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Behind the Scenes of 2020 Summit Planning with Katie Van Geffen

Behind the Scenes of 2020 Summit Planning with Katie Van Geffen

For the past 17 years, culture leaders from around the globe have come together at the Great Place to Work annual summit to share trends, best practices, challenges and inspiration. In this blog post, we take you behind the scenes with Senior Event Marketing Manager, Katie Van Geffen, to talk about the planning that goes into the summit and what attendees can expect in 2020.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Great Place to Work?
The great thing about my job is that I get to do a bunch of different things. First, I manage the marketing communications around the Summit. Second, I work with our partners to ensure that our sponsors get all the benefits associated with their sponsorship. Finally, I manage the staff on site during the event itself. One thing that attendees might not realize is that all event staff, including our session speaker room attendants and 'human arrows', which help people navigate the event, work at Great Place to Work. We don’t hire any external staff, which is pretty unique. We want attendees to really get to know our employees and have the opportunity to network with them.

Q. What was the highlight for you at the 2019 Summit?
I loved the Culture Rockstar Celebration. We had Grammy-award winner, Meghan Trainor, perform live at the iconic Masonic Theater. She has so much energy and had such a great story to share about confidence and girl power. We didn’t realize when we booked her how mission-focused she was and how on-brand her message would be with our audience. I was blown away by how special it was. (That's our events team with her in the photo above, I'm second from the left!)

Q. What was the most moving part of the 2019 Summit for you?
I was racing around so much during the event but I gave myself a moment to give into the emotion during our CEO Michael Bush’s keynote. In addition to being so impressed by his power as a public speaker, I was moved watching him give the attendees everything he had. To sing and dance on stage isn’t easy--even for someone used to public speaking. He was vulnerable and I think the attendees really appreciated it. Everyone was on their feet and many, not just me, were moved to tears.

Q. How do partners play a role in the Summit?
In addition to underwriting some of the cost of the event, our partners provide so much value to attendees in our partner hall, which we transitioned this year from a traditional trade show to a mission-driven space to share stories and best practices. A great example is Workday, which set up their space to mirror one of their office relaxation lounges, complete with ping pong table. Attendees could learn about Workday’s people practices around lowering stress while relaxing in a look-alike space.

Q. What surprised you about the 2019 event?
The food! Hilton San Francisco, where the event was held, absolutely killed it with the food and beverages. The theme was local cuisine so it was eclectic and delicious. This was not your traditional boxed sandwich lunch and stale cookie break! It was an elevated, gourmet experience.

Q. What was the best swag that attendees walked away with?
Oh, there are a couple that come to mind. SAP made swag an experience, with a vending machine so attendees could choose their own item. Bright Horizons brought a photographer and helped attendees style themselves for a headshot, that was emailed to them for use in their social media profiles. It was pretty brilliant because Bright Horizons’ employees were able to really engage attendees as they got ready for their shoots. I heard some great conversations taking place in their ‘booth’, which was nothing like a booth that you would see in a traditional partner hall.

Q. Any changes you’re working on for the 2020 Summit?
Next year we are planning to focus more on customers and will be adding a whole user conference dimension to what was formerly a thought leadership event, with more flash talks and focus sessions led by our customers. We are also introducing a community day on Tuesday, March 3rd. The popularity of Greg Pryor’s session at this year’s summit about how Workday leverages employee experience data to unleash innovation made us realize that customers are craving information about data insights from our culture management platform Emprising. We want to provide opportunities for more engagement with our product team and culture experts so we decided to add a day to the program.

Q. When will you be sharing the agenda and speakers for the 2020 event?
I can tell you that our theme has already been decided: For All Leadership. At the end of August we will be revealing our co-chairs and will start to share some of the speakers beginning in September. By December we should have a pretty complete agenda. But trust me, we’re looking at some great options and it’s going to be a who’s who of amazing speakers, so take advantage of early bird pricing, which ends June 30! And, our call for speakers is open right now so if you’re a For All leader with a great story to share, we would love to hear from you. You can learn more about speaking at the conference here


Julie Musilek