The Differences Between a Seminar and a Conference

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Attendance at a seminar or conference is sometimes compulsory for work or school, and you can properly prepare for the scheduled meetings and discussions if you know what is involved for each. Seminars and conferences often seem like similar terms, but specific differences exist between the two types of events.


The focus of a seminar is to educate a specific group of people on a particular subject; for example, a seminar for medical professionals may revolve around teaching a new treatment method. The participants must come away from the seminar with the knowledge, so attendees' progress sometimes is tracked individually or as a team.

Conferences focus on a specific subject or field of subjects, but the goal is not necessarily to educate. Conferences are typically a means to showcase new theories, methods and techniques in a particular field or professional group.

Programs Offered

Seminars have programs that are similar to those taught in classrooms and even small, focused presentations for learning. Attendees must attend particular seminars and typically have the option to sign up for other related discussions.

Conferences have various offerings. The programs and presentations relate to the main theme, but talks, group discussions and even debates may be available. Attendees either sign up for specific activities or follow the presentations on a set schedule provided by the organizers.

Attendance Size and Reasons

Seminars, because of the learning nature of the experience, typically have a smaller number of attendees than conferences. The smaller sizes allow the presenter to handle more questions and follow the progress of the participants. Conferences commonly target multiple branches or groups in the same field -- such as a nursing conference reaching out to nurses all over the state -- and have a higher number of attendees.

Seminars mandated by an employer or supervising authority help employees learn new rules or methods and show compliance with local or state continuing education laws. Conferences often are rewards or earned distinctions for those attending but may be mandatory.


A workshop is similar to a seminar but tends to be more hands-on and less of a lecture than a traditional seminar. Some seminars blend elements of both a seminar and a workshop to encourage attendee focus and participation. Seminars done over the Internet are commonly referred to as webinars.

Conferences often include presentations on recent developments in the relevant field, and special keynote speakers -- experts or celebrities in the conference's subject matter -- present findings.

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