5 min read

Symposium vs. Conference: What’s Best for Your Brand?

Written by
Len Gauger
Published on
February 28, 2024

Conferences and symposiums are both platforms for experts in a specific field to gather, exchange knowledge, and share ideas. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have significant differences. Find out which type of event is best for your brand.

Why Your Language Matters

Understanding what differentiates conferences and symposiums is crucial for effective business event planning and execution, whether you’re hosting an in-person or virtual event. Using the right terminology plays an important role in setting expectations for attendees and streamlining the organizational process for corporate events. 

Conferences are large gatherings, sometimes hosting thousands of attendees, that last for several days and explore a wide range of topics and themes throughout different sessions, such as workshops, presentations, and expert panels. They’re considered more formal, with limited input from attendees. However, conferences usually provide opportunities for attendees to participate in smaller group discussions and engage with a larger audience through interactive sessions.

In contrast, symposiums are smaller in size and typically last one day. These professional symposiums concentrate on a central topic and promote informal discussions between attendees and hosts. With experts presenting their data and findings, symposiums offer valuable insights in a collaborative environment.

We provide valuable insights on the two formats to help event organizers make informed decisions about choosing the right type of event for their brand. 

5 Key Differences Between Conferences and Symposiums 

Here are the key characteristics that differentiate a symposium from a conference:

1. Purpose and Scope

Symposiums maintain a narrow focus on a single topic, allowing presenters to delve deeply into their area of expertise. Presenters share their research findings, data analysis, and insights during presentations, and panel discussions allow attendees to ask questions and engage in further dialogue. Networking sessions facilitate connections among attendees, fostering collaboration and idea exchange.

Conferences cover a broader spectrum of topics, accommodating diverse interests and disciplines. Presenters address various subjects through breakout sessions, panel discussions, and Q&A forums. With multiple sessions running concurrently, attendees can choose topics of interest and engage in discussions with like-minded individuals. Breakout sessions and business workshops encourage collaboration and brainstorming, allowing attendees to explore new ideas and perspectives before reconvening with the larger group.

2. Size and Scale

Symposiums host smaller groups of attendees compared to conferences, which encourages meaningful interactions between attendees and presenters. With fewer participants, everyone has the opportunity to actively engage and share their thoughts or questions.

In contrast, conferences attract larger crowds, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands. Whether in-person or virtually, conferences have the capacity to accommodate a diverse audience. Conferences are larger in scale and offer opportunities for attendees to join various sessions and networking events, albeit in a more structured environment.

3. Duration and Frequency

Symposiums are typically shorter, usually lasting one day. They also occur less frequently, focusing on concentrated discussions within a condensed time frame.

Conferences usually last several days—sometimes up to a week—and may occur annually or biennially. With the ability to accommodate a more extensive agenda, conferences offer attendees the chance to delve deeper into discussions and participate in workshops and networking activities over the course of several days.

4. Target Audience

Symposiums assemble experts and enthusiasts who are deeply invested in specific topics, facilitating in-depth discussions and exchanges within a specialized community. Their focused nature encourages profound interaction among participants.

Conferences bring together professionals from diverse fields, offering a broad spectrum of topics for interdisciplinary networking and knowledge sharing. With a multitude of sessions covering various subjects, they provide ample opportunities for learning and professional growth.

5. Organization

Choosing an engaging subject to center the symposium around is the first step to take. Once the topic is chosen, event planners can identify relevant presenters with valuable insights or new research to share. Budgeting is the next consideration to ensure that expenses align with the event's scope and objectives. It’s crucial to include a detailed docket in the invitations to prospective attendees, and post-event surveys are vital to gathering feedback to improve future symposiums.

Similar to symposiums, conferences require strategic planning. Event organizers must determine the duration of the conference, the number of speakers, and the range of topics to be covered. Securing guest speakers and choosing an appropriate venue are also important for a successful conference. Like symposiums, post-event surveys are invaluable for gathering feedback.

Benefits and Downside of Conferences vs Symposiums

Every event has advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the pros and cons helps organizers choose the right type of format for audience engagement strategies and event technology solutions.

Benefits of Conferences

Attendees have the chance to learn about novel research, technologies, and best practices through presentations, workshops, and exhibitions. Segmenting the audience according to their backgrounds and needs allows for targeted communication and engagement. Participants benefit from mutual support and personal interactions during idea exchanges, creating a sense of community and camaraderie. Conferences also cover a wide range of topics and themes, allowing attendees to explore diverse interests and stay updated on industry conferences trends.

Downsides of Conferences

The large scale of conferences can be overwhelming, making it challenging to navigate sessions and connect with specific individuals. Due to the sheer number of attendees, opportunities for meaningful interaction and engagement may be limited.

Benefits of Symposiums

Symposiums offer attendees access to specialized knowledge, research findings, and insights. Since symposiums are often shorter, they require less time commitment compared to conferences, making them more accessible to busy professionals. 

Concentrating on a specific topic or theme allows for in-depth discussions and exploration within a narrow area of interest. With a smaller number of attendees, symposiums provide the best setting for fostering closer connections and collaborations.

Downsides of Symposiums

Symposiums may have less exposure to a broader audience compared to conferences, potentially limiting the impact and reach of the event. With fewer participants, networking opportunities may be limited, especially for those seeking connections outside of their immediate field. 

Since symposiums are smaller events with fewer attendees, people with different backgrounds, experiences, or viewpoints may be underrepresented. This means that discussions and interactions might not include as many diverse perspectives or ideas.

The Bottom Line

Both symposiums and conferences offer valuable opportunities for knowledge exchange and professional development. While symposiums provide a focused environment for in-depth discussions and expertise exchange within a specific topic, conferences give attendees a broader platform for exploring diverse subjects and connecting with a larger audience. 

Book a demo with Connect Space to find out how to promote attendee networking with our matchmaking app.


What is more cost-effective for startups: a symposium or a conference?

For startups, symposiums tend to be more cost-effective compared to conferences. Symposiums involve fewer attendees and typically last only one day, significantly reducing venue, catering, and logistical expenses. The focused nature of symposiums also allows for deeper engagement on niche topics relevant to the startup’s industry, maximizing the value of the investment.

What are the best practices for engaging attendees at a symposium?

Engaging attendees at a symposium effectively involves creating interactive sessions, such as Q&A rounds, live debates, and panel discussions. Facilitate networking opportunities and schedule informal meet-ups to encourage personal interactions. Providing digital platforms for continuous engagement and feedback can also enhance participant experience and involvement.

How does a matchmaking platform enhance attendee experience?

A matchmaking platform can significantly enhance the attendee experience by connecting participants with similar interests and objectives. These platforms use algorithms to recommend potential networking and business matches, thereby facilitating meaningful conversations and collaborations. This targeted interaction not only maximizes the event’s utility but also increases attendee satisfaction and retention.

How to attract high-profile speakers to your business event?

Attracting high-profile speakers involves offering them clear value, such as exposure to a relevant audience and opportunities to enhance their personal or organizational branding. Customize your invitation to their interests and achievements, provide logistical support, and ensure they understand the impact their presence could have. Offering incentives like honorariums or coverage of travel expenses can also be persuasive.

How To Network At A Symposium Or A Conference?

Effective networking at symposiums and conferences requires a proactive approach. Prepare in advance by reviewing the attendee list and setting goals for connections you want to make. Utilize breaks and social gatherings to initiate conversations. Follow up promptly after the event with personalized messages to strengthen new relationships and convert brief meetings into lasting connections.

Len Gauger


Len Gauger is the innovative founder and CEO of Connect Space. Gauger has an impressive background, previously serving as an analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense. He showcases a unique blend of entrepreneurial spirit, strategic vision, and a knack for tech innovation. His diverse experiences have equipped him to effectively lead Connect Space, an events management platform company based in the bustling tech startup environment of Ann Arbor.