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The definitive guide for creating, hosting, and promoting a virtual summit

Raring to host your first virtual summit? Check out these pointers on how to design, host, and market your first virtual summit successfully.

April 3, 2020 by Taylor Barbieri

Virtual summits give small business leaders and entrepreneurs a stage unlike any other. 

In addition to a captive audience, you get a booming reputation and new, well-qualified leads to add into your funnel. 

Most people get significant sales boosts when they present at or host virtual summits, too. 

Still, there are a lot of important questions to consider before throwing your hat in the virtual summit ring, including:

  • How offering a virtual summit will benefit (or not benefit) your business 
  • What it takes to create and host an online summit and what’s unnecessary to do the same
  • How you can market your summit to increase attendance and sales without breaking the bank

These are all fair questions to ask, but they’re even better questions to answer, and today, that’s what we’ll be doing.

First, we’ll talk about the benefits of hosting a virtual summit, then we’ll break down how to create and host your own. After that, we’ll give you actionable, tried-and-true tips for promoting your virtual summit, so you get maximum gains with minimal costs.

Sound like what you need? Then let’s dive right in. 

Why host a virtual summit?

A virtual summit can help you increase your brand awareness, make customers more loyal to your business, grow your email list, generate leads, and potentially increase sales. 

Brands are taking notice of virtual summits’ marketing and sales potential. 

31% of marketers believe hosting live events is the most effective marketing channel. 96% of event creators plan to stream live video this year, as well. 

That’s not surprising when you consider that viewers spent eight times more time with live videos than pre-recorded ones. 

Fortunately, creators of all sizes and niches can access virtual summits’ benefits. 

Entrepreneur Eden Fried earned over $16,000 and over 3,000 email subscribers from hosting their first virtual summit. 

Similarly, Close, a software company, planned their summit within two months. They attracted 7,827 attendees, 5,300 new subscribers, and $2,328 in annual contract value.

Close also saw over 23,329 sessions on their virtual summit website for the month after it went live. 

Basically, virtual summits can be a win-win for businesses and their followers. They can help creators expand their reach, reputation, and sales figures. Attendees can learn something new, as well.  

Now, here’s how to create your own.

How to create and host a virtual summit

Step #1: Plan your summit’s purpose and layout

Some brands plan their virtual summits on a tight deadline. Close planned their summit within two months and saw great results. 

However, it’s best to give yourself at least several months to plan and launch it unless you have a sizable team to help you out. 

To start, identify your summit’s core goal, such as growing your email list or earning more sales. 

Then decide what you want to teach attendees -- this is where customer research and social listening can come in handy.  

Next, decide how you’ll present value to your attendees. 

Speaker interviews and presentations are the most obvious choice. 

You should also decide if you want speaker sessions to be live or pre-recorded. 

Wistia had speakers for their CouchCon virtual summit record their sessions in advance. Wistia felt that live sessions put pressure on speakers to be perfect. 

Live Q&As, recordings, worksheets, or ebooks can complement your presentations.  

As an example, SCORE’s Startup Success Virtual Conference was only five-hours long. SCORE featured nine webinars, one-on-one mentoring sessions, chat rooms for networking, and more in those five hours. 

Breakout sessions, similar to what SCORE did, are solid additions to your virtual summit, too. 47% of event planners believe tailored breakout sessions will be the biggest personalization trend in 2020. 

Next, decide how long you want your summit to last and for how long attendees can access the summit content. 

Do Business Like a Woman’s virtual summit interviews were only available for 14 days. 

AWeber’s 2019 Beyond the Podcast summit was only one day long and featured three hours of interviews. Interested attendees can still access the summit content by sharing their email address with AWeber. 

So how long to keep your materials up is definitely variable -- ultimately, if it’s still driving more leads, we’d recommend offering lifelong access as part of your list-building strategies.

Regardless, your next step after you decide how long to offer your summit recordings and materials is to set a price and tiers for your summit. 

Plenty of summits, such as the She Engineers Summit, offer free access. Other summits, like the Social Media Online Summit 2020, offer multiple paid ticket options. 

Once you have all of that set up, it’s time to start building and engaging with your online following. 

That way, your followers may be more willing to listen to your marketing messages when your summit is ready to be promoted. 

Besides that, you also don’t want your followers to think you only want to connect with them when you’re launching a new product. 

So spend a few weeks (at minimum) engaging with your audience before announcing and promoting your summit.  

Lastly, don’t forget to clean up your website -- fix broken links, refresh your copy, create a better user experience for customers, and et cetera -- before publicly announcing your summit and pitching speakers and sponsors. 

That way, you’ll have a stunning website for potential attendees, speakers, and sponsors to visit. This can, in turn, boost your credibility in their eyes and may encourage them to join your summit. 

Once you’ve completed all of the above, you’re ready for the next step: outreach.

Step #2: Reach out to speakers and sponsors

Before you ask speakers and sponsors for their time and support, decide what they’ll receive in return for their participation. 

In regards to speakers, you could pay them a flat fee in advance. 

You may also want to set up a referral affiliate marketing program for speakers. That way, they can receive a portion of each sale they generate for your summit. 

Affiliate commissions vary from summit to summit, although 30% to 50% seems to be average. 

Especially if this is your first summit, giving out 30% to 50% of each sale can seem bananas. But here’s the thing: word-of-mouth marketing can bring in exponentially more than it costs. 

50% of Americans would pick word-of-mouth if they had to pick one source of information, so rewarding referrals can pay for itself many times over. 

You could also pay speakers only in commissions. However, that approach is likely to yield few positive responses. 

Even if you do find a few speakers willing to accept a commission-only payment, it’s generally polite to compensate them in advance. A mix of upfront payments and affiliate commissions will probably result in the most speakers for your summit. 

You should also outline how speakers can participate, such as if they’ll have live or pre-recorded presentations. Make sure to clearly lay out what’s expected of them before and during the summit, as well.  

If you’re looking for inspiration laying out your own terms and guidelines, check out Rebel Boss Virtual Summit’s comprehensive page for speakers

As for sponsors, first decide how many sponsorship tiers you want to offer and what sponsors can receive at each tier.

It would also be wise to put together a document with all the key details for your sponsors, including your summit’s purpose, reach, and what they can expect from sponsoring your summit. 

This sponsor deck from Crypto Virtual Summit is a standout example of an information-packed sponsorship document. 

With all of your details laid out, it’s time to go ahead and start contacting speakers and sponsors. 

While you’ll want to tailor pitches to each individual and brand, you’ll want to make sure pitches to both groups mention:

  • What your brand is and what it does 
  • Your summit’s goal 
  • Key metrics about your brand and following
  • What speakers and sponsors could expect by joining your summit
  • Your summit marketing plan and how you would like/expect others to contribute 

Once you’ve gotten some positive responses, you can start laying out a joint promotion plan for how speakers and sponsors can help promote your event. 

Don’t forget to ask about how they would like their brands promoted to your audience, too. 

The right speakers and sponsors can elevate your summit’s quality and effect. Make sure to not only be discerning in who you pitch but ensure your compensation reflects the value you know they’ll bring. 

Your final step before launching your summit is to collect the tools and resources you need to run it. 

Step #3: Get the tools to host your summit

The good news is that you’ve already done the hard work of planning your summit -- now you just need to find the people and tools to help you get it up and running. 

To start, you may want to get an event planning tool to help you manage the many tasks involved in running your summit. 

Businesses save an average of 18.6 hours per month and 223 hours per year by using event software, so it can definitely be worth the cost. 

It would also be wise to peruse the best virtual assistant (VA) services and/or hire a VA to help you manage your summit’s many moving parts. You should likewise invest in a communication tool so you can connect with your fellow team members, speakers, and sponsors. 

Educators in VR used Discord and a Facebook group to communicate with others about their summit. Tools like Slack or apps like WhatsApp could be good options, too. 

Next, you’ll need a tool to present and/or record your summit presentations. Nerd Summit, for example, hosted their sessions through Zoom

Wistia asked presenters to use SoapBox, a screen- and webcam-recording tool, to record their talks. 

You may also want to use a social media platform, like Facebook Live or YouTube Live, to host your events. 

Facebook has nearly 2.5 billion users, and YouTube has over 2 billion logged-in users each month, making each platform great for reaching a wide audience. 

We'd especially recommend YouTube Live if you're a Podia user, as we now support integration and you can sell your summit directly from Podia.

Beyond hosting platforms, you should also use a landing page to collect attendees’ email addresses in exchange for a ticket, such as how the PreMed Virtual Summit did for their event. 

Additionally, you may need to purchase an app or third-party tool like Eventbrite to sell summit tickets if your website and landing page builder do not support ticket sales. 

By now, your head is probably spinning from all of the tools you’ll need to buy and coordinate. 

To make things easier on yourself, why not opt for an all-in-one platform that makes launching and selling tickets to your summit much more efficient? 

Summits are a breeze to manage when you can host and distribute all of your additional materials, as well as process payments, from one seamless dashboard like what you get with Podia.

Plus, that’s hardly all you get with Podia.

Sign up for Podia for free today to access our landing and sales page builder, email marketing tool, customer messaging tool, video hosting, seamless checkout, and discount and upselling and cross-selling functionality. 

Did I mention you can sell unlimited tickets, set up endless tiers, and connect to as many -- or as few -- attendees as you’d like when you use Podia?

Sweet, right?

Speaking of marketing tools, whether you use ours or bring your own, here’s how you’ll want to apply them to get the word out about your virtual summit.

How to promote your virtual summit

Tip #1: Build a killer landing and sales page

Here’s the thing: You can send marketing emails and social media updates until the cows come home. 

But if there’s no central place for your customers to learn more about your summit and enroll in it, you’re not going to see much fruit from your labor. 

Fortunately, a sales page and landing page can help you do just that. 

A sales page is where your customers can go to purchase something from you. 

However, a sales page is also an opportunity for you to explain your product or service to your customers, how they’ll benefit, and why they should click “buy”.

To boost ticket sales for your virtual summit, add a FAQ section to address attendees’ questions, such as what ConvertKit included on their sales page. 

Customer testimonials or reviews and persuasive sales copy can help you to make your case to attendees, as well. 

For instance, consider how much more compelling Campaign Donut’s virtual summit page is with these positive comments from speakers and attendees. 

Don’t sweat it if you’re new to writing sales pages -- these guides can teach you what you should know about writing a sales page that converts, getting better sales page testimonials, and UI tweaks to boost trust on sales pages

If your summit is still months away and you’re not ready to accept ticket sales, you may want to create a landing page for the time being. 

Generally speaking, a landing page is where your followers can go to join your email list and sign up for updates and marketing messages.

A landing page is better to start with if you’re still ironing out details but want to nurture potential attendees as you’re putting the summit together. 

Minimally, you’ll want your landing page to have basic information about your summit, such as its purpose and who’s hosting it, as well as a way for subscribers to join your list. 

While not mandatory, it’s also wise to add information about your summit’s dates, speakers, and other perks, if available. 

For instance, you could have a lengthy sales page like Tax and Legal Summit’s that promotes your event months in advance. 

Of course, you could opt for a shorter page, such as the Sales Growth Virtual Summit landing page. 

One study found that shorter pages tended to convert better than longer ones, so it could result in higher conversions. That being said, there is a time and place to write a shorter landing page over a longer one, and vice versa. 

Have your landing and/or sales pages setup? Great. Now, you need to tell people about them.

Tip #2: Spread the word about your summit

While word-of-mouth is an effective marketing tactic, you shouldn’t neglect tried-and-true content marketing strategies to get the word out about your summit. 

To that end, don’t be afraid to mention your summit on your blog, in your YouTube videos, and on your live-streams. 

Don’t forget about email marketing, too. 

Email allows you to send more targeted marketing messages than through most other marketing channels. Plus, it’s cheap.

Specifically, email marketing has a 4,200% ROI by some estimates, yielding about £42.24 for every £1 spent.  

Don’t be a stranger when it comes to encouraging subscribers to join your summit. Chances are they lead busy lives, and your virtual summit may slip from their minds. 

Follow Drip’s example and send several reminder emails before and during the event so attendees won’t miss out. Make sure to send post-summit thank you emails, too. 

To that end, you’ll want your reminder emails to include the date, time, and location (such as Zoom or Facebook Live) of your summit. Probably four to six emails leading up to your summit should suffice, as well as an email for each day that the summit occurs. 

You should also clearly (and repeatedly) emphasize what attendees will get out of your summit, from learning a new skill to gaining clarity on an issue they’ve long struggled with. 

Additionally, be sure to explain how attendees can purchase tickets, such as how Litmus did for their Litmus Live email

It’s also good to include information about your speakers and what customers can get from joining your summit. 

Lastly, don’t forget to broadcast your summit to your social media following, too, to increase your exposure. 

Meet Edgar used social media ads, a social media announcement, their email list, and a giveaway on their thank you page, among other tactics, to promote their virtual summit

Don’t forget the follow-up part of all this, by the way. It’s just as important as the lead-up.

Tip #3: Follow up with your attendees, guest speakers, and sponsors

After all of the hard work you put into putting together your summit, you don’t want the relationships you made with your attendees, speakers, and sponsors to flounder. 

To that end, make sure to send thank you emails after the event to thank each party for their participation and contribution. 

Your thank you email doesn’t have to be a miles-long missive -- a short email like the one HubSpot sent below should do just fine. 

For attendees, it would be wise to send an email or two sharing helpful content, like videos and articles, to complement what they learned in the summit. 

You could also outline what steps they can take, such as joining a membership program or enrolling in private coaching. HubSpot encouraged attendees to sign up for a free consultation in their thank you email. 

While it may take some time to see sales after your summit, taking the time to nurture and bond with your attendees can pay off. 

57% of shoppers said they would increase their spending with a brand they felt connected to. 

For speakers and sponsors, you should also periodically give them a shout-out on social media or your email list as a thank you for their compensation. 

It would also be smart to follow up a few weeks after the event to see if they’re interested in any other collaboration opportunities. As an example, Navid Moazzez sent the following email to a speaker who had presented at his virtual summit in the past.

Look, at the end of the day, virtual summits are about building relationships so everyone -- your business, your customers, your speakers, and your sponsors -- can benefit. 

So once your summit is over, make sure to continue giving those relationships your time and attention. Over time, you’ll see an increased reputation, following, and sales from your efforts. 

Plus, it’s just polite, and a little politeness never hurts anyone.

Launch your virtual summit to success with these simple tips

Even if you’ve never launched a virtual summit before, you have what it takes to make your first summit a smash. 

To get a clearer picture of what your summit will entail, you’ll want to:

  • Outline your summit’s goal and what it will teach attendees
  • Determine what type of content your summit will feature, such as pre-recorded interviews or live Q&As
  • Contact speakers and sponsors who you would like to include in your summit
  • Gather up the tools you need to run your summit, such as event planning software or product page builder

As for the marketing side of things, make sure to:

  • Build a landing page and/or sales page that converts visitors into attendees
  • Use multiple promotional strategies to boost attendance
  • Nurture the relationships you made during your summit to increase your reputation and sales in the long-term

Doesn’t that sound a lot less intimidating than you originally thought hosting a virtual summit was going to be?

As with most things in business, running a virtual summit can be exhilarating, and even a little scary. But as long as you put in your best efforts and give yourself room to experiment and grow, I’m certain your attendees will love it. 

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