What Is a Summit? (+ 7 Tips to Host a Successful One)

Explore how a summit can benefit your business and learn the differences between summits and conferences. Get tips to host your own successful event.

Published on December 20, 2023 • Updated on April 24, 2024 • About 7 min. read
virtual summit

Looking for a way to showcase your company's thought leadership? A summit can elevate industry leaders and result in real solutions for pressing problems or concerning trends.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about summits, including why to choose them over other formats and how to make a positive impact with your next virtual event.


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What is a summit and when should you host one?

A summit is an event that centers on conversations between thought leaders or industry experts. Think of it like a high-level meeting that focuses on a single topic or point of discussion.

What is the purpose of a summit?

Summits create spaces where leaders can discuss critical issues or trends that affect an industry or region. Most summits have two goals:

  • Sharing and debating ideas with fellow experts
  • Developing solutions and action plans to address these issues

In addition, summits can also be educational. Audience members don't usually contribute to summit sessions. However, they can learn from speakers and network with other attendees.

Who usually hosts summits?

Government agencies and intergovernmental organizations host many of the most high-profile summits. Yet industry associations and businesses of any size can also benefit from this event format.

For example, companies in the financial sector or the healthcare industry can host valuable summits. In-person or virtual events allow industry leaders to discuss and resolve these issues.

How large is a typical summit?

Summits range in size from a few dozen people to several thousand attendees. The ideal size for your event depends on the scope of the issues you plan to discuss and the goals you aim to achieve.

For example, a niche problem with a negligible impact may warrant a smaller event. An issue that affects an entire industry may be a better fit for a large-scale summit with an extensive guest list.

summit with a live audience

Remember that not all audience members need to attend the event in real time. You can record live events and distribute replays to reach a wider audience over time.

Summit vs. conference: What's the difference?

Wondering whether you should host a summit or a conference? Let's compare the two formats side by side.


Summits aim to bring industry leaders to a consensus on a topic. They also result in solutions and action plans.

Conferences focus more on sharing research and knowledge. They prioritize education rather than action.


Most summits have a narrow focus on a specific topic. In contrast, conferences usually include a much wider range of topics.


Of the two event formats, summits are more formal. At a summit, audience members mainly listen to speakers—who tend to be industry leaders. Attendees can also connect with each other at networking sessions.

A conference is a formal event too, but it usually allows for more flexibility. Conferences often welcome audience participation. Many include interactive portions like workshops and panel discussions.


One of the biggest differences between a summit and a conference is the guest list. Summits are more exclusive and feature handpicked speakers. Audience members typically attend by invitation only.

Conferences tend to be more open. Speakers can often apply to present research or lead discussions.


Both formats can be large events with hundreds or even thousands of attendees. However, summits can also be more intimate events with short guest lists.

In contrast, conferences are designed to be much larger. They generally have a longer list of guest speakers and a wider range of attendees.


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How do summits compare to other event formats?

Unsure which format to use? Here's how other common event types compare to summits.

Summit vs. seminar

Like summits, seminars are educational in nature. However, live and virtual seminars** are some of the most interactive professional events**. They focus on knowledge sharing and audience participation, and they encourage questions.

Summit vs. panel discussion

Similar to seminars, panel discussions also tend to be interactive. They include two or more guest speakers and a moderator, and they also welcome audience engagement. Think of panel discussions as a less formal version of a summit.

Summit vs. roundtable

roundtable discussion

Like panels, roundtable discussions are moderated conversations among experts. However, roundtables usually welcome input from everyone in attendance. Compared to summits, roundtables are more informal and more inclusive.

Summit vs. workshop

Workshops also encourage audience interaction. However, workshops typically have a hands-on component as well. Even virtual workshops create space for attendees to apply their knowledge and solve problems.

Summit vs. symposium

Another popular event type for the healthcare industry, symposiums are small-scale events that focus on sharing research and knowledge. A symposium is academic in nature and often requires speakers to submit papers for peer review.

7 Tips to organize a successful virtual summit

Curious how to plan and promote a summit for your organization? Use the framework below as a guide.

1. Set goals for the summit

First, get clear on what you aim to achieve. Most summits focus these overarching goals:

  • Discussing different perspectives on a shared problem
  • Creating actionable solutions and frameworks

However, a virtual summit may have other objectives as well. Consider outcomes that align with business goals, such as:

  • Establishing your company's executives as leaders in your industry
  • Forming relationships or partnerships with fellow industry leaders
  • Creating an engaged community of professionals
  • Increasing brand awareness for your business
  • Generating leads for your business

Once you decide on goals, use them as guidelines for planning the rest of the event.

2. Choose a main topic

What issue will serve as the focus of the summit? You may already have a topic in mind, based on your executive team's areas of expertise.

If you haven't chosen a topic yet, work with your team to brainstorm ideas. Tactics like mind mapping and starbursting often work best for small groups to come up with ideas quickly.

If you need to narrow down a list of potential topics, use data to guide the decision. For example, you may be able to predict how popular a topic will be based on how often it appears in places like patient notes or industry forums.

Confirm that the topic you choose fits with the goals you set. If you want to establish your executive team's reputation for leadership, for example, then an emerging trend may be a good choice.

3. Book guest speakers

Next, identify the best speakers to share their expertise. Again, use the goals you set to inform the people you ask.

  • Do you intend for the summit to focus on internal goals like brand awareness or lead generation? It may make sense to book speakers from within your organization.
  • Do you plan to focus on community or partnerships? finding speakers from outside your organization is likely to be more effective.

Whether you plan to invite internal or external experts to speak, provide as much lead time as possible. The earlier you book speakers, the more time you'll give them to prepare remarks.

4. Select virtual event software

When you add a virtual component to a summit, you create more flexibility for attendees and speakers alike. With the right virtual event software, you have a couple of options:

  • Record the event and distribute it for on-demand viewing
  • Host an in-person summit and livestream it for a global audience
Livestorm room healthcare

Livestorm can do both. Since our video platform supports up to 3,000 live attendees and sessions up to four hours long, you can host in-depth discussions and welcome small or large audiences.

5. Promote the summit

Now you're ready to promote the event, invite guests, and ultimately ensure that the summit meets its goals. For event marketers, the most important tasks include:

  • Creating a registration landing page
  • Sending invitations to your contact list
  • Reminding attendees prior to the start time
  • Distributing replays after the event ends
Custom pre-launch registration page on Livestorm

Livestorm can check all these boxes for you while allowing plenty of opportunity for customization. You can even automate event marketing using Livestorm integrations like HubSpot.

6. Plan audience engagement

Summits often allow less engagement than other event formats. But if you're discussing groundbreaking ideas and life-changing solutions, you'll want to invite at least some audience input.

With Livestorm, you have several options to engage attendees. You can:

  • Create polls to allow an informal vote or to gauge interest in a topic
  • Gather questions from the audience and answer them in a Q&A format
  • Allow attendees to upvote questions so speakers know where to focus their energy
Polls Livestorm Webinars

7. Create networking opportunities

When attending a summit, guests typically aim to do more than listen and learn. Most also want to network with peers and connect with thought leaders.

During a virtual event, attendees can certainly interact in the chat. But there's a better, more organized way for audience members to meet.

With Livestorm, you can designate breakout rooms as networking spaces. Then attendees can make connections without affecting the flow of the event or taking attention away from the summit.

Livestorm for your next virtual summit

A successful virtual event doesn't require a complex tech setup. With Livestorm, you can host virtual summits that reach local and global members of your industry.

Here's how Livestorm can simplify your event workflow:

  • Landing pages and email sequences to improve registration and increase attendance
  • Browser-based software that speakers and viewers can use without downloading an app
  • Networking opportunities to encourage audience interaction
  • On-demand recordings to distribute knowledge after the event

Livestorm can help you do more than merely host a summit. With our virtual event software, you can educate your community, share thought leadership, and elevate your organization's top voices.