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Symposium vs. Panel Discussion: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 26, 2023
A symposium is a formal gathering for discussing particular subjects, often with expert speakers, while a panel discussion is a structured conversation on a specific topic by a group of experts in front of an audience.

Key Differences

A symposium is an academic or scholarly conference where experts present papers on various topics, emphasizing in-depth discussions. In contrast, a panel discussion involves a group of experts who discuss a topic in a more conversational style, often fielding questions from an audience.
Symposiums typically focus on detailed presentations by a few experts, allowing for extensive exploration of a subject. Panel discussions, however, rely on the interaction between several panelists, offering diverse perspectives on a single topic.
The format of a symposium often includes formal presentations followed by discussions, whereas a panel discussion is usually less formal and more interactive, engaging both the panelists and the audience in the dialogue.
In a symposium, the audience primarily listens and engages during designated Q&A sessions. On the other hand, in a panel discussion, audience engagement is more spontaneous and integral to the format.
Symposiums are often academic in nature, focusing on the dissemination of new research or in-depth analysis, while panel discussions are more commonly found in various settings, including academic, business, or public forums, and are focused on broader audience engagement.

Comparison Chart


Formal presentations followed by discussions
Interactive discussion among panelists

Audience Engagement

Primarily during Q&A sessions
Throughout the session


Academic and research-focused
Broader and often includes various sectors

Expertise Level

In-depth by a few experts
Diverse perspectives from multiple experts


Academic conferences, scholarly gatherings
Conferences, public forums, media events

Symposium and Panel Discussion Definitions


A gathering of experts to present and discuss their findings and theories.
The climate change symposium included a series of enlightening talks.

Panel Discussion

A moderated conversation among experts in front of an audience.
The panel discussion at the conference provided diverse viewpoints.


A formal discussion event, often with multiple speakers.
The symposium on renewable energy featured several industry leaders.

Panel Discussion

A group of experts assembled to discuss and debate a specific topic.
The panel discussion on renewable energy solutions drew a large audience.


A conference or meeting to discuss a specific scholarly topic.
The historical symposium focused on ancient civilizations.

Panel Discussion

A formal debate or discussion where panelists express their opinions.
The panel discussion on digital privacy raised several important issues.


A collection of essays or papers on a particular subject by various authors.
She contributed an article to the symposium on contemporary art.

Panel Discussion

A panel discussion is a structured conversation on a specific topic by a group of experts.
The panel discussion on urban planning was insightful and provocative.


A symposium is an academic meeting for discussing a particular subject.
The annual medical symposium attracted researchers from around the world.

Panel Discussion

An interactive session where panelists discuss topics and answer questions.
The live panel discussion was both informative and engaging.


A meeting or conference for discussion of a topic, especially one in which the participants form an audience and make presentations.


A collection of writings on a particular topic, as in a magazine.


A convivial meeting for drinking, music, and intellectual discussion among the ancient Greeks.


A conference or other meeting for discussion of a topic, especially one in which the participants make presentations.


A drinking party in Ancient Greece, especially one with intellectual discussion.


A collection of essays, articles or papers on a particular subject by a number of contributors.


A drinking together; a merry feast.


A collection of short essays by different authors on a common topic; - so called from the appellation given to the philosophical dialogue by the Greeks.


A meeting or conference for the public discussion of some topic especially one in which the participants form an audience and make presentations


What topics are covered in panel discussions?

Topics can range widely from technical, academic subjects to current social issues.

What is a symposium?

A formal gathering for in-depth discussion on specific subjects, often academic.

How does a symposium differ from a conference?

A symposium is more focused on specific topics with in-depth discussions, while a conference may have broader themes.

What is a panel discussion?

A structured conversation among experts on a topic, typically in front of an audience.

Can anyone attend a symposium?

Attendance often depends on the event, but many symposiums are open to relevant professionals or students.

Who typically organizes symposiums?

Universities, research institutions, and professional organizations often organize symposiums.

Can symposiums lead to publications?

Yes, symposiums often result in the publication of papers or collected essays on the discussed topics.

How are panelists for a discussion chosen?

Panelists are usually experts in the field, selected for their knowledge and perspective on the topic.

What skills are needed to moderate a panel discussion?

Good moderation requires skills in time management, public speaking, and subject knowledge.

Can panel discussions be part of a larger event?

Yes, they are often featured within conferences, workshops, or conventions.

How important is the role of the moderator in a panel discussion?

The moderator is crucial for guiding the conversation and ensuring a productive discussion.

Is audience participation common in symposiums?

It's common during designated Q&A sessions but less so during presentations.

Are symposiums typically single or multi-day events?

They can be either, depending on the scope and number of topics.

What is the primary goal of a symposium?

To delve deeply into specific subjects and share expert knowledge.

Can online events be considered panel discussions?

Yes, online formats are increasingly popular for panel discussions.

Do symposiums usually charge an attendance fee?

This varies, but many academic symposiums do have registration fees.

Are panel discussions interactive?

Yes, they often involve audience questions and interactive dialogue.

Do symposiums have a formal structure?

Yes, they typically follow a formal agenda with scheduled presentations and discussions.

Do panel discussions require preparation from attendees?

While not required, some preparation can enhance understanding and participation.

Can students organize symposiums?

Yes, student-led symposiums are common in academic settings.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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