Even to some English speakers, our language is very confusing at times. Nearly always, there are several words with similar meanings. Let’s look at the number of different words used to describe an appointment with others, from a single person to hundreds or even thousands.
An ordinary, average, everyday meeting.
This can be a casual or formal event involving two or more people. There’s no formally recognised upper limit for the number who attend. Meetings are usually held among people with common interests, in pursuit of their mutual objectives.
Bringing staff members together for a briefing or to announce company news is often called a staff meeting. Sometimes they can help to resolve conflicts, such as when the management team meets with staff association members.
Engineers, architects and technical crews attend site meetings, which are usually held in a temporary office on a construction or development site.
In an organisation managed by a committee, a sports club for example, committee meetings are held regularly to discuss matters relating to the efficient management of their activities.
At status meetings, sometimes called progress meetings, members of a project team come together to report back on the development of their work.
To encourage innovative thinking, a brainstorming meeting is one where participants are encouraged to share unusual ideas and suggestions in an effort to break free from normal problem solving routines.
When large numbers of people meet, it’s usually called a conference.
Conference comes from the verb ‘confer’, meaning to have discussions and share opinions. They’re usually bigger and more formally structured than regular meetings.
Some of the most common examples: news conference where members of the press, tv and radio are invited to a news announcement, followed by questions.
New product launches often involve a media conference where product information is shared and often include demonstrations and displays.
Products and services are exhibited at a trade conference. Business people and sometimes the public meet industry representatives, and acquire information about the products on show. This is sometimes called a trade fair.
When several parties are simultaneously connected for a conversation by phone or Skype, this is known as a conference call.
Some conferences involve formal presentations, break out groups and workshops. At an academic conference, sometimes known as a professional conference, academics and professional practitioners come together to share their learning and experience.
Matters of interest to large numbers of business people are discussed and analysed at a business conference.
A conference hall is a room or group of buildings where conferences are held. A more modern term with the same meaning is conference centre.
Special interest groups often come together at conventions.
In a few cases, this word can replace conference. A business convention or a trade convention is understood to be the same as a conference, but I prefer to use convention to describe mass gatherings such as political convention, sports convention and religious convention.
Highly focused meetings of experts usually happen in seminars…
In its true and original sense, a seminar is an academic discussion where groups of delegates discuss a range of subjects. It is usually led by an instructor or facilitator and is often sponsored by a university or commercial organization or association.
In a general business use, the word may be applied to a small conference of specialists examining subjects like the future role of social media in business strategy, refinements in staff recruitment by algorithm applications, the aerotropolis as a feature of logistics development and so on.
… or on a smaller scale, in symposia.
A symposium was, in Ancient Greece, a meeting of philosophers and other academics and was as much a social occasion as it was concerned with serious matters of the individual’s role in society. Today, a symposium is a smaller-scale conference, usually of academics discussing a single subject during an event lasting a single day. Not commonly used in business except, perhaps, when discussing business science or business economics. And, unlike in Ancient Greece, not likely to be accompanied by sagging tables of food and wine.
Many organisations involve themselves mostly or even exclusively in ordinary, average everyday meetings. But, as the search for greater learning, expanded networks and techniques for innovation continues, expect specialised meetings where experts gather to become increasingly necessary.