Congress: Regular coming together on a representational basis of several hundred — or even thousands — of individuals belonging to a single professional, cultural, religious, or other groups. A congress is often convened to discuss a particular subject. Contributions to the presentation and discussion of the subject matter come only from members of the organizing body. Frequency: usually established in advance and can be either multiannual or annual. Most international or world congresses are of the former type while national congresses are more frequently held annually. A congress will often last several days and have several simultaneous sessions.
Conference: Participatory meetings designed for discussion, fact-finding, problem-solving, and consultation. As compared with a congress, a conference is normally smaller in scale and more select in character — features which tend to facilitate the exchange of information. The term “conference” carries no special connotation as to frequency. Though not inherently limited in time, conferences are usually of limited duration with specific objectives.
A conference (also known as a congress) is usually much broader in focus than a symposium. Conferences often cover multiple themes or topics within a field and may bring together interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners. Sometimes, because their subject is so broad, conferences have distinct tracks (like mini-conferences) contained within them. As a result, a conference would typically be much larger than a symposium. For example, some international conferences run for a week and have thousands of presenters.
Symposium: A symposium generally has a much narrower focus than research or academic conference. Often an event like this will cover just one topic, so symposia are often smaller and shorter than your average conference.
As sharing a name with a drinking party would suggest, a symposium is usually structured to spark more conversation than the typical conference. Often the papers presented at a symposium are discussed in a panel format, with the intention of eliciting recommendations from the audience or the other speakers on the issues at hand. (So the much-bemoaned sage on the stage isn’t usually a feature.)
Symposium presenters are often experts in their field. And sometimes symposia are used to fuel international and cross-disciplinary communication by bringing together scientists and practitioners to present and discuss their latest work and future plans.
Unlike at a traditional conference, symposium submissions are reviewed — and rejected or accepted — in a group. We’ll cover more on this later, as it makes a pretty big difference when you’re submitting to or organizing a symposium.