involve a specific registration fee, others are free for anyone who is already a registered attendee of the hosting conference.
A very intense and dedicated learning session with a highly specific focus. Trainings are always much longer in duration than traditional conference briefings and they virtually always involve an additional attendance fee, whether or not someone is already a registered attendee of the hosting conference.
A person (or company) who is preparing and presenting the training course material to the students in attendance.
A person who is at the front of a the room for a workshop or training (term can apply to either situation). Hired and paid to be there because they are an expert in the field of knowledge being presented.

A generic term, and one that is typically unhelpful. As you can imagine, both Workshops and Trainings get called "classes" on web sites and in promotional materials. Saying that your conference will be "offering classes" can mean many different things to many different people. Asking trainers if they wish to "run a class" at your conference is also sometimes a recipe for miscommunication.

I have known conferences saying they feature "classes" when this has meant workshops. Other times this has meant training. Even at least once a conference referring to "classes" was attempting to convey that they offered a variety of speaking tracks with differing levels of advanced content.

As you can see from the above list, the greatest potential for confusion in the professional conference world pertains to "workshops" and "trainings" given that they are rather similar, at least in terms of their general descriptions. However, these are two very distinct concepts and a deeper understanding of these two terms reveals considerable differences between them. Let's see what we can do to further flesh out these two definitions.

Flexible, but usually a finite number of seats. Typically between 25 and 50, but I have given "workshops" for almost 100 people in the past.
Predefined, finite number. Conference and trainer are always aware of how the class is sizing up as registrations progress. I personally feel that trainings should not exceed 50 students. 25 is a more ideal max.
Two to three hours is typical. A half-day is certainly not uncommon. I have seen workshops that take a whole day, but this is very rare and I discourage this practice.
One full day at minimum. Two days is the most common length for a training class. Some trainings last four or five days, but these are very intense and often incorporate packages of smaller two-day trainings bundled together.
This is also flexible, but typically there should be one instructor for every 50 students.
There is less flexibility here. Each company and conference is free to set their own policies, but my company's policy is: 10 students or less = one instructor, 11 - 25 students = two instructors, beyond 25 students = additional instructors and official staff assistants brought in (or class is capped at 25 registrations)

Attendees can expect a little more dedicated learning than with a traditional briefing. Pacing gives time to dwell on key concepts a little more, and almost always there is room in the flow of the material for participants to try using tools or techniques right there, either with laptops or hands-on equipment. Q&A is not typically relegated to the end of the session, like with a briefing, but is encouraged throughout the workshop.

The instructor(s) sometimes step down from their podium and mingle among the rows of people from time to time, or they are presenting at floor level to begin with.


Attendees expect and deserve a much more dedicated level of interaction with the staff. The pace of the material being presented incorporates frequent break points during which time students attempt to execute specific activities and achieve specific goals. Interrupting the instructor with a question is encouraged at all times.

Instructors spend minimal time at a lectern or podium, opting instead to walk amongst the rows of students in order to ensure lots of direct attention for each person. Care is taken to ensure that all students are grasping and digesting the material.

Pre-registration is just as common as on-site sign-up for a workshop.
Pre-registration is far and away the most common arrangement, since the event and the trainers must plan for adequate materials.
Occasionally workshops are free, and at other times there is a fee of some kind. It is not usually very much money. In North America and Europe* most workshop fees that I have seen have been between $200 and $400 USD.
I have never participated in (or indeed even heard of) a training that was free. Trainings typically cost around $1000 USD per day (again, that's in North America and Europe*) and there is often some variation in price for early vs late registration, with day-of registration costing the most if it is offered.
Often there are some specialized materials present in the classroom for students to see and handle or try themselves. Rarely are there enough supplies for each person to make use of their own dedicated materials, and all equipment is collected back at the end of the session.
If there are any training materials (CDs, DVDs, printouts, tools, devices, etc) then there are enough present for each student to have his or her own complete set. Except in rare cases, students retain most or all of these materials at the end of the class. A full copy of the presentation is also typically given to the participants.
Workshop instructors are often paid a flat fee for their appearance and for their class. It is negotiated in advance and is paid in the amount agreed, regardless of class size or duration.

Trainers (either the individual instructors or the company offering the training) split the proceeds from student registration fees. A 50/50 split is the most traditional in the industry, but other ratios are certainly common. Sometimes it's 60/40 in favor of the conference, sometimes that same ratio is used but in favor of the trainers. Sometimes a flat per-head fee is paid to the trainers regardless of what registration fee (early or late price) was paid by each student.

Usually workshop instructors are also given the same compensation packages that conference speakers are offered in terms of covering the costs of travel and lodging.
Trainers often pay for their own travel and lodging costs. This is the reason for the split of the registration proceeds... the conference covers their costs (room rental, staff, promotion, coffee service, etc) from their share and the trainers cover their costs (travel, lodging, incidentals) from their share.

* pricing tends to vary greatly between different tech markets around the world. While North America and Europe often operate at similar price structures, events in Asia are often approximately 75% of the cost for similar content, and much of South America tends to see registration and training costs that are 50% or less the cost of similar offerings in the North. That's not a judgment on these communities' people or their economies outright... it's just the reality of the landscape. Don't like it? Then don't agree to speak or train outside of your financial comfort zone.


Point Two - Appearing as a Speaker vs Appearing as an Instructor/Trainer

It is not uncommon for persons appearing at a conference to fill multiple roles. Given the depth of their knowledge in whatever field is their specialty, it is typical that someone who is giving a Briefing/Presentation/Talk as a speaker will also be asked if they wish to offer a training course. This is a beneficial arrangement for the conference, because they are able to secure greater impact and more dissemination of knowledge from these notable figures. It is also beneficial for the speaker/instructor because they are able to travel to the event for free (as a speaker) while still earning revenue (as a trainer).

It is folly to assume that somehow a person who is participating in both roles does not deserve both kinds of benefits. On rare occasions, we have encountered conferences that wish to reduce the coverage of travel or lodging expenses because someone is a "trainer" and "trainers typically pay their own way." If someone is exclusively training and nothing more, this logic would apply. However, if someone is speaking or running a workshop for a conference, nothing else they are doing at that event should impact their receipt of any benefits and privileges that all other speakers are offered.

The one key point to remember here pertains to duration of hotel stay... if someone is speaking and training at the a conference, and if that conference covers hotel rooms for speakers but not for trainers, then this person should expect their room to be covered only for the same number of nights as the other speakers. They would likely be paying out of their own budget for any additional nights in the hotel.

One other key area where mixed benefits could also be seen as slightly limited pertains to conference admission. Speakers are always granted free admission to the hosting conference. Trainers are also usually offered the same benefit. However, if someone is acting in both roles, it is not common for them to receive two separate admission badges (with the aim of using their spare one for a second person). If two badges are bestowed (simply because the individual has a large badge collection or likes to proudly display all of the ways in which they are contributing to the event) then it is understood that these badges are not usually being given out for others' usage.

Suffice it to say, however, that if someone is performing double work for a conference, then it is hardly fair or appropriate for them to receive anything less than the benefits that they would if they were two separate people, one of whom was speaking and the other training.


One final note about Duties and Responsibilities...

Sometimes a conference will encourage trainers to promote their classes in advance of the event. Often, this discussion comes up in the context of registration numbers and expected rates of return. If a class has insufficient attendance, conferences will sometimes ask their trainers, "Well, how much promotion did you do?"

This is improper. While I have no problem with trainers who like to announce their upcoming events (Twitter is a common avenue for this, as are web pages and the occasional email) it should be understood that it is not the primary responsibility of the trainers to populate their classes with students. The trainers bring in students by being good trainers... that is, by being notable figures in their field and developing a reputation for solid content and good instructional ability. Predominantly, however, it is the responsibility of the conference to handle all marketing, promotion, and generate significant student interest. That and that alone is the reason that the hosting conference typically takes 50% of the gross revenues from student registrations.

When things are operating at the most efficient and appropriate level, both conference and trainer should be in routine contact with one another as the event nears. Starting six months in advance of the training, emails should pass between both parties every 4 to 6 weeks, indicating the number of current registrations. In all cases, there should be an agreed-upon minimum number of students at the time a training class is accepted into the schedule and if that number of students has not been reached when the date of the event is one month out, then either (or both) party can cancel the training class with no hard feelings and no one left holding the bag.