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A symposium is a formal gathering in an academic setting where participants are experts in their fields. These experts present or deliver their opinions or viewpoints on a chosen topic of discussion. It would be correct to label a symposium as a small scale conference as the number of delegates is smaller. There are the usual discussions on the chosen topic after the experts have presented their speeches. The chief characteristic of a symposium is that it covers a single topic or subject and all the lectures given by experts are completed in a single day.
Symposium is a bit casual in nature, and there is not much pressure on the delegates to perform or present lectures in the best possible manner as is the case in other academic events. There are lunch breaks, tea, snacks etc to break the ice further.
Conference refers to a formal meeting where participants exchange their views on various topics. Conference can take place in different fields, and it need not be academic in nature all the time. Thus, we have parent teacher conferences, sport conferences, a trade conference, a conference of journalists, conference of doctors, a conference of research scholars, and so on. A conference is a meeting that has been prearranged and involves consultation and discussion on a number of topics by the delegates.
A conference is on a large scale with a large number of participants though a conference can take place between just two people, the student and his instructor. In general though, a conference refers to a meeting of lots of people coming from different places at the conference venue and discussing their views on a number of topics. A conference stretches over a period of few days with formal discussions taking place on chosen days and according to the agenda of the conference.
A Seminar is a form of academic instruction, either at a university or offered by a commercial or professional organization. It has the function of bringing together small groups for recurring meetings, focusing each time on some particular subject, in which everyone present is requested to actively participate. The Instructor has prepared the concepts and techniques they will present and discuss through a combination of visual materials, interactive tools or equipment, and demonstrations. It includes some take home material for the participants that relates to the lecture. A full laboratory phase is not a requirement.
A Workshop includes all the elements of the Seminar, but with the largest portion being emphasized on “hand-on-practice” or laboratory work. The Lab work is designed to reinforce, imprint and bring forward an immediate functioning dimension to the participant’s eye and hands by implementing and practicing the actual concept or technique that was taught through the lecture and demonstration process.