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I am unable get a clear idea about the difference between a conference and a symposium. The folllowing are the meanings of symposium and conference from www.dictionary.com. As we can see below there is no significant difference between these two. I am not getting clarity in the difference from either the below definitions or Google search. I have attended both conferences and symposiums in my field, but unable to find any difference. Could someone provide me a clear-cut difference between these two (atleast theoretically)?

Symposium: a meeting or conference for the discussion of some subject, especially a meeting at which several speakers talk on or discuss a topic before an audience.

Conference: a meeting for consultation or discussion: a conference between a student and his adviser

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Using the OALD for definitions, a symposium is:

a meeting at which experts have discussions about a particular subject; a small conference

A conference is:

  1. a large official meeting, usually lasting for a few days, at which people with the same work or interests come together to discuss their views
  2. a meeting at which people have formal discussions

A symposium is usually used to describe a small conference on a single subject. For example, a series of lectures on a single day might be called a symposium.

A conference is usually large, possibly taking up many rooms in a hotel or a convention center. It usually takes up several days. It can also describe a single, small meeting--for example,

He was in conference with his lawyers all day.

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Thanks for the OALD link. – samarasa Sep 1 '11 at 23:35
@kkp: OALD usually includes many examples of usage for different words, so I find it helpful even as a native speaker. – simchona Sep 1 '11 at 23:36

A symposium is usually a whole day or even two-day affair including scholarly talks, dramatic rendering of poetry, musical interludes, and creative dance expressions--all evolving from a common theme. Recently, the genre of film has been added to a symposium.

A conference is the more conventional day-long meeting of scholars to deliver their research papers to a larger audience.

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A symposium is a bit like an academic conference involving scholars and researchers to present their findings.

A symposium can also be quite large in scale — one that I attended took a week and required hiring a multi-storied convention centre with many rooms because there are many sessions.

IMO — In a symposium there is a more narrowly defined topic for each session, and speakers make presentations of their work uninterrupted with questions asked later. A conference in its general sense could be people sharing their opinions alternately at the same time.

You will find that often symposium is preferable to the word conference in many scientific and engineering, i.e. technical settings.

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