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Using Zoom for conferences: what to know

Zoom offers three interesting options for conferences: meetings, webinars and breakout rooms.


  • Meetings allow all participants to switch on their camera and microphone and as such are mainly suitable for interactive sessions in which all participate as equals.
  • They can, however, be used for conference presentations too. In this case, hosts typically mute attendees on entry, reserving the right to use the microphone, camera and screen sharing function for the speakers.
  • The host might allow participants to be unmuted, so that they can ask questions, for instance after a presentation.
  • All participants are listed by name, or seen, if their cameras are switched on.
  • Breakout rooms, Q&As, a chat and polls can be used in a meeting.
  • The creation and handling of meetings in COMS is detailed here.


  • Webinars are specifically designed for presentations to a silent audience.
  • They allow the host and any designated panelists (speakers) to share their video, audio and screen.
  • Attendees do not see other attendees, but they have the ability to ask questions in writing, use a chat, and answer polling questions.
  • It is not possible to create breakout rooms in a webinar.

Meetings and webinars

  • The start and end times of meetings and webinars are not enforced by Zoom. They are useful for the participants, but do not need to be respected by the hosts: they can start it earlier and end it later than scheduled.
  • However, once the scheduled times of a meeting or webinar is in the past, it can no longer be accessed.
  • So, as long as the start of a meeting or webinar is in the future, it can be started and used any number of times, for instance for a practice session, ahead of the live meeting.
  • Once started, a meeting / webinar can last up to 30 hours. This can be useful if you decide to use the same meeting / webinar for several conference sessions. Participants then only access the meeting once and can attend all the scheduled sessions in that meeting.
  • The speakers can be either uploaded through an Excel upload or upgraded from attendee to speaker during the session.
  • The sessions can be recorded and saved, either to the host's computer, or to the Zoom cloud.
  • Breakout rooms

    • Breakout rooms allow participants of a meeting to be distributed in separate rooms.
    • They are often used for poster sessions, providing private booths in which the posters can be presented and discussed.
    • They are also used to allow participants to meet the speakers of oral sessions after their presentations, or to allow free discussions among participants.
    • Typically, breakout rooms are configured to allow participants to move freely from one room to the next.
    • The setup of breakout sessions in COMS is detailed here.

    Choosing between meetings and webinars

    • Webinars are specifically designed for presentations and can accommodate very large audiences. However, they do not allow the creation of breakout rooms or live interactions between the presenters and the audience.
    • Meetings can be used for presentations just as well as webinars, but have a limited capacity (<1000 participants). Since they allow attendees to be seen, to be heard (optionally) and to meet in breakout rooms, they present a friendlier, more interactive option that is potentially better suited for conferences.
    Last updated: 29 January 2024