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empty chairs in a small meeting room Secrets of Successful Thought Leadership Summits

Well-planned thought leadership summits serve as one of the most high-value growth strategies you can implement for your organization. Regardless of the investment in valuable corporate resources, it all boils down to what leadership summit ideas you apply and how the event’s outcome can contribute to achieving your objectives and goals.

Leadership summits stand out from your typical conferences and conventions, primarily because of who attends them and why. The participation of C-level leaders, such as CEOs and CFOs, and frontline executives is intended to make the most of a company’s best minds – or many company’s greatest thinkers – to glean insights and collaborate towards problem-solving and strategy development to power genuine transformation within your corporation or within an industry or vertical market.

But while the very prospect of having top honchos in attendance can be exciting, it can also be equally daunting. It can require more deliberate thought and effort to plan around VIPs’ schedules. You also have to consider the expenses for the hotels, the event venue, and the logistics of taking people and equipment to and from the area. While these particular costs exist for every corporate event, the best leadership summits are often staged in somewhat remote locations far from distractions that would lure the attendees away from the ballroom or theatre. For instance, Las Vegas or New York would be less ideal for a focused leadership conference than Carmel, CA or Kiawah, SC. These somewhat remote locations are not easy to travel to, therefore one attendees arrive they feel more committed to staying.

Then there is, of course, the opportunity cost of having precious executive time tied up in a 2 or 3 day summit. And the worst part? Getting less than valuable results. So how can you make your leadership summit deliver maximum value? Here are some of the best leadership summit ideas to ensure that your event  goes beyond the obligatory junket.

10 Leadership Summit Ideas

1. Choose your executive committee strategically

First, there should only be one meeting owner, ideally a top-level executive such as a CEO. Keep in mind that a summit’s success depends a lot on the cooperation of everyone involved. You can just imagine how difficult it is for a mid-level executive to ask CIOs and CFOs to prioritize the requirements and deadlines for the event. The higher the meeting owner’s level of influence, the more likely they can secure the necessary attention and support.

It always takes a team to make the dream work—or at least the bigger and more important ones. While the meeting owner’s job is to determine the content to be discussed and the objectives and outcomes of those discussions, you, the event planner, must oversee the smooth flow of the planning process and the actual run of the summit. You will need to work with specific task managers, such as the agenda owner, the coordinator, and the design team. An editor will also be critical in ensuring that presentations are lean, coherent, and aligned with the event’s objectives. The meeting owner should clarify with everyone that the editor has his backing, so the latter can have the courage to trim out the fat from the C-level presentations if they have to.

2. Set clear objectives

This may seem like a no-brainer. Yet, you may be surprised to discover how many summit goals consist of ambiguous statements, like “Align and Achieve” or “Outsmart to Outlast.” Do not be intimidated by ambitious goals! The more provocative, ambitious and specific your stated goals for the discussions can be,, the more likely your C-Level guests will feel compelled to attend. Enlisting the help of senior leadership can provide the much-needed support to drive the nail harder in terms of setting the most challenging and rewarding conference outcomes.

3. Prepare well in advance

A hastily organized event (insert facepalm emoji) is a disaster waiting to happen. The importance of the meeting plus the gazillion details require that you perfect the logistics of the summit at least 6 to 12 months ahead of time. A critical path sheet with clear and concise tasks, owners, and timelines can help you track how everything is progressing and course-correct as required.

4. Anticipate possible setbacks 

Remember Murphy’s Law where “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”? So over-communicate, over-confirm, over-check. To ensure that your participants can be at the venue early enough to settle down and familiarize themselves with the location and agenda, it’s always wise to have a Day 0 of your summit. For instance, if your summit is to begin it’s vigorous discussions on Tuesday morning at 8:00 am, your Day 0 would start on Monday evening with cocktails and dinner for your elite attendees. Your C-Level guests will appreciate this opportunity to get to know each other in a casual setting before the serious discussions begin the following morning. The extra time can also give you a bit of leeway if any adjustments or additional coordination needs to be done. While it will cost you more to have that arrival night dinner, it will not cost nearly as much as the value lost from brilliant minds who arrive late to the discussion.

Pay extra attention to your top-tier attendees. They often have complex, multiple obligations that can change frequently.  Don’t be a casualty of such incidents. Over-confirm with them as well as their assistants about the date, times, venue and logistics. Double and triple check. Put it all in writing.

5. Presentation Deadlines

Back in the day before digital photography, the term “photo finish” was used to describe things that barely made it to the finish line. Unfortunately, that may be the usual expectation for C-level and other stage presentations that form an essential part of the summit’s content. Set your presenters’ deadlines ahead of your own target completion date to ensure that no presentation is submitted at the very last minute. This allows your editor enough time to make the necessary cuts and revisions. Neither can the value of dry runs be overestimated, as they can help the organizers and content presenters have a complete perspective of the flow of the affair and see how they fit into the entire production. They can also help avoid embarrassing mishaps such as malfunctioning computers and microphones..

6. Prep the attendees with pre-event material

Provide meeting attendees with an overview of the flow and content of the event without giving away the entire design of the affair. This pre-summit material should be concise and easy to read so that participants will spend less time figuring out what’s going on and instead focus on the valuable content. At the same time, this can also prime them to be more confident in contributing to the discussion. Most importantly, your agenda should be populated with provocative questions to be answered by the vigorous discussions to be had throughout the summit. For instance, instead of just listing the subject for discussion – “Tackling Global Distribution Challenges” – you’d be wise to list two or three questions underneath that discussion heading that will cause your attendee to feel compelled to attend and participate. Questions such as: “How will you integrate currency fluctuations into your company’s global distribution risk management plan?” and “How will your company prepare for natural disasters and geo-political turbulence in the formation of your global distribution plans?” will excite your attendees and compel them to participate in the vigorous discussion. Questions like these also tell your audience that not only will the discussions be invigorating, they will each feel smarter for having attended the summit.

7. Control the event flow 

Make your event the perfect place to remain stimulated throughout the discussions by taking care to manage everything from the temperature in the room, the comfort of the chairs, and the pacing of the discussions. Be aware of potential lulls in the flow so you’ll know where to switch things up with a quick stretch break or 5-minute coffee break in the ballroom or a short entertaining video to spice things up.

No matter how well-rested the participants are the day before, if the detail-rich presentations come one after the other with no pause for reflection, the attendee can feel fatigued by so much rich content. So, maintain an upbeat rhythm by keeping the podium sessions to a maximum of three, allotting each speaker 15 to 20 minutes. Mix up the solo presentations with a variety of intimate fireside chats between two people or panel discussions that leave the powerpoint slides to the side.

8. Set up for optimal sharing

Great ideas are generated when people are ready and willing to share. Leadership summits can achieve this if they’re designed to create many opportunities for easy interaction. Think out of the box and create a unique opportunity where a few “lottery winners” can have the privilege to interview the special guest and also have a chance to be asked about their own insights by that important panelist.

For the regular breakout sessions after the main stage presentations, ensure cross-representation so that the groups are mixed up, allowing for multiple perspectives and a richer discussion.

As for Q and A’s, they can be invaluable when done right. Sometimes, you may feel like you’re watching a predictable play where some questions seem to be scripted, whereas others can look like they’re designed to provoke. You may also have been at some of these sessions where only one or two questions entirely hogged the allotted time because of the complex answers given.

One creative way out of this dilemma is to ask the participants to send their questions the day before the Q & A, so organizers can choose the most relevant and prepare for the more provocative questions while keeping within the time limit.

9. Follow through with a summary, tracker and post-summit survey

While organizers may breathe a sigh of relief at the culmination of the event, the work has, in fact, only just begun. Within 24 to 48 hours from the close of the affair, the executive committee should be able to release a summary and a post-summit survey.

The summary should contain all the details of the commitments made at the summit. The executive committee will then create a project tracker after 30 days to ensure that the deliverables are met by the set timelines.

The survey may combine automated polling with text-in answers and written survey forms and also allow for anonymous submission where sensitive information is being collected. Make the format user-friendly so the surveys don’t feel like a chore for participants to accomplish.

10. Partner with an A-team of event production experts

These leadership summit ideas can go a long way in enhancing the value of your event as a significant growth driver. But if you want to get everything absolutely right and ensure your event’s success, consider working with competent event professionals like Carlstrom Productions. From industry leaders to evolutionary startups, different-scale companies trust our level of expertise honed from years of in-depth and hands-on experience. By partnering with us, you too can have a highly transformative company leadership event without any of the usual stress. Let us help you take your leadership summit to the very top. Check out Carlstrom Productions today.

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