Organizing a Summit, Step by Step (2022)

Every summit is different in purpose and goals, but these events have some common elements. Here are the key considerations to think about when planning a summit to engage your leaders and members in important dialogue about your organization’s future.

Declare purpose and bold aspirations. Convene 100 or more influential leaders and stakeholders. Invite provocative ideas. Facilitate dialogue. Encourage breakthrough thinking. Celebrate shared vision for new opportunities. Watch change happen.

If only a real-life summit could be this easy—if you could just open a box and out would pop the operating instructions for a remarkable event that gets the results you need.

Even in today's virtually networked world, face-to-face summits are holding their own as a way to engage association members and stakeholders. Such events are a proven way to focus and synthesize the best thinking about your world and future. But it's no simple task to build an event that provides attendees all the tools they need to create a vision for change.

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We started fantasizing about creating a "summit in a box" while collaborating on the PT and Society Summit of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), designed to envision how physical therapists could address current, evolving, and future societal healthcare needs. In the absence of such a resource, we agreed it would be useful to organize what we and others are learning about the art and logistics of summits.

No doubt you already have some of the knowledge and experience you need to plan and execute a summit, just as we did. While there are too many nuances to create a true summit-in-a-box resource, we can promise this description of the common elements, key questions, and lessons learned will lower your stress and boost your chances for success when undertaking these high-stakes events. We hope others will add to this learning until we are all good at making summits work for us.

Not Just Any Meeting

A summit is a strategic conversation that brings different perspectives within a system together to talk about the big picture and big questions. You are traveling with a group of mission-critical people to the summit for a mountaintop experience that in time will change your profession, industry, or cause in significant ways.

The best time to convene a summit is when you need to discuss high-stakes and complex issues or perceive major changes ahead. To help you "learn forward" as fast as you can, you want to convene the leaders of your profession, industry, or cause as well as internal and external stakeholders who offer provocative and multidisciplinary perspectives.

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While summits create a shared sense of the opportunities for leadership and change, they are more likely to open up issues than resolve them. A good summit generates new thinking and many next steps. A successful one can produce a range of outcomes:

  • creating a shared vision and recommendations about a future direction
  • discovering the imperatives for change
  • establishing principles to guide future actions
  • fostering new or improved relationships with key stakeholders that can facilitate change and future action
  • identifying course corrections

You are more likely to get these results if participants commit to learning and open dialogue and suspend the need to end with tidy answers and a set of to-dos. Summits disrupt old ways of thinking. Once people come down from the mountain, it takes time to work through all the implications of what transpired and turn this newfound wisdom into smart strategy and executable next steps.

Are You Prepared?

Summits are signature initiatives, and the level of effort they require can be commensurate with the effort required to plan and execute your major meetings and programs. Any time you assemble your profession's, industry's, or cause's thought leaders and other key influencers, you have to commit time and money to create a quality experience and demonstrate your ability to lead change. If you do not have the capacity to pursue the new directions or ideas a summit generates, think twice about staking your credibility on one.

Staff and volunteer leaders should expect to commit at least three to six months of planning and post-summit work. At least one project leader will be consumed with the details. The more people involved and the more complex the issue you are tackling, the higher the cost can be in time and money. An ambitious summit with about 100 people can require a direct expense budget of more than $100,000, especially if you decide to underwrite participant travel expenses or engage contractors to help direct the action and capture summit highlights.

(Video) Presentation: Robertha Barnes on “Organizing a Summit”

If you can't afford to spend serious time and money, you have to consider the tradeoffs:

  • Will you have the right people in the room for a rich dialogue if you cannot offer to pay all or a portion of their expenses? The American Society for Mechanical Engineering (ASME) supported the international guests attending its Global Summit on the Future of Mechanical Engineering. APTA paid for about half the participants at its summit.
  • How productive and reflective can you expect participants to be if you cannot host the summit in the right environment? APTA chose a retreat setting to support the sense of community and reflection. ASME chose the National Academy of Engineering as the prestigious and best venue for a global summit, and NAE donated the facilities. The American Institute of Architects used universities for summits bridging academia and practice.
  • Video may seem like a luxury, but in this era of digital communication and repurposing content, can you afford to pass up the opportunity to use video to take the summit's learning to your full membership or the larger community? APTA and ASME feature videos from their summits on their websites. ASAE made an even bigger commitment to member engagement and used an online event platform to offer a way for people to participate virtually before, during, and after its Global Summit on Social Responsibility.

Two other factors to weigh before you press ahead are your association's readiness for change and the environment:

  • Is your elected leadership on board and willing to make this summit a priority? Will your members see this as a priority worthy of a significant investment by the association? Can you secure the commitment of your key constituent groups? Even when summits are not political in nature, they require a great deal of political goodwill to succeed.
  • Are you in a financial, political, or public crisis spurred by internal or external factors? If so, this might be exactly the right time to rally your members around a new direction. A summit could launch new opportunities that give your members hope and lift your association's fortunes. But be prepared, because the crisis will make the stakes higher, add to your stress, and may compromise your capacity to be proactive and reflective.

Once you’ve decided a summit is right for your organization, here are some final key points to keep in mind:

Good facilitation is essential to success. This important role can be filled by professionals or volunteers or a combination of both. If you choose to use volunteer facilitators, be sure you have a clear job description and screening process to ensure the volunteers selected have the qualities needed to fulfill the role. In addition, you will need to provide a thoughtfully designed facilitator training in advance of the event.

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You need to enable strong participation. Think creatively about how to prepare the participants and prime the pump before the gathering. Don’t limit yourself to PowerPoints and PDFs; use a multimedia approach to boost participants’ engagement and enthusiasm.

Next steps are critical. It will all be for naught if you don’t consider at the outset your plan for implementation and follow-through after the summit. Why? Because after the event is over it’s hard to channel volunteer enthusiasm, maintain momentum, and achieve the envisioned change. So be sure your planning team tackles the question “Where do the ideas go next?” as a part of their activity prior to the start of the summit.

The Wrap-Up

Summits take careful planning and execution. Done well, they are exciting, groundbreaking events that engage your members and energize them to generate systemic change or chart new paths. But be forewarned. People like energizing conversations. They will want more, and they will expect results. You need a strategy and ambassadors who will keep the learning alive and present in the association's decision-making processes going forward.


How do you organize a step-by-step conference? ›

How do you plan a successful summit? ›

Before the Summit
  1. Assign clear roles that have real authority. ...
  2. Define a clear set of objectives for the conference by starting with the right questions. ...
  3. Start the conversation before anyone leaves home. ...
  4. Design the summit around the objectives and coordinate the content.

How do you start a conference presentation? ›

Follow these steps to start a presentation effectively:
  1. Tell your audience who you are. Start your presentation by introducing yourself. ...
  2. Share what you are presenting. ...
  3. Let them know why it is relevant. ...
  4. Tell a story. ...
  5. Make an interesting statement. ...
  6. Ask for audience participation.
30 Aug 2021

What is important when arranging a conference? ›

It's important to put the attendee at the heart of your organising. Their time is precious and you need to ensure they get the most out of every minute they are at your conference. You should already have an in-depth understanding of your target audience and what appeals to them.

What happens at a summit meeting? ›

A summit meeting (or just summit) is an international meeting of heads of state or government, usually with considerable media exposure, tight security, and a prearranged agenda. Notable summit meetings include those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin during World War II.

What is the purpose of a work summit? ›

A company summit or conference provides an invaluable platform for collaboration, team development, meeting challenges and introducing new strategies. Far too many organisations waste this incredible opportunity to harness the talent, intelligence and creativity of their team by boring them with data.

Why is a meeting called a summit? ›

A summit can mean either a meeting between people who are interested in the same subject or the peak of the mountain. Although originally meant to describe a meeting between the heads of state, summit can be used to describe any gathering of people who care deeply about the same topic.

What is the first step in planning for a conference? ›

Planning your conference step-by-step:
  1. Step 1 – Settle on a theme.
  2. Step 2 – Design the delegate journey.
  3. Step 3 – Identify your team and set roles.
  4. Step 4 – Settle on a date, venue and budget.
  5. Step 5 – Book the right venue.
  6. Step 6 – Select the right conference technology.
  7. Step 7 – Arrange people and services.
16 Jun 2022

How do you prepare for a conference? ›

Prepare For Your Next Conference With 9 Key Networking Tips
  1. Define your Conference Goals. ...
  2. Get To Know The Event and Attendees. ...
  3. Find Out About Networking Events. ...
  4. Order New Business Cards. ...
  5. Dress to Impress. ...
  6. Update Your Online Profiles. ...
  7. Prep Your Tech. ...
  8. Record Sessions or Take Detailed Notes.

What are the 3 important steps in organizing an event? ›

3 Crucial Steps of the Event-Planning Process
  • Set a goal with objectives and a budget. Before you even begin to fantasize about a theme for the event, you need to set goals, objectives, and more importantly, a budget that encompasses all parameters of the event. ...
  • Locate a venue and establish vendor contracts. ...
  • Branding.

Why is it important to organize an event? ›

There can be many different reasons to organise an event - raise awareness, share information, educational, promotional, fundraising & entertainment. They all come with their benefits. A well-organised event can have a great impact in terms of visibility and goodwill.

What is a good introduction for a presentation? ›

It is polite to start with a warm welcome and to introduce yourself. Everyone in the audience will want to know who you are. Your introduction should include your name and job position or the reason you are an expert on your topic. The more the audience trusts you, the more they listen.

What do you say at the end of a presentation? ›

The simplest way to end a speech, after you've finished delivering the content, is to say, "thank you." That has the benefit of being understood by everyone. It's the great way for anyone to signal to the audience that it's time to applaud and then head home.

What are the steps to prepare for a presentation? ›

How to prepare for a presentation
  1. Outline your presentation. ...
  2. Practice your presentation ahead of time. ...
  3. Read and revise your presentation. ...
  4. Write with your audience in mind. ...
  5. Take cues from professional speakers. ...
  6. Arrive early. ...
  7. Practice your hand gestures. ...
  8. Take some deep breaths.

What do you do at a conference? ›

Conferences give you the opportunity to talk to these people one-on-one about what they are working on, and they may even give you advice on how to enhance your own work. You have the opportunity to ask presenters questions about their work and the rationale behind it, which you can't do when reading journal articles.

What is the summit process? ›

What is the Summit Process-english. The Summit of the Americas process ("Summit process") is an institutionalized set of meetings at the highest level of government decision-making in the Western Hemisphere.

What is the example of summit? ›

An example of a summit is the top of the mountain. An example of the summit is the highest point in a person's career. The highest point or part; the top. The highest degree or state; acme.

What summit means? ›

1 : top, apex especially : the highest point : peak. 2 : the topmost level attainable the summit of human fame. 3a : the highest level of officials especially : the diplomatic level of heads of government. b : a conference of highest-level officials (such as heads of government) an economic summit.

What is another word for a summit meeting? ›

What is another word for summit meeting?
85 more rows

Why are team Summits important? ›

Summits are a great opportunity to see how far the company has come, learn what others are working on and identify where we need to focus our attention more directly. We think that regardless of time, distance, and cost, bringing people together is central to the success of a summit.

What is the leadership summit? ›

Leadership Summit is an immersive weekend leadership retreat for students. The Summit will introduce students to key leadership concepts and the practical applications for every day life.

What's the meaning of summit meeting? ›

an important formal meeting between leaders of governments from two or more countries: a summit meeting.

Whats the difference between a conference and a summit? ›

Summit meaning

A virtual summit seminar differs from an online conference in that it is an exclusive event that is often reserved for top-level executives, or people with influence, in their organization or industry. Typically, it is a one-time, independent event with a fairly concentrated topic and agenda scope.

What does it mean to hold a summit? ›

countable noun. A summit is a meeting at which the leaders of two or more countries discuss important matters. [...] See full entry.

What is the difference between a summit and a conference? ›

Virtual summits and conferences are both idea-exchanging, networking events. The former focuses on solving problems and overcoming challenges, while the latter concentrates on gathering additional knowledge and often welcomes more promotional activities.

What happens at a youth summit? ›

A Youth Summit provides a forum for young peo- ple to organize, network, learn new things, and share their hopes and concerns in a public set- ting. At Search Institute, we see young people addressing the issues they care most about and that often affect them most directly.

How do you plan an international conference? ›

Planning an International Conference
  1. Start promoting as soon as you can. Every event professional knows that the sooner you start organising an event the better. ...
  2. Pick your speakers carefully. ...
  3. Promote the international aspect. ...
  4. Make the schedule worth their while. ...
  5. Cross-promote. ...
  6. Don't send blanket email invites. ...
  7. Catering.

Why are team Summits important? ›

Summits are a great opportunity to see how far the company has come, learn what others are working on and identify where we need to focus our attention more directly. We think that regardless of time, distance, and cost, bringing people together is central to the success of a summit.

What is the similar meaning of summit? ›

Some common synonyms of summit are acme, apex, climax, culmination, peak, and pinnacle. While all these words mean "the highest point attained or attainable," summit implies the topmost level attainable.

What is a summit in business terms? ›

summit noun [C] (MEETING)

C2. an important formal meeting between leaders of governments from two or more countries: a summit meeting. World leaders will meet next week for their annual economic summit. Compare.

What is an online summit? ›

A virtual summit is a type of collaborative online event in which speakers are interviewed by a host. It's like an online conference with a collection of online presentations from 6 to 30+ experts on a topic.

What is the purpose of youth leadership summit? ›

The objective of the Youth Leadership Summit has essentially been the same since its inception in 2003: “To develop a God-fearing, morally upright, disciplined and socially responsible youth leaders promoting peace and development with great sense of patriotism, and to protect the youth against exploitation of any ...

What is the meaning of youth summit? ›

Established in 2013, the Youth Summit is an annual event hosted by the World Bank Group to engage with youth globally on the most pressing issues facing their generation.

How do you prepare for a conference? ›

The steps you typically need to take for preparing for a conference are:
  1. Plan well in advance. ...
  2. Form an organizational team. ...
  3. Define what the conference is attempting to achieve. ...
  4. Create a business plan based on the available budget. ...
  5. Pick a date. ...
  6. Choose an appropriate venue. ...
  7. Book your speakers. ...
  8. Create a conference schedule.

How do you create a conference theme? ›

5 steps to inspire your conference theme
  1. Think about your industry. You don't want to run a conference that's too similar in nature to your competitors. ...
  2. Know your audience. Who's attending your conference? ...
  3. Tie your theme into the location. ...
  4. Consider your venue. ...
  5. Rally around a great tagline.
14 Feb 2019

How do you plan a conference workshop? ›

10 Steps For Organizing A Conference or Workshop
  1. Pick dates and time. Decide on dates that work with you and your co-organizers. ...
  2. Choose a venue. ...
  3. Budget. ...
  4. Booking. ...
  5. Event announcement and/or call for proposals. ...
  6. Peer review. ...
  7. Program announcement. ...
  8. Inform presenters and attendees.
11 Jan 2021

What do people do in Summits? ›

Summits are all about discussion and idea-sharing.

You can expect to participate in high-level conversations, and to hear from thought leaders in the topic area.

What is leadership summit? ›

Leadership Summit is an immersive weekend leadership retreat for students. The Summit will introduce students to key leadership concepts and the practical applications for every day life.


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