Summit vs Conference: Difference Between a Summit and a Conference

If you’ve been working on the Internet long enough, chances are, you’ve encountered invitations to a virtual summit or an online business conference. 

These terms are synonymous, but if I ask you the difference between a summit vs conference, would you be able to tell the difference?

Running a virtual business exposes you to these terms so it pays to learn more about them.

In this post, we’ll break down the differences between the two events — plus tips to help you get the most out of your attendance.

Summit meaning

The word “summit,” by definition, means “the highest point of a hill or mountain.”

When you consider how summit seminars often invite speakers who are currently standing at the pinnacle of their respective fields, the word “summit” fits perfectly.

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.

Your attendance and the opportunity to speak at a virtual summit seminar is often by the organizer’s invitation only.

Conference meaning

A conference is a large gathering of representatives from various companies of a generally broad field.

Conferences can differ in their exclusivity. Some are ticketed but open to all, while others are open to the public without needing passes. Certain events can also require an invitation.

While virtual summit seminars and online conferences are both excellent avenues for learning new and relevant information about your respective field, there is at least one subtle, definitive difference between the two.

In a virtual summit seminar, you are generally encouraged to remain quiet as you listen to the invited speakers and learn more about their professional opinions and insights.

However, in an online conference, you are often given more chances to participate as the environment is that of a formal meeting or discussion. This means that the learning goes both ways as you can also share your insights.

Summit vs conference: a more detailed look

So, summit vs conference: how do these two events vary? 

Below are their differences:

1. Target Audience

Summit seminars cater to the interests of a more specific audience than conferences (which invite various professionals in their industry).

Summit seminars are also usually top-level dialogues for or involving industry leaders, executives of brick-and-mortar and virtual businesses, and other high-caliber players in the field.

Often the people that are invited to speak at summit seminars are considered by their colleagues to be celebrities in their respective fields.

As such, having the opportunity to attend a web summit conference where these celebrity speakers are often in attendance can be an exciting prospect for those who were directly influenced by them.

2. Dialogue Topics and Objectives

Summit seminars and conferences both entail idea-sharing discussions. When joining, you can expect to listen to industry leaders’ expert perspectives about the events’ featured theme or topic area.

However, the difference lies in their objectives for the dialogues or what their audiences can get.

Summit seminars discuss big ideas, tackle big-picture questions, and propose solutions for an industry-related problem — whether on a micro- or macro-scale. 

Summit seminars have a predetermined agenda announced in advance to their participants. This lets them prepare ahead by studying the problem and initially thinking of ways to resolve it.

Because of this, business summit attendees aim to walk away with a concrete solution or way of moving forward regarding their industry predicament.

An excellent example of this is the CrowdStrike Asia Virtual Summit 2021, where delegates can glean insights from cybersecurity leaders on high-caliber supply chain breaches, an advanced, reliable, and sustainable security model, etc. 

Image thumbnails of summit presentations
Summit presentations like this help you find solutions to various industry problems.
Image source: CrowdStrike Asia Virtual Summit 2021 on Brighttalk.com.

On the other hand, business conferences are usually more open-ended and don’t have a tangible end goal since they focus more on exchanging opinions and new information.

Even if the speakers have something they want audiences to take home from their presentations, conferences still seek to be a venue for attendees to learn something they can apply to their industry roles.

3. Style and Program Flow

Summit meetings are often more formal and plenary in nature, expecting delegates to attend all the planned sessions and presentations.

Summit attendees typically listen to the discussions, gather problem-solving ideas, and then network with the speakers and other participants after the event. Rarely do they have the chance to join in the dialogue.

In contrast, conference delegates have richer participation, idea-exchanging, and networking opportunities. The event usually involves break-out sessions where they can more actively discuss lessons learned and more. 

Compared to summit meetings, business conferences are also more apt for inserting brand promotions and other virtual event ideas — including sales pitch meetings — between talks and sessions, or other parts of the event.

However, pitch meetings and open promotions occurring during summits can be unsuitable since these events deal more with discussing and solving issues.

Do’s and don’ts on a summit meeting

Keep in mind that summit meetings are a professional setting.

However, you shouldn’t let that intimidate you.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about how to conduct yourself during a summit meeting in the following guidelines:

1. Conduct yourself with integrity, respect, honesty, and credibility.

A summit is a place for professionals. While it may be tempting to defend your point of view if a speaker’s opinion doesn’t align with your own, it is never in good taste to interrupt the speaker.

During summit meetings, you need to listen, gather information, learn, and respect other people’s opinions.

Often, you’ll have the chance to talk to the speakers and other attendees after the web summit conference has concluded.

This is in contrast with conferences where open-ended discussions are accepted and encouraged.

2. Approach all events with respect and with the highest ethical standards of professionalism and personal conduct.

The key thing to remember is respect. Don’t be confrontational should your personal beliefs and views be different from that of the speaker.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and views. Learn what you can from the speakers and disregard what you think is irrelevant or flawed. Remember that we can always be respectful by agreeing to disagree.

3. Avoid all activities that will discredit or cause damage to your organization, or yourself.

Unless you’re attending a summit independently, you’ve probably been selected as a representative of your organization. The way you conduct yourself will be taken as an indication of your organization’s culture.

4. Embrace the diverse community of professionals and learners, and be inclusive of all audiences in your presentations, demonstrations, and conversations.

Should you be invited as a speaker to a summit meeting, always be mindful of the fact that you are probably going to have an audience that is ethnically, religiously, and politically diverse.

By remembering that views and opinions naturally vary and are unique to every individual, it will be easier to accept our differences and build on mutual understanding.

Do’s and don’ts on conferences

Conferences tend to have a more open agenda and are more free-flowing than summit meetings, but that doesn’t mean that conferences are informal events.

Other than a few subtle differences, you should generally conduct yourself the same way as you would in a summit meeting.

You should do just fine if you remember to follow these effective guidelines:

1. Wear the proper attire

Before you even plan what to wear, you should already be familiar with the dress code of the conference.

Formal business means a suit, a tie, and dark socks for men. Women will need to wear a suit, closed-toe shoes, and hose.

You generally have more flexibility when the dress code is business casual.

Men may still choose to wear a suit, but a sports coat is also perfectly acceptable. Women may wear pantsuits or coordinating slacks, jackets, and tops. Although it’s sometimes acceptable to wear peep-toe shoes or sandals, it’s best to play it safe with closed-toe pumps or flats if you are unsure.

Remember that even if the conference is held online, dress codes may still apply. 

2. Guard your reputation and be mindful of your behavior

It’s important to guard your reputation at all times and to speak in a positive manner. Remain loyal to your company and do not say anything that may tarnish its reputation.

You never know who may be listening.

If alcohol is served at a physical conference, presumably with social distancing guidelines in place and in effect, it’s important that you know your limits. This will help you avoid saying something you’ll regret later.

Should you be in doubt, play it safe by sticking to non-alcoholic beverages.

3. Be considerate when using electronics

These days, it’s generally accepted that you’ll have your electronic equipment, such as your cell phone, with you at all times. Still, it’s always important to remember proper etiquette when using them.

Turn down the sound of your devices if you plan on bringing them to workshops or meetings. The same holds true even if the event is being held online.

4. Have a digital business card ready

Before the pandemic, it was a smart idea to bring your business cards during business conferences. Having them with you at all times was vital because you never knew when you’d meet someone whom you’d like to communicate with at a later point in time.

These days, however, it’s better to have a digital version of your business card that you can send to people without having to worry about physical contact.

5. Present your pitch in a timely manner

If you’ve got an idea or product that you want to pitch to another attendee, it’s important to try to schedule an appointment so you have the other person’s undivided attention. 

Also, make it a point to show up on time and to avoid being too pushy or demanding. Be mindful of the fact that many decisions need to be made by a  committee, someone with more authority, or at a later date.

6. Don’t forget your table manners

Follow proper table manners when dining at a business conference.

Here’s a quick tip:

If you are ever in doubt as to which utensil to use, remember to follow the lead of the host of your table or the person who is heading up the conference. 

Keep all conversation appropriate for mealtime.

7. Remember that you’re not on vacation

Some people often forget that a business conference is not a personal vacation.

Don’t let that be you.

While this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have any fun, it’s important to remember that this is a professional environment and should be treated as such the entire time you are there. Doing otherwise could tarnish you and  your organization’s reputation and prevent you from accomplishing your professional goals.

Reasons to Join a Business Summit vs Conference

There are quite a few reasons why you should actively seek out and attend well-organized virtual business summits and online conferences.

While you can benefit from both in terms of personal and professional growth, there are a few differences that you’ll want to be aware of when it comes to choosing between a business summit vs. conference. 

Reasons to attend a virtual business summit: 

1. Get valuable first-hand information from respected leaders

One of the best things about attending a virtual summit meeting is the opportunity to learn from leaders in your niche, sharing their experiences, applied techniques, and top-level insights on solving the same problems and questions you encounter.

By learning and taking inspiration from them, you’ll have a renewed level of energy and determination to face those challenges with robust, novel strategies.

2. Have access to special networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities

Virtual summit meetings also give you global perspectives and special networking, knowledge-sharing opportunities since these events accommodate a select, international audience segment.

The Salesforce Business Analyst Summit is a terrific example. It gathers business analysts worldwide seeking professional growth and strategies to resolve daily technical and career-related challenges.

The event summit meeting features compelling presentations and 16 experts from whom delegates can learn about being a successful business analyst (e.g., enhancing data analytics and other related essential marketing skills) and more.

Pictures of various summit attendees with text
Learn how to overcome daily work-related challenges by joining summits like this.
Image source: SFBA Summit.

3. Speak one-to-one with respected leaders from within your field

Often, after the virtual summit meeting, attendees will be given the chance to speak one-to-one with the invited speakers. 

This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to get even deeper insights and answers to any questions that may still be on your mind after the global summit conference ends.

And, as a bonus, since many speakers are usually considered celebrities by the people within their respective fields of profession, it offers you the chance to meet your personal heroes; the people who have inspired you to pursue your chosen career with excellence.

Reasons to attend an online conference:

1. Exchange new information and ideas with colleagues

While there may be a few superstars within your field in attendance, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be meeting any of them at a conference.

But the draw of attending a conference isn’t about meeting niche famous people. It’s about networking, sharing new ideas, and exchanging information with many of your colleagues.

In business conferences, you’re not the only one learning from the experts. They and the other participants can discover fresh outlooks from you during break-out panels, pitch meetings, and other conference activities.

2. Get inspired by people who have overcome difficult problems

In any profession, you’ll occasionally come to a point when it feels like nothing is capable of going your way. Frustration can sink in quite quickly in these trying times and you may even feel like quitting.

Don’t worry. You are not alone.

During these tough times, simply being around people who are experiencing the same difficulties as you are, and realizing that you aren’t on your own, can do wonders for your mental health.

If you’re lucky, you’ll even have the opportunity to get good counsel from someone who has already overcome whatever problem it is that you’re currently struggling with.

3. Develop your career

Attending a conference demonstrates a conscious effort to educate yourself. It’s a commitment to improving your performance, which not only enhances your CV but provides vital education credits for the CCM pathway as well. Not only that, but there’s every chance that you might even meet your next employer at a conference.

Tips to Get the Most Out of Business Summits and Conferences

Whether you’re a fresh graduate looking to take on the world or a seasoned professional who’s already at the top, here are a few tips and networking hacks to help you make the most out of attending a virtual summit or online conference:

1. Be on a constant lookout for exciting, relevant virtual events.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and social distancing, just about everything has transitioned into virtual space. The same holds true for summits and conferences.

Many important events that used to be held in physical locations are now taking place online, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The fact that you now no longer need to worry about packing, booking rooms, and traveling to physical locations to attend a summit or conference has made things more convenient than ever.

To widen your network and continue growing professionally, constantly lookout for good deals on relevant, well-organized virtual summits and online conferences.

Google them with applicable keywords, keep tabs on social networking groups and platforms, or check out companies hosting great virtual events.

2. Do some research on your speakers.

Virtual summits often tell you ahead who their resource persons will be, just like the Salesforce Business Analyst Summit I mentioned earlier:

Large headshots of various persons
Check out who the summit’s featured speakers are that you’ll be learning from.
Image source: SFBA Summit.

Leverage that to check out their websites, LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, etc., and increase your familiarity with their background and credibility.

Doing this lets you better understand the speakers and their presentations and quickly connect with them during any Q&A session, post-event networking meet-ups, and correspondence, etc.

3. Develop a social and email networking plan.

Amplify your online presence to boost your noticeability and potential connections. Plan for it in advance so you can focus on the presentations during the global summit conference:

  • Blog and post on social media before, during, and after the virtual summit conference to stay on top of the speakers’, organizers’, and participants’ minds. If you’re sending regular promotional emails for your virtual business, incorporate your social and email marketing strategies. Share clickable snippets about your blog posts on your newsletter.
  • Use any dedicated hashtags and custom photo filters when posting before, during, and after the global summit conference or online conference. 
  • Connect with the speakers, fellow delegates, and hosts on your social platforms. You can even subscribe to the experts’ and organizers’ email newsletters for other exclusive updates.

4. Don’t forget to have fun

Because business summits and conferences are often work-related events, it can be easy to forget to let loose (within reason) and to have fun.

Throughout these events, you’ll be participating in activities, making new friends and connections, learning about new and exciting developments in your field, and meeting niche celebrities.

Also, consider doing a little exploring during your breaks. You’ll have to adhere to social distancing guidelines, but that’s no reason to lock yourself in a room for the next few days.

Try to become familiar with your immediate surroundings. Why not look for places that serve good food? Of course you should take precautions, but try to find out what your new environment has to offer.

Summit vs. conference FAQs

1. What is the purpose of a summit?

A summit is a strategic conversation that brings different perspectives within a system together to talk about the big picture and big questions.

2. What is the purpose of a conference

A conference is a gathering of people with a common interest, goal, or background. It allows them to network and to learn about and discuss ideas, issues, and work that focuses on a topic of mutual concern.

3. Are all gatherings categorized as either a summit or a conference?

The short answer is no. A summit is different from a conference, which is different from a convention, which is different from an expo, or trade show. 

While all of them involve gathering, socializing, and networking, there are unique subtleties between them that naturally attract different kinds of people and make each one their own unique thing.

4. What are the advantages of virtual summits and online conferences over their physical counterparts?

There is significantly less time-wasting when it comes to planning out and conducting virtual summits and conferences. The amount of scheduling and logistical issues on either side of each meeting tends to be significantly reduced. 

As an added bonus, you won’t have to think about booking a room, budgeting for travel expenses, or worrying whether the venue is big enough for all invitees, should they turn up.

5. How long do virtual summit meetings and online conferences generally last?

A recent redback report into the trends shaping Australia’s online event activity indicates the most popular length for a virtual event these days is 45 minutes.

Though lengths of up to one hour are common, longer runtimes run a higher risk of losing the viewer’s attention.

6. Will I have to participate in any activities?

Well, yes and no. It all depends on how much you personally want to get out of the summit or conference.

Activities are planned by the organizers as a way to ensure that what you learn from a summit or conference, whether it’s in a physical location or an online environment, sticks with you even after the event has concluded.

While you aren’t forced to participate in any activities, you’ll definitely be missing out on a lot if you decide to skip out.

Takeaways between a summit vs 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.

The most obvious difference between a virtual summit and an online conference is in the way they are conducted. 

In a virtual summit, you likely won’t be participating in the discussion unless you are one of the invited speakers. Instead, you’ll be focusing on learning the insights and opinions of highly respected professionals within your niche.

In an online conference, however, you are encouraged to participate in discussions, network, and share your personal point of view on relevant discussion points.

The online conference and virtual summit benefits can drive a significant career, network, and business development for you. Deliberately join attendance-worthy summits and conferences according to your current needs.

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