What is a conference? What does it mean, how does it differ from a meeting, what is it’s purpose and how does it work?


Hello! I’m Okawa from GP. Being in the event industry, I come into contact with a variety of English terms imported to the Japanese business scene, but I often have a hard time understanding what they mean. Moreover, these imported words often have different meanings depending on the industry, which can be confusing.

In this article, we will discuss the meaning of the confusing word “conference” and how it is used in different industries.

The meaning of “conference” varies considerably between the medical and nursing care industry, other business industries, and the sports industry. If you are related to any of these industries, please be sure to check the different meanings in this article.

What is a Conference?

“Conference” means “meeting” or “council” in English. Let’s look at the original meaning of “conference”. If you look up “conference” in the New English-Japanese Dictionary, you will find the following meaning.

Conference [noun]

1. conference, council 《synonym ⇒meeting》.

hold a conference.

2. consultation, conference

meet in conference.

3 athletic federations (of schools, professional basketball teams, sports clubs, etc.), leagues, conferences.

(Quoted from Kenkyusha New English-Japanese Dictionary)

Thus, the word originally meant “conference”, “council”, “federation”, or “alliance”. Its usage in Japan is basically in line with this meaning. However, the meaning of “conference” in Japan differs in detail depending on the industry, so if you only remember the Japanese translation of the word, you may misunderstand the meaning.

What industries is the term “Conference” often used in?

In Japan, “conference” is often used in the medical and nursing care industry, followed by the business industry and academia. Originally, the word was used mainly in the medical industry, but it has recently come to be used in the business industry as well.

Note that “conference” is also commonly used in the sports industry, but it is used in a completely different sense than in other industries.

Let’s take a look at the different meanings in different industries.

A ‘conference’ in the medical and healthcare industry is a ‘meeting’.

Currently, the word “conference” is most commonly used in Japan in the medical and nursing care industry. It has become so common in the industry that some people think it is a technical term for this particular field.

In the medical and nursing care industry, conference means “meeting”. In particular, it often refers to meetings of a small number of people (a few to several dozen at most), and is often used to mean “meetings” or “discussions” as in other industries. Conferences in this industry are basically attended only by those involved.

Conferences are also sometimes referred to as opportunities to explain treatment plans with patients or to discuss social reintegration prior to discharge from the hospital. Because of this wide range of meanings, when used in the medical industry, conferences are usually preceded by words that explain what the conference is about, such as “team conference”, “care conference”, “clinical pathology conference”, and so on.

In other business industries, a “conference” is simply a “large meeting”

Recently, the word “conference” has been heard more and more in the business industry. In this case, the word “conference” has a strong meaning of a “large scaled public meeting” attended by several hundred people or more. It is also used when dealing with highly specialized topics. The word “conference” is also used for smaller meetings, but in the business industry, smaller meetings are often referred to as “meetings,” so the word is chosen to refer to a larger, more event-like scale or an occasion for discussing important matters. Also, as in the medical and nursing care industries, it is common to put a word like “International” before the word “Conference” to indicate what the conference is about.

A “conference” in the academic field is an academic meeting.

In the academic field, the word “conference” is used to refer to a meeting for reporting and presenting the progress of research, a so-called “academic conference”. The word “academic society” can mean both an academic research organization and a research presentation meeting, but a conference refers only to a research presentation meeting. As in the business industry, conferences are usually large, highly specialized, and public meetings.

In the sports world, a “conference” is an “athletic federation”

The sports world uses the word “conference” in a completely different sense than we have discussed so far. In the sports world, a conference is more like an athletic federation than a meeting. In the U.S. and Canada, sports leagues consisting of schools at the same level in high school and university are called conferences. However, this usage is not so common in Japan.

Is there an abbreviation for Conference?

The word “conference” itself is rather long, so abbreviations such as “CF” are sometimes used. “CF” may not ring a bell, so it may be a good idea to keep it in mind.

How is a “conference” different from a “meeting” or a “discussion”?

When I hear the word “conference”, I think, “How is it different from a discussion?” Some of you may be thinking, “these three words are often used side by side, and it is easy to get confused”.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the term “conference”, “meeting”, and “discussion”.

(In Japan, the word “meeting” is not often used in the medical industry.)

Difference between “conference” and “meeting”

In the business industry, the key points that separate a “meeting” from a “conference” are the “number of people (size)” and the target audience. For example, a “meeting” is for members to check the progress of an internal project and communicate with each other, while a “conference” is a larger scale meeting where participants are recruited and experts are gathered from outside the company. Conferences have a strong external component and often require event-like planning.

The Difference between “Conference” and “Discussion”

“Conferences” and “discussions” differ not only in scale, but also in purpose. Conferences in the business industry often combine a variety of elements to suit the purpose, such as the provision of information from the organizer, the exchange of opinions, and research presentations by experts. Discussions, on the other hand, are simply “discussions (in small groups) “. In contrast, a discussion is a “small group discussion,” in which a small group of people discuss a specific topic and share their opinions. Discussions are sometimes a part of the conference program, but not the other way around.

Difference between “meeting” and “discussion”

“Meetings” and “discussions” are also considered to be terms that are difficult to distinguish. These two may be more confusing because they both take place on a smaller scale.

The difference between the two is purpose. A meeting is a “small gathering” to “do something”. This “something” can be information sharing, reporting, consulting, introducing, checking, and many other things.

On the other hand, “discussion” refers to “getting together on a small scale” and “debating”. A meeting by itself does not tell you what it will do, but a discussion clearly tells you what it will do.

What are the occasions and purposes for which conferences are used?

When do we dare to use the word ‘conference’ when there are so many different events such as meetings, shareholder meetings, kick-offs, new product launches, panel discussions, etc.?

As of 2021, the word ‘conference’ in the business industry is associated with a high degree of publicity and professionalism. From this perspective, events that deal with specialized information related to the company’s products or content, or events where multiple companies collaborate to promote the industry itself to the outside world, etc. are considered to be “conferences”. The use of the word “conference” has made it easier to focus attention on events that focus not on products or content, but on expertise and information related to those products or content.

How to Organize a Conference

As we have discussed, the content of a “conference” varies widely. Conferences in the business industry tend to be large in scale and include event-like elements, so it is necessary to clearly define what kind of event (project) you want to have and assemble it accordingly. The same goes for the venue. Just because it is a conference does not mean that you have to rent a conference room. You can also rent a delivery studio and hold the event online, or you can use a hotel banquet hall.

What is the conference about?
Who are the speakers?
Who are the participants?
Will it be held in person or online?

By summarizing the above, you should be able to get an idea of the type of conference you want to have.

Conferences in the business industry are often large and aimed at external audiences, so they are often different in many ways from in-house events. Especially when holding a conference for the first time or when the scale of the event is large, it is better to consider using an event company rather than organizing the conference in-house.

We are not concerned with online or offline events, but rather we are able to produce events that will achieve the desired effect by understanding the client’s objectives. If you would like to use an event company for your conference, please consider us as well.

Summary: Note that conferences mean different things in different industries.

The term “conference” was first popularized in the medical and nursing care industry and is not so widely used in the business industry. Therefore, the meaning of the word may change depending on future trends in the world. However, the definition “large scale conference with a public nature” is in high demand in today’s online age, and there are many aspects that can be expected to expand in various ways.