There’s a chance that you have read in the news or on social media about a particular summit or conference. Often, more than once per year, global attention is shunned towards well-known summits that see political dignitaries join from all over the world to discuss pressing matters, including social, political, economical, and environmental issues. 

In the most basic definition, it’s best conceived that a summit can be considered a meeting between different heads of government, who usually gather to resolve an issue or discuss the same topic. On the other end of the spectrum, a conference is a formal gathering that discusses several topics of interest and usually involves businesses or corporate executives. 

Though these definitions are used interchangeably, it’s important to consider that there is still a significant difference between what each of them aims to achieve, and the people that attend them. 

Summit Meeting Definition

According to an official definition by The Britannica Dictionary, a summit can be defined as 

a “meeting or series of meetings between the leaders of two or more governments.” More so, a summit can also be considered the collaboration of leaders to help resolve global issues through a series of discussions and meetings

We often see a summit being held each year to help tackle several important issues. In more recent times, summits related to climate change and environmental policy have received more media attention as global citizens look to the government to resolve the ongoing climate crisis. 

What’s a Conference

When looking up what a conference stands to be, it becomes clear that although both summit and conference are used interchangeably, there are some differences between each of these gatherings. 

A conference, in this case, focuses on bringing different people from several organizations together to discuss a specific case, either finance, marketing, or even corporate governance. In more use cases than usual, a conference can be held on an annual or bi-annual basis and helps to inform attendees about a specific topic. 

It’s also possible to see a conference as networking events that provides business development and professional opinions to help foster new ideas and develop techniques that could be used for solving problems.

Typically corporate companies and multinational firms will host a conference, bringing together different organizational leaders and creating an opportunity for them to network and establish relationships with other working professionals. Even though a conference is not as widely known as a summit, it’s still a formal event that sees several high-profile attendees.

Check Out Difference Between Symposiums, Workshops, Conferences, Summits, Seminars and Webinars?:

Summit vs Conference: A More Detailed Look

Now that we have a basic idea of what each of these gatherings is and who attends them, we can take a deep look into the different characteristics and objectives each of these events will have. 

Though both may discuss a certain topic, it’s often clear that the outcomes or objectives thereof will be different in the near and long term. 

Topics and Objectives

Starting off, here’s a look at the type of topics one might be discussing at a summit

  1. Climate change 
  2. Geopolitical tension 
  3. World poverty 
  4. Economic prosperity. 

Ultimately, in the long run, the aim or objective of a summit would be: 

  1. To establish a shared opinion and vision about the road forward. 
  2. Finding imperatives that could change.
  3. Helping to establish guidelines for future decision-making. 
  4. Bringing about improved relationships among political heads of state and national governments. 
  5. Trying to establish a course of direction that can be followed by all involved members or states. 

There is an abundance of different themes that can be discussed at conferences, some include: 

  1. Healthcare 
  2. Market dynamics 
  3. Consumer and customer experience 
  4. Leadership 
  5. Marketing 
  6. Sales and increased profits 
  7. Food, consumables 
  8. Gaming and technology 

These are only among some of the most popular conference topics today, and the list has been growing over the last few years as technology and digital tools have made it easier to give conferences better marketplace exposure. Conference topics may have a narrow focus, but during break-out panels, professionals will have a common interest related to services and business agendas.

  1. Develop measurable goals that can be achieved by those organizations involved in the conference. 
  2. Establish a common or shared opinion regarding a specific topic. 
  3. Helping to inform shareholders and attendees about possible changes or developments. 
  4. Clearly indicating a forward-looking strategy that helps to motivate and encourage attendees.
  5. Share valuable resources and information that will make a near and long-term impact. 
  6. Help to facilitate the overarching decision-making process. 

Check Out Climate Change to Market Dynamics: Difference of Summits and Conferences:


Those that attend either a summit or conference will often hold a similar position in their respective organization or industry. Though attendees can range across the board, they are still considered high-level management that aims to resolve issues and find solutions based on their goals and objectives. 

A summit generally involves a head of state, such as a president, prime minister, royalty, or any departmental head that will help make a difference within their respective area of expertise. Think of the COP27 Climate Summit which sees world leaders from some of the most developed economies come together to discuss environmental policy and climate change initiatives. 

On the other hand, conferences see a lot more people coming from upper and middle management in a big company, corporation, or multinational firm. Typically these will include executives, founders, owners, board of directors, and the odd politician or two. 

The audience makes all the difference here, seeing as those that do end up attending either a summit or a conference will be left with a responsibility to implement change and be a driving force of improvement for either the general public or the company itself. 


There is no denying that each of these events will be slightly more formal and that the audience will often be individuals who are respected in their line of work. 

Summits are not only for discussing ideas but to help find possible and workable solutions. Typically the style of conversation will be high-level, with most of the attendees having a strong understanding and working knowledge of the problem. 

Additionally, with summits, there tend to be no break-out panel discussions as with a conference. That means that all of the attendees, including guest speakers and hosts, will attend all of the different sessions instead of having break-out discussions. 

The same is almost true for conferences, but in this case, attendees have the option of joining in several different break-out panel discussions that often go more in-depth on the topic. These panel discussions will also be led by experts in their field or industry leaders. 

The style of conversation at a conference may often be less formal than what you can expect at a summit, yet there is still a large percentage of the discussion being led by high-level topics and informative conversations.

Though the styles may differ, they tend to share a similar element that allows attendees to debate on a specific topic. Although a public debate can be an intimidating experience, these conversations and interactions are monitored, and controlled by a leader or head speaker. 

At a conference, there are certainly a lot of debates that take place, and executives are often placed under the spotlight to answer some hard-hitting questions to the audience. Depending on the type of conference, there may be break-out panel debates or debates in a controlled environment with a larger audience. 

Conference: Things to Do

With conferences being more directed towards businesses and large-scale organizations, this is often the perfect opportunity to network and build a strong contact list of influential individuals. 

While it’s possible to get the best conference experience by putting yourself into difficult situations, such as talking to business and thought leaders, it’s also advised to follow some pointers on what you can do to make the conference more worthwhile.

Bring Business Cards

As outdated as it may seem, business cards remain one of the best ways to share your contact details in real-time with interested professionals. Not only this, but it enables one to leave a small memento in the hands of potential business clients and other like-minded individuals. 

Business cards should always be professionally designed, with the company name or your name at the front. Additionally, make sure to include the necessary contact information and also where you may be located in case you have a physical address. 

Finally, if you want to make an impression, ensure to include your title, rank, or position. Often, business executives will clearly state their rank in a company to ensure clients and other professionals will remember who they are working and interacting with. 

Take Notes

At first, it may seem as if you’re only attending a conference to network with professionals, but in reality, it can be more than that. Taking notes during the conference helps you bring some of the information and knowledge back to your company. 

Although there are instances where brochures or information packages are provided after the conference, it’s best advised to write down some important pointers in case you may have any questions or topics you’d like to circle back to at a later stage.


A hard skill for many, but in these environments where a lot of useful and important information is being openly shared, it’s always best to have an attentive attitude to make sure you pick up on things other people might have missed. 

While everyone is attending the same conference, not everyone is listening for the same pieces of information. This means that if you’re going to learn more about a specific topic, chances are that someone else is going to improve their already existing knowledge. 

Be sure to listen throughout most of the discussions, and write down some follow-up questions or queries you may have. You don’t want to stand up in front of a crowd of people to ask a question, only to realize it’s off-topic or not related to what is being discussed. 


Ever heard of the saying, ‘it’s about who you know, not what you know?’

In the fast-paced world of business, networking will help you build a contact list of high-profile individuals that can help you with certain projects in the near future. 

Networking has become a vital tool for any person looking to advance their career or build relationships with important and influential people. Putting yourself in stressful and uncomfortable positions will help you learn how to work with people and also ensures that you can utilize their influence when the time is right. 

Networking with the right people will help open new doors and opportunities, and at a conference where there is a nearly endless amount of like-minded professionals, you should start learning how to be more punctual in starting and keeping a conversation with strangers. 

Summit: Things to Do

Seeing as a summit might be more formal and include several important political dignitaries, it’s best to know what to expect and how you should carry yourself throughout the entire event

Understand the Summit Discussion

A good place to start is to educate yourself on the topics that will be discussed at the summit. Although it’s highly unlikely that you will find yourself at a summit where you don’t already have some form of knowledge related to the topic of discussion, it’s considered a plus if you know more than the average attendee. 

Make time to read through the notes that are handed out before and during the summit meeting so that you can form a hard-hitting question that will receive the necessary answer. 

Pay Attention

This forms part of actively listening to the discussions being held, as most of the information that is being shared will help drive bigger and more important micro-discussions down the road. 

Be sure that during the summit, you pay attention to what the topics are and how thought leaders are addressing the issue. Consider their approach to the problem or issue at hand and how they will be looking to achieve certain objectives. 

It’s good to attend the summit with an open mind, as this allows you to draw a personal opinion once the summit has come to a close. Make sure that although you are going into the situation with an open mind, you’re still in a state where you can have a firm argument and opinion, regardless of which side of the political aisle you may be sitting on. 

Connect as a Team

If you may be attending a summit as part of a group or team, make sure that every member of the team is well-connected and is able to represent either your company or organization without the need for additional guidance. 

Connecting as a team allows individual members to carry on conversations with dignitaries while also having a similar or shared opinion. 

On top of this, when you can connect as a team, it’s possible to have more micro discussions after the summit has ended. This way, it’s possible to compile different points of interest and information to deliver a final briefing. Consider the last part of the summit as a steady debriefing of what you and your team are going to do going forward and how you will be addressing issues with the information and knowledge you’ve garnered at the summit. 

Attend the Workshops and Discussions

It’s one thing to attend either the opening ceremony, but it’s often more important to join in on the conversations that take place in workshops or group discussions. Although these settings are more intimate and require you to pay attention to the topic and what is being said, they can help to drive the argument in a specific direction. 

Be sure that you attend the workshops or discussions that you are interested in, and that you have signed up for any smaller group meetings that might take place throughout the summit. Be open to learning, but also, take the time to foster a new argument or opinion about a specific topic. 

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

To make sure your attendance at a conference was successful, here are some useful tips we’d recommend. 

  • Go to learn and improve your knowledge. 
  • Take the time you need to become comfortable with other professionals. 
  • Be ready to network and build new relationships. 
  • Ensure that you have read through the brief, or have been briefed by another colleague. 
  • Have a social and charismatic attitude, as this is more welcoming to others. 
  • Talk to speakers. 
  • Be ready to socialize with different people at social events. 
  • Come prepared with questions. 
  • Be professional, but take the time to relax and have fun. 
  • Make sure that you get the information you want from the right people. 
  • Always write down important contact details.


What Are the 5 C’s of Event Management?

Concept, coordination, control, closeout, and culmination.

What Is a Formal Meeting Called?

Depending on the business or organizational structure, a formal meeting can be called a committee meeting, council meeting, board meeting, or congressional hearing.

What Are Informal Meetings Called?

In the corporate and political ecosystem, an informal meeting is often known as an impromptu meeting or an ad-hoc meeting. 

What Are the Two Types of Conferences?

– A seminar will generally discuss a particular topic with a smaller group of attendees. 
– A symposium is a more casual gathering or event that connects like-minded professionals more socially.

Final Thoughts

It’s best practice to ensure you are well informed about the difference between a conference and a summit; although these two events or gatherings are often used interchangeably, some significant elements make up the final delivery of each. 

For the most part, the takeaway is that a summit can be considered a highly formal gathering of political dignitaries that discuss global events and topics. A conference on the other hand is also still a formal event but is more focused on bringing like-minded professionals together and creating a platform for them to network and foster relationships.  

Sabine Ghali

Kelly Murphy


Certified Meeting planner with 20+ years of event management experience, founder of ConferenceSource, expert in meeting facility sourcing & contracting in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. Kelly will manage your budget as if they were her own, negotiating the best possible rate and hotel contract to benefit and protect every client and exceed all expectations for all planning aspects for sales meetings, educational meetings, product launches, incentive trips down to a small board of directors meeting. We make meetings easy understanding your meeting objectives and delivering meeting matched components.