I Hacked Summit At Sea

10 Tips to Help You Maximize Your Summit Experience

3,000 of the most influential entrepreneurs, activists, philanthropists, artists, musicians, business moguls and members of the media on a cruise ship headed for the Bahamas. With musical acts like Foster The People and Kendrick Lamar and larger than life personalities wandering the deck like Quentin Tarantino, sounds like the stuff dreams are made of. The mental picture it conjures is both exotic and exclusive — leaving land-dwellers curious and perhaps jealous they didn’t get to stow-away on-board.

When you get invited to a Summit event, your first instinct is to try to figure out how to get the most out of it. At a few thousand dollars a ticket, it’s not for the faint of wallet. Everyone is intimidatingly connected and the next person you meet could be the linchpin for your future business success — or failure. Once aboard, you painstakingly stalk every person who could be of value to you, memorize their face from a closed social network, hunt for company names on badges and corner them when they least expect it. Like in a hot tub surrounded by even hotter people with washboard abs. Intimidating — yes — but it’s now or never.

Wrong. That’s not how it works.

For the few frauds who take that approach, good luck. They likely turned off more people than made lasting connections. Being prepared is commendable. But to truly maximize the Summit experience, it’s not about programming, planning or even shark-tagging your next potential business buddy, it’s about going with the flow. And while you may have to work really hard at a Summit event to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth (it will be the most fun work of your life, by the way), the approach is a little less conventional than you might think.

It’s called serendipity.

I have a little experience in this matter. Called to join the Summit team in late 2010 as their Executive Creative Director, I was part of the team that put on the first Summit at Sea.

It was there, at the epicenter of this growing community, that I honed the art of listening, openness to new experience in the face of incredible odds and finally — an insatiable curiosity for the unknown. We lived in a house together. We ate meals together. And with salon-style dinners around one, long extended table, the Summit team entertained guests almost nightly who expanded our horizons on politics, arts, culture, education and innovation. During my time on the team, I met celebrities, actors and activists, and with each new morsel of inspiration, began to change my perspective about how business should be done. Not through hustle, but through genuine friendship.

Hack it all day long.

So how does one hack the Summit Experience? How do you take the opportunity to hobnob with thousands of amazing people and turn it into maximum value? The answer is simple: you give and give — and give some more. Give of your time, attention, your presence and connections. Just wandering the boat, I met survivalist Cody Lundin, featured on four seasons of Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival. Barefoot and with his unmistakable braids, bearing a tattered shirt declaring his moto: “the more you know the less you need,” we spent nearly an hour talking all things marketing. As he had taught me survival skills in my living room for years, it was an opportunity for me to give back and share with him the future of integrated advertising as I saw it. And all over a few scoops of gelatto.

When you enter a Summit experience, imagine yourself as the conduit to anything and everything you’ve ever known or ever learned, channeling it in service of a community greater than yourself. Instead of trying to harness a conversation so you can feel validated, take “A Learning Safari” as Summit puts it. Ask good questions. Be prepared to listen—and to connect on a human level. The best strategy you can put into play: ready yourself to fully embrace serendipity as it presents itself.

10 ways to maximize your summit experience:

1. Find A Wingman | You’re rad. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But when you’re introducing yourself solo, you’re automatically posturing for significance. Sometimes we need a voice (that’s not our own) who can sing our praises when we can’t — and often with a little more articulation than we could deliver. Finding a solid wingman (or wingwoman) will allow you to introduce them as well, and help them shine in the spotlight of significance. Hint: try that first!

2. Form Alliances | When you spend your time at an event thinking of others, you’ll be more likely to catch wind of connections you can make for others. Instead of looking at Summit through the lens of who you met, cast a wider net and create a curated alliance with a few close friends who will be your eyes and ears. Let them know who you are hoping to meet in advance. Then schedule a follow-up call to see if there are any connections you each made that might benefit each other.

3. Believe Everyone Is There For A Reason | Conventional wisdom would suggest that if you meet someone and your worlds aren’t perfectly aligned, abandon ship and find a new conversation. After all, networking is like speed dating, right? Wrong. If you focus only on what you want to get out of people you’ll miss the most important aspect of Summit — an intersection of vastly different perspectives and the opportunity to learn from others. Remember everyone there has something to add even if you can’t see it on first pass. If you gained some perspective, you benefitted and so did they.

4. Pay It Forward | The most valuable thing that you can do is help people connect with what they want and need. This posture to the world automatically opens you up to good vibes, demonstrates you are not solely self-interested and actually puts you in the MVP role — the person who knows everyone. Be tenacious about follow up, and know that by helping others find what they need, they will be forever endeared to you for putting them first.

5. Depth Over Breadth | I know both sides of this coin because I can work a room like nobody’s business. Summit isn’t about speed networking, but built on a model of friendship first, business second; it’s imperative that you make deep connections vs. shallow ones. Quick hits are fine, but three days later when the alcohol wears off and you have no real details to add in a follow-up email dying for context, you’re screwed. People will remember soul connection over a business conversation any day. Prepare to spend real time with people hearing their story and sharing yours.

7. People Over Programming | Who wants to sleep when there are 2,999 amazing people aboard the boat and they’re all interesting. Many attendees struggle with trying to get to programming vs. meeting people. You can do both. Most of my best conversations were with people trying to get to the next session just like me. While we didn’t get into the session every time, I knew we would have a ton to discuss on follow-up because our interests were aligned. And sometimes, you just need to wander the boat and find someone, like you, momentarily isolated and ready to connect about anything and everything. My most unforgettable and soul-stirring conversations had nothing to do with business. But it did start with a red pair of pants.

8. Never Eat Alone | As we all know, this is not a new idea. Mealtime is THE time to mix it up. As people were pouring off a buffet line I grabbed a few individuals (none of which new each other) and told them to follow me. We sat down with Sarah who was eating by herself and then kicked off a game of Two Truths and A Lie. Mealtime is the best time to break from your circle of friends and meet someone new. And there’s no better time and place to meet a handful of people in a single setting.

9. Be More Interested, Less Interesting | Posturing. You’ve seen it everywhere. And it’s naturally in us to want to be considered significant to others. Hey, I’m from Milwaukee, which represented .003% of the population on the boat. At that rate, I’m considered a Midwest minority. By demonstrating interest in others’ stories, startups and activities — and asking amazing questions, you automatically become more interesting. Ironically, when it comes to getting into the Summit community, it’s just the opposite. Be more interesting, less interested. And that will more likely yield an invite.

10. Let Serendipity Play Out | There were a few times where I didn’t make it to the keynote or breakout session I was hoping to. Maybe seating was full or a trip to the restroom lost me my place in line. These are the kinds of things — in the real world — that would drive us insane. When that happens at Summit — and oh, it happened to me — you roll with it. Like bends in a river, you never know who you will meet next and how they could change your life, or you, theirs. I went from losing a place in line next to a Pandora exec (don’t worry, I still have his info) to gaining a seat next to a lawyer from the NAACP Defense Fund. Totally rad.

BONUS

11. This is The Beginning Not The End | Just like summer camp, everyone’s a little sad (or hung over) when they have to leave. You’ve just experienced some of the most surreal days of your life. When some people are saying their goodbyes, I suggest considering it a new beginning. Follow-ups, opportunities to collaborate. Being from Milwaukee, I have to work extra hard to both add value to the community and benefit from it. The greater the depth of the experience with those you meet, the easier it is to genuinely follow up. Be prepared to follow up within 48 hours with even a light touch. And just to stay on the radar. It’s funny how those blissful memories on a boat in the Bahamas begin to fade like Brigadoon into the mist when you’re faced with an inbox full of emails.

Go Forth And Give Some

Your journey has just begun as a contributing member of one of the most connected communities on the face of the planet. And to receive fully from it, you must give. When you do, you’ll discover that the universe has a way of paying you back. So what’s next for Summit? While this recent event was announced to be the final Summit At Sea, fear not, Summit has big plans for 2017: a re-imagination of the World’s Fair, hosted in the city of Los Angeles. See you there.

Tim Dyer is Chief Storyteller of Manifesto, A Brand Declaration Agency with offices in Portland, Oregon and Milwaukee Wisconsin.