How to Network at a Conference for Famous People

At Summit, an ideas conference that has drawn celebrities from Jeff Bezos to A$AP Rocky, it’s all about human connection

Diana McKeon Charkalis
Published in
13 min readDec 13, 2019


Illustrations: Jan Buchczik

One by one, people take the mic as they stride into the circle.

“Step into the center if you know your passion and you’re following it,” one orders.

“Step into the center if you believe in healing trauma with psychedelics,” says another.

At each command, dozens lunge forward, eager to identify with their tribe.

“Step into the circle if you’re a dog person.” That’s me. “Step into the circle if you’re an only child.” Me, again. “Step into the circle if both your parents have died.” Yup.

I don’t move. I may be an only child and a dog person whose parents have both died, but I’m not a circle person. At least, not yet.

This “just like me” icebreaker was the first bit of programming I experienced at Summit LA19, an elite three-day ideas conference sprawled over four blocks of historic theaters, hotels, galleries, and restaurants, connected by alleys and extravagantly refurbished parking lots in the Broadway theater district of downtown Los Angeles.

Summit’s mantra over the past decade. Photo: Kyle Cordova / Courtesy of Summit

During hands-on “experiences,” interviews, live performances, and art installations, rich and powerful people are coached in subtle and not so subtle ways to put away their phones and their facades and look each other in the eye — to talk, to listen, and to engage.

It’s relentlessly participatory. And totally exhausting.

“What’s going on in there?” I hear a tourist ask a guard on the street outside the Orpheum Theater. He shrugs. “Some convention for millionaires.” And he isn’t wrong. (Billionaires, too: Ted Turner, Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, and Jeff Bezos, among others, have been known to stop by.)

In 2008, Summit began as a ski trip with 19 entrepreneurs in Park City, Utah, cobbled together by a group of aspirational twentysomethings who cold-called a guest list including…



Diana McKeon Charkalis
Writer for

Diana is a freelance journalist who’s been published by USA Today, New York Times News Service, Prevention, Parents and more. Visit for more.