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 a 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 our of your attendance.

Summit meaning

A summit is typically a one-time, independent event with a fairly concentrated topic and agenda scope.

Your attendance and the opportunity to speak at this event are 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. 

Summit vs conference

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

Below are their differences:

Target Audience

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

Summits 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. 

Dialogue Topics and Objectives

Summits and conferences both entail idea-sharing discussions. When joining, you can expect to listen to thought 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.

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

Summits have a pre-determined 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.

Style and Program Flow

Summits 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 summits, 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.

Reasons to Join a Business Summit vs Conference

Why should you join a business summit? For one, you get 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.

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

Summits 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 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.

What about business conferences? Attending them benefits you since they leave you with new ideas in your head and make you want to jumpstart as soon as you return to work.

Plus, 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.

Quick Tips When Joining Business Summits and Conferences

Make the most of your attendance in a business summit or conference by executing the following networking hacks:

Look out for exciting, relevant virtual events.

To widen your network and continue growing professionally, constantly look out for relevant, well-organized virtual events.

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

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.

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 virtual event:

  • Blog and post on social media before, during, and after the event 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 summit or 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.

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

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