Generally the most generic term to suggest a conference for discussion – generally adopted by corporate and other institutions for their regularly scheduled meetings. It’s generally associated with the old style of presentation, which is, of course, printed documents followed by several questions. This is not really a bad idea, but it does take time. You can organize a better, more productive conference where people sit down together in a relaxed environment, and you need not spend so much time before the conference begins.
Traditional seminars and workshops tend to be very formal affairs. Even the smallest conference will usually have a pre-conception dinner or an opportunity for some quiet consultation between speakers and/or organizers. In contrast, most workshops and seminars tend to be more informal, and therefore lack the camaraderie associated with dinners and luncheons. The main difference between a seminar and a workshop is that the latter tends to be more interactive and lively, as opposed to the former. Most workshops are based on a specific topic, with the topics normally being presented in small segments to enable people to explore the subject easily and learn new things. Some of these segmented presentations also include some form of interaction between speakers and attendees.
There are a variety of other types of conference too. For example, there are scientific conferences, political conferences, international conferences, and various others. The key feature is the wide availability of different types of participants. If the conference is for an academic group, for example, there might be different types of scholars present, depending upon their discipline and nationality. If it’s a forum designed to bring about some social change, then of course, there will be a variety of people present, and they will be coming from a variety of different backgrounds and ethnicities.
Similarly, if the conference is for a layperson, then it will be attended by a bunch of people who are not primarily involved in the field of the conference. Usually the difference between a seminar and a symposium is that the former tends to be much more informal and less formal, as opposed to the latter, which is very formal and highly structured. Most seminars tend to focus on a specific topic and are quite lengthy, whereas symposia tend to be quite short, often ending on a note.
Another type of conference is the smaller group conference. These are usually to invite only a small group of people to participate. These types of conferences also tend to be more informal and have a shorter duration. Many times these types of conferences are breakfasts, lunches or dinners, where people can just relax and chat. They aren’t exactly a seminar in the strictest sense of the word.
Finally, there is the corporate seminar. These are usually very structured affairs, where a group of corporate executives come together for a few days to get together and bond over a specific problem or purpose. They typically revolve around a theme and are always focused on one issue. You can think of them as a more formal version of a business lunch or a work seminar. These are very effective when you need to bring together a large group of people who have a common agenda.