No matter if you're hosting a single-day event or one that transpires over several days like the Inc. 5000 conference, which kicks off Wednesday, the dividends can be plentiful.
Summit's annual events like Summit Outside and Summit at Sea exemplify these benefits. The globally recognized organization regularly attracts audiences of leading thinkers and influencers like Alphabet's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, and Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal.
The three-day camping trips and sea voyages have raised millions of dollars for various business and philanthropic ventures. And the success of the events has placed the spotlight on Summit as a leader in building a community of people to catalyze entrepreneurship and social good.
You could do the same with your business. Here are Summit's seven secrets to staging a successful conference:
1. Design an intimate environment.
When staging a business event, one of the first things you need to consider is content. Shira Abramowitz, the director of content on the community team at Summit, does this by framing event topics as if they're living room conversations. In other words, think about what types of conversations could happen naturally between two people in their living room.
Once you settle on a topic, you need to find dynamic and engaging speakers who are capable of creating a conversation inclusive of everyone in the audience. Summit often focuses on the human side of the story, inviting speakers who can break free of their publicized personas and reveal more honest versions of themselves.
Making at least 50 percent of the dialogue interactive also helps to create this intimate environment. Take a variety of approaches, including Q&A sessions, discussions, and breakout groups.
2. Consider unlikely collaborations.
"So many conferences focus too narrowly on topics," says Abramowitz. "It's exciting to think about what unlikely collaborations or connections attendees can make when you give them the opportunity."
To provide that opportunity, consider leaders across a variety of surprising domains. Summit at Sea, for example, is bringing together AOL co-founder Steve Case, National Geographic Society explorer in residence Sylvia Earle and Univision host Jorge Ramos on this year's voyage.
The diversity in lineup is due to Summit's comprehensive approach to selecting speakers. Background, expertise, geography, race, gender, and professional experience are all considered to ensure a variety of perspectives, which Abramowitz believes is the key to creating successful discourse.
3. Keep it surreal.
Exceed people's expectations by adding some surreality. Summit does this by chartering an ocean liner and taking attendees on a camping trip to the mountains rather than booking a hotel in a major city.
Creating a unique experience pays off because you're no longer selling to your audience. You're doing them a favor, which spreads quickly through word-of-mouth.
"Making the texture of the experience different breaks the law of diminishing returns," says Summit co-founder Jeff Rosenthal.
However, keep in mind that good results are not immediate. Summit lost about $18,000 on its first conference before becoming a leader in staging successful events. So, even if your first event doesn't do the best, your future ones are sure to benefit from your efforts.
4. Include a variety of formats.
Switch things up. You have plenty of options to choose from, including talks, discussions, fireside chats, and workshops.
And feel free to be creative and come up with your own. One of the unique formats Summit incorporates is office hours where attendees can sign up to get one-on-one time with speakers and industry leaders. This not only contributes to the intimate environment of the event but also to the overall value and texture of the experience.
5. Pay attention to the flow of energy.
Always start off with a bang to open your event. Then, maintain the flow of energy with strategic planning. Abramowitz suggests keeping in mind the time of day, amount of sunlight and meal times.
Business workshops work well in the morning because they help attendees turn on their brains for the rest of the day. A talk by a well-known speaker is best earlier in the day at a key time that attendees will wake up for. And heavier, emotional conversations should be left for the evening.
6. Music and entertainment are worth the investment.
"Music has a beautiful way of setting a tone," says Pete Gross, the director of music at Summit. It provides the opportunity for attendees, many of whom lead work-filled lives, to let loose in their environment. Gross has found that some of the most memorable experiences attendees walk away with are from the music.
So, the extra investment is worth consideration. Music and entertainment can also serve branding purposes. The positive response brought about by performers ties in with your event and more important, your company.
And you can integrate the music and entertainment with your content to create an unparalleled experience. For example, one of the Summit events featured the collaboration of a neuroscientist and a band. The brain's response to music was shown through virtual reality demos that fully engaged the audience.
7. Maintain the element of surprise.
Take advantage of how much people love surprises. "If you can give gifts or surprises, just do it," says Rosenthal. Whether it's offering a noodle bar in a bus outside or serving dairy-free, nitrogen ice cream after dinner, be creative in maintaining the element of surprise.
A great example to follow is how at the last Summit at Sea, a group of attendees were taken out to go shark tagging in collaboration with scientists from the University of Miami. Tiger sharks were fished out of the ocean for blood samples before being thrown back. Similarly, you should aim to educate and inspire. The ways to do so are endless with just a little bit of innovation.