What is a Symposium?

What is a Symposium?” – a question received from my mom after recently telling her of the events I’d been attending over the last several months. She was not interested in the book definition, but an explanation in my own words. This is what I came up with:

Good question. I’m not entirely sure of the “book definition” myself, but I can describe my perception of the differences between these various events. (listed in increasing order of attendee participation)

Conference – Tends to be mostly individual speakers (or panels) to large audience event. Some question and answer (Q&A) time, but not much – very little attendee participation.

Symposium – A hybrid between Conference and Seminar. Some portions Conference like, other (breakout sessions) more like a Seminar.

Seminar – Mostly smaller groups, led by a subject matter expert or panel, many opportunities for attendee participation.

Workshop – Much like a Seminar, but with a very focused objective. All attendees participate and the goal is to produce something (a recommendation or a report) that will be used for someone else to make a decision or change policy.

Those are not “book definitions” but my perspective based on attending all of the above at one time or another. 

Because I wanted to put it in my own words, based upon my perceptions, I purposefully did not look for any formal definitions.

Are those summaries accurate?  How would you explain the differences between the various venues?


About @subbob
Launched an innovative business development and marketing solutions company in July 2011 after a 25 year career in government service. In 2005 our family completed a goal of visiting all of the lower 48 States; up next, adding Alaska and Hawaii to complete the list.

4 Responses to What is a Symposium?

  1. A symposium is more interactive between the academic group and the students. As opposed to a presentation, a symposium lets the interested party query about various interests.

  2. thoughtspray says:

    Ultimate Toronto – Thanks for the additional clarification.

  3. student says:

    is a symposium like a debate?? i’m a student and it is being held in my school…so is it like a debate?

  4. I am co-organiser of a conference including speakers, workshops, pamper tasters, and an exhibition. We called it a Fibromyalgia Conference & Pamper Weekend? – Maybe I should have named it a conference and seminar or symposium ? and pamper.. Ideas welcome altho it is a bit late now as the event is April 23/26 and we have almost sold out of accommodation regardless of the name. But it would be interesting to hear your ideas for the future…Kind regards and fibro hugs – Jeanne.

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