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How Are Conferences and Meetings Different? (Practical Examples)

Published
March 11, 2024
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5
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Last updated
March 18, 2024
Anika Jahin
How Are Conferences and Meetings Different? (Practical Examples)
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The professional world thrives on connections and sharing knowledge. Conferences and meetings provide opportunities to collaborate and learn, enabling professionals to stay up-to-date on industry developments.

But with overflowing calendars and limited time, a critical question arises for both attendees and organizers: conferences vs meetings – which event format best serves your goals?

To make informed decisions, it's important to understand the differences between conferences and meetings. Are you an attendee seeking the most impactful event to invest your time in? Or perhaps you're an organizer assigned with designing a gathering that promotes engagement and achieves specific outcomes.

By exploring the characteristics of conferences and meetings through practical examples, we'll help you determine when each format suits you the best.

What Is a Conference?

Conferences are large gatherings of individuals who share a common interest in a specific field or particular subject. They are typically educational events designed to foster professional development and knowledge sharing among attendees.

Unlike meetings, which generally are held in-house, conferences can occur in various locations such as convention centers, hotels, universities, or other generally leading venues. The venue selection depends on the event's scale and purpose.

Key Characteristics of Conferences

Formal gatherings: Conferences tend to have a more formal atmosphere compared to meetings, reflected in the dress code, presentation style, and overall structure of the event.

Conferences often feature breakout sessions. Breakout sessions are smaller group discussions focused on specific topics within the broader theme of the event.

Invited talks, keynote speakers: Renowned experts in the field are often invited to deliver keynote speeches or participate in panel discussions, sharing their insights and expertise in a particular subject with the audience.

Networking opportunities: Conferences provide valuable opportunities for attendees to connect with peers, industry professionals, and potential collaborators. These connections can be established through networking events, social gatherings, or informal interactions during breaks.

Conferences are typically held over multiple days or weeks, allowing for in-depth exploration of topics, extensive networking, and engagement in various conference activities. This extended duration sets them apart from meetings, which are usually shorter gatherings focused on specific agendas.

Types of Conferences

Professional or Academic Conferences: These cater to researchers, scholars, and professionals in various fields, providing a platform for presenting research findings, sharing insights, and engaging in intellectual discussions.

Business Conferences: Business conferences, also known as corporate conferences, focus on specific industries or sectors. This allows professionals to exchange ideas on particular subjects, showcase products or services, and explore potential collaborations or partnerships.

Conferences for Students: These are tailored to students and young professionals, offering opportunities to learn, network, and gain exposure in their respective fields of study or interest.

What Is a Meeting?

In contrast to conferences, meetings are smaller gatherings of individuals typically belonging to the same organization or team. They are focused on discussing specific topics, making decisions, or achieving a particular outcome.

While meetings can cover a broad range of topics, they generally have a more focused agenda compared to the broader themes explored in conferences.

Key Characteristics of Meetings

Formal or informal setting: Meetings can range from a formal gathering with a set agenda and presentations to informal brainstorming sessions or catch-up discussions. Formal meetings normally have a predefined objective.

Smaller group size: One of the key differences between conferences and meetings is that meetings typically involve a smaller group of participants, often ranging from a handful of individuals to a few dozen. This allows for more focused discussions and active participation from all attendees.

Specific agenda and goals: Meetings typically have a well-defined agenda outlining the topics to discuss and the desired outcomes. 

Regularly held: Meetings can be held on a regular basis, such as weekly or monthly, to provide a platform for ongoing communication, progress updates, and collaborative decision-making. 

Types of Meetings:

The specific format and purpose of a meeting can vary depending on the context. Here are some common types of meetings:

Team meetings: These meetings bring together team members to discuss ongoing projects, share updates, collaborate on tasks, and agenda on team building.

Staff meetings: Managers typically hold these meetings to communicate information to employees, address concerns, and provide feedback.

Board meetings: Board meetings are formal meetings involve the board of directors of an organization and are used to discuss strategic decisions, financial performance, and governance issues.

Client meetings: These meetings are held with clients to discuss projects, address concerns, and build relationships.

Conference vs. Meeting: Key Differences

Now that we've delved into the individual characteristics of conferences and meetings, it's time to unravel the key differences that set them apart.

Understanding these distinctions empowers you to make informed decisions about which event format best suits your needs, whether as an organizer or an attendee.

Here's a breakdown of the key differences:

(1) Purpose and Scope

Conferences are primarily focused on knowledge sharingprofessional development, and fostering networking opportunities within a specific field or industry. They often explore broader themes and diverse perspectives.

Meetings geared towards achieving specific goals, making decisions, or discussing specific topics relevant to a particular group or organization. They typically have a narrower scope and focus on achieving tangible outcomes.

(2) Size and Formality

Conferences generally involve larger gatherings, ranging from hundreds to thousands of attendees, and often have a more formal atmosphere with a set agenda, presentations, and designated venues.

Meetings typically involve smaller groups, often ranging from a few individuals to a few dozen, and can vary in formality depending on the context. They can be formal with a set agenda or informal brainstorming sessions.

(3) Frequency and Duration

Conferences are typically held less frequently. A conference can extend from a few days to a week or even longer to accommodate presentations, workshops, and networking events.

Meetings can be held regularly, such as weekly or monthly.

Depending on the situation, they usually last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours.

(4) Participation

Conferences often involve diverse participants from different organizations and backgrounds, fostering broader interaction and knowledge exchange.

Meetings typically involve individuals from the same organization or team, facilitating focused discussions and collaborative decision-making.

(5) Location

Both conferences and meetings can be held virtually or on-site, but their typical settings often differ.  

Conferences are often larger events held in convention centers, hotels, or other venues. This allows them to accommodate a broader audience and feature breakout sessions held in separate rooms. On-site conferences leverage the physical space to foster networking opportunities and create a more immersive learning experience.

Meetings are smaller, in-house gatherings held in conference rooms or dedicated workspaces. This facilitates a more intimate environment for focused discussions and team collaboration.

Focus on In-Person Events:  It's important to note that while virtual conferences are becoming increasingly popular, this guide primarily focuses on the characteristics of on-site conferences and meetings. 

Choosing the Right Event Format

Considering these key differences, you can determine whether a conference or a meeting aligns best with your objectives. A conference might be the ideal choice if you aim to gain broad knowledge in a specific field, network with professionals, and engage in diverse perspectives.

In contrast, a meeting would be more appropriate if you need to discuss specific topics, make decisions, or collaborate with a smaller group.

Ultimately, both conferences and meetings serve valuable purposes in facilitating communication, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. By understanding their distinct characteristics and fundamental differences, you can optimize your participation and maximize the benefits of each event format.

Tips for Running Successful Meetings and Conferences

Whether you're organizing a small team meeting or a large-scale conference, careful planning and execution are essential for a productive and engaging event. Here are some valuable tips to help you run successful meetings and conferences:

For Meetings

(1) Define a Clear Purpose and Agenda:

To ensure effective meetings, define clear objectives and create a detailed agenda with specific timeframes for each topic. Communicate the agenda beforehand to allow for focused discussions and avoid unnecessary tangents.

For further insights on crafting various effective meeting agendas (and a free template!), take a look at one of our previous blogs below:

(2) Invite the Right People:

Invite only those who are directly involved in the discussions or decision-making process relevant to the meeting's purpose. This keeps the meeting focused and efficient, allowing for in-depth discussions and collaborative problem-solving amongst the most relevant individuals.

(3) Start and End on Time:

Respect everyone's time. Stick to scheduled times and be professional. Communicate clearly if a meeting needs to go over time.

(4) Facilitate Active Participation:

Encourage all to contribute ideas and perspectives via collaborative tools. Ask open-ended questions that spark discussion and listen actively to different viewpoints. This fosters inclusion, leverages collective knowledge, and leads to creative solutions.

(5) Take Clear and Actionable Notes:

Assign someone to take clear and concise meeting minutes that capture key decisions, next steps, and action items. Rather than relying solely on manual note-taking, consider using a virtual note-taking tool like Wudpecker to ensure comprehensive and accurate capture, both for on-site and online meetings. 

(6) Follow Up: 

Don't let the meeting end without a clear plan for the future. Share the minutes after the meeting to ensure everyone is informed about outcomes and their responsibilities.

For Conferences

(1) Establish Clear Goals and Objectives:

Before planning your conference, determine the desired outcomes for attendees. What knowledge, skills, or connections do you want them to gain? Clear goals will guide your decisions and ensure a valuable conference.

(2) Select a Suitable Location and Venue:

Choose an easily accessible location and venue that can accommodate the expected number of attendees and planned activities. Consider factors like audio-visual equipment, internet connectivity, and accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

(3) Develop a Compelling Agenda:

Offer a mix of keynote speeches, panel discussions, and workshops that cater to your audience's interests. Tailor the content to your industry and provide value for attendees of all experience levels.

(4) Secure Engaging Speakers and Presenters:

Invite knowledgeable and passionate experts with strong communication skills to keep the audience engaged. Consider their presentation style and ability to bring value to the conference experience.

(5) Promote the Event Effectively:

To promote your conference, use various marketing channels - both online (social media, email marketing) and offline (print media, industry publications). Create compelling promotional materials that highlight the value proposition of the conference, including the speakers, agenda, and unique benefits for attendees.

(6) Manage Logistics Efficiently:

Create a system to handle logistics of the conference such as registration, accommodation, catering, AV setup, etc. Develop a clear process for each aspect to ensure a smooth experience for attendees.

Conclusion

Successful meetings and conferences require planning, execution, and engagement. Understanding the differences between these formats, following tips, and using resources can help you achieve your goals.

Whether your goal is to facilitate focused discussions and decision-making within a team or to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and professional development on a larger scale, remember that successful events are built on clear objectives, efficient logistics, and an engaging experience for all participants.

By implementing these principles, you can transform your meetings and conferences into valuable experiences that drive collaboration, spark innovation, and leave a lasting positive impression on everyone involved.

FAQs

What Is the Difference Between a Conference Call and a Meeting?

While both involve communication and information exchange, there are key differences:

Format: Meetings typically involve in-person gatherings, while conference calls are conducted remotely via phone or video conferencing software.

Interaction: Meetings often allow for more interaction and collaboration through body language, facial expressions, and real-time discussions. Conference calls can limit non-verbal cues and require more intentional facilitation to ensure active participation.

Suitability: Meetings are well-suited for brainstorming, complex discussions, and building rapport. Conference calls can be effective for quick updates, status reports, and communication across geographical distances.

What Is the Difference Between a Conference and a Meetup?

Both conferences and meetups bring people together, but they differ in scale, focus, and structure:

Scale: Conferences are usually larger events with hundreds or even thousands of attendees, while Meetups are smaller, typically ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred people.

Focus: Conferences often have a broader scope and focus on a specific industry or field, while meetups often cater to a more niche topic or interest group and provide a platform for casual learning and networking.

Structure: Conferences typically have a formal structure with scheduled presentations, workshops, and networking events. Meetups can be more informal, with open discussions, guest speakers, or hands-on activities depending on the organizers' preferences.

What Is the Difference Between Conference and Convening?

The terms "conference" and "convening" are often used interchangeably, but there can be subtle differences:

  • Emphasis: "Conference" generally emphasizes the gathering itself and the exchange of information through presentations and discussions.
  • Nuance: "Convening" can sometimes have a broader connotation, suggesting the act of bringing people together for a specific purpose, which might not always involve the formal structure of a traditional conference.

What Is the Difference Between a Meeting Room and a Conference Room?

While both are spaces for gatherings, they may differ in size and features:

  • Size: Meeting rooms are typically smaller, accommodating a handful of people to a few dozen, while conference rooms are larger and can hold larger groups of attendees.
  • Features: Conference rooms may have additional features like audio-visual equipment, presentation screens, and video conferencing capabilities to facilitate larger presentations and discussions. Meeting rooms might have simpler setups with basic furniture and whiteboards.
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How Are Conferences and Meetings Different? (Practical Examples)
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How Are Conferences and Meetings Different? (Practical Examples)
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