What’s the Difference Between a Symposium and a Seminar?

18.07.2023

What’s the Difference Between a Symposium and a Seminar?

Symposiums and seminars are both popular formats for knowledge-sharing and professional development, but they differ in their purpose, structure, and scope. Understanding the differences between the two types will help you decide which is most suitable for the needs of your company or the organisation you work for.

In this blog post we will shine a light on both, outline their key differences, and discuss the different tools you may find beneficial if you are planning either.

What is a symposium?

Symposiums are organised, often large-scale meetings, that bring together experts, researchers, practitioners, and professionals. The purpose of a symposium is to discuss and exchange knowledge, research findings, and insights on a particular topic or theme.

The central theme or topic of discussion is always focused. For example, a marketing company may hold a symposium about customer experience and journey mapping, or emerging trends. In contrast, an e-commerce organisation could focus a symposium on cross-border expansion or logistics and fulfilment.

Symposium format overview

Symposiums can be highly engaging due to the different segments that make up the overall meeting. Not every symposium is the same but there are typically:

  • Presentations or lectures
  • Panel discussions
  • Breakaway meetings
  • Research sharing groups
  • Networking opportunities
  • Audience engagement

With so much for attendees to get involved with, symposia can vary in duration, ranging from a single day to several days, depending on the scope and scale of what needs to be covered. Multiple sessions and parallel tracks may be scheduled to accommodate a wide range of presentations and topics.

The best tools for holding a symposium

It goes without saying that if you’re running part of a symposium, presentation and audio equipment is key. However, don’t forget the following essentials:

  • Note-taking materials – supplying pens and pads for attendees encourages active engagement and allows participants to jot down key information.
  • Name tags and badges - helps facilitate networking, allows participants to address each other by name, and enhances overall engagement.
  • Display boards - the Nobo Move & Meet collaboration system has a noticeboard surface to display research and data in smaller groups.
  • Mobile whiteboard or flipchart - versatile tool for presenters to illustrate concepts, brainstorm ideas, or engage in impromptu discussions with attendees.
  • Signage and banners – provides attendees with essential information and create a cohesive and professional atmosphere.

You can create a well-organized and engaging symposium that fosters collaboration, knowledge sharing, and a positive attendee experience with the right tools. Remember to consider the logistics, venue requirements, and the specific needs of your symposium slot when deciding which tools to use.

What is a seminar?

Seminars are typically thought of as a teaching tool in higher education. However, did you know that seminars are also used in the world of work? In a professional setting a seminar is used to provide a structured education or training session for employees. They are designed to enhance knowledge, skills, and competencies related to a particular subject matter relevant to the attendees' work or professional development.

Seminar format overview

The format of a seminar can vary depending on the specific objectives, duration, and audience of the meeting. However, as a general outline the following will take place:

  • Seminar introduction
  • Presentations
  • Interactive sessions
  • Practical exercises or workshops
  • Summary and closing comments

Seminars often offer the opportunity for professional development or certifications, allowing attendees to fulfil their continuing education requirements or demonstrate their commitment to ongoing learning and skill enhancement.

They can vary in length, ranging from a few hours to multiple days. Seminars are typically condensed and intensive, aiming to deliver a significant amount of information and practical insights within a relatively short timeframe.

The best tools for holding a seminar

Given the more intimate nature of a seminar (or seminar slot) there are a number of tools that can be useful for organising and enhancing the experience for attendees. If you are presenting or holding a workshop or interactive task as part of a seminar you may want to consider utilising:

  • A projector and a screen - essential for displaying presentations, videos, or other visual content if you have a larger audience.
  • Microphone and sound system – depending on the size of your seminar slot and the activity you want to ensure clear and audible communication.
  • Whiteboard and markers - used for visual aids, illustrating concepts, or facilitating impromptu discussions or brainstorming sessions.
  • Laser pointer - handy if you want to highlight specific points or details on slides or visual aids during your presentation.
  • Timer or stopwatch - helps you manage your presentation or task time effectively and stay within the allocated time limits.
  • Flipchart pad and flipchart easel - an additional visual medium for presenters to write or draw ideas, diagrams, or key takeaways during the seminar.
  • Handouts and printed materials – perfect for attendees to take away with them for further reading after your seminar slot.

Nobo flipchart easel in seminar session

Uncovering the key differences between symposiums and seminars

The main difference between a symposium and a seminar lies in their overall purpose, format, and scope. Here are the key distinctions:

Purpose

A symposium brings together experts to present and discuss a specific topic or theme. It emphasizes the exchange of knowledge, research findings, and insights among participants.

In contrast, a seminar is more focused and interactive, typically used for training or professional development. They encourage skill-building, knowledge transfer, and active engagement among a smaller group of participants.

Format

Symposia often feature a series of presentations, panel discussions, and breakaway meetings. They may span multiple sessions or days, allowing participants to attend the sessions that align with their interests.

Seminars typically involve a single session or a series of closely related meetings, often in smaller groups. They prioritise interaction, active participation, and engagement between the attendees. Seminars often include discussions, question-and-answer sessions, and practical exercises.

Expertise

Symposiums are often championed for their inclusive nature. Companies tend to invite all employees to in-house symposia as they foster interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration among experts and practitioners. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to your role or an expert, everyone is welcome.

On the other hand, seminars are structured to suit a specific expertise level. This can be for beginners, intermediate learners, or advanced professionals, providing education and training that aligns with their specific needs.

Scope

Symposiums, whilst undoubtedly having a core topic, attract a more diverse audience. Typically, a wide range of topics are covered that relate to the overarching theme.

As seminars target a specific level of expertise the range of topics is often much narrower.

Overall, symposia focus on knowledge exchange and comprehensive discussion on a specific topic, whereas seminars are more intimate meetings designed for skill-building and targeted personal development. Symposia are a solution for broader perspectives whereas seminars are more suited to learning environments where interaction between participants is required.

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