Virtual Summit – [A Guide on How to Start One & Examples]
Regardless of what your business is, the need for organic community engagement is ever-increasing. With the global pandemic posing new challenges for all business owners, Virtual Summits have taken the world by storm, and it’s just the beginning.
Let’s discuss how to start a Virtual Summit of your own, and why you should.
There is no doubt about the huge importance of forming a strong online community for your business today. Without an online community, it’s safe to say that it will be a lot harder for you to maintain a sustainable business model.
With many small business owners swearing on their Facebook groups for boosting organic customer engagement, you could be tricked into rushing and making one right this instant. This would have been a fairly smart idea not so long ago — but today?
Today, this would be an outdated move. Here’s what’ going on.
It’s no secret that our attention spans are decreasing because of constant bombardment with various types of (often unuseful) information online.
With mainstream social media more crowded each day, it’s becoming almost impossible to use any of them without experiencing information overload in minutes, even seconds.
Let’s say you’re running a Facebook page to connect with your customers. Now imagine being that customer. With everything that’s desperately and constantly competing for your attention, you could be overwhelmed very easily.
What does this mean for your business and the success of your outreach? I’m guessing you see where this is going.
If your community members “overheat” or get distracted before even reaching your online group, is it even possible to inspire action through your ideas online — in an authentic way?
It is. But you need to take two steps:
- Realize it’s time to rely less on mainstream social media for this
- Inspire your online community independently
It’s time to move away from Facebook and take things into your own hands. And now there is an amazing and effective way you can do this.
It might seem very intuitive: A virtual summit is just a summit in an online environment. However, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. There are various types of online events. From an Online Workshop, Virtual Meetup, Podcast, or a Virtual Keynote to a Virtual Tradeshow, Virtual Summit, Online Conference, or a Webinar.
While all these types of events share the same essence, learning about their differences will help you focus the organization of your Virtual Summit in a way that will ultimately set it apart from others.
Chances are, you have probably heard of Webinars countless times. How are they different from Virtual Summits? Are they the same? Let’s take a look.
Webinars are virtual seminars on a particular topic and can reach many people at the same time. A host usually presents a lecture or demo. The presentation can be downloaded and the audience can ask questions over chat or audio.
Virtual summits are best suited for a smaller group. They often include multiple speakers, several tracks and live sessions, with breakout sessions in between, and include live polls and surveys. Speakers and attendees can have two-way communication between them over audio/video in real-time.
Both Webinars and Virtual Summits are clever marketing strategies. You could argue that the main difference between the two lies in the size of the group that’s attending. But there’s a far more important difference. It lies in interactivity and authentic connection WITH your customers and the connection BETWEEN your customers.
The Most Successful Virtual Summits implement interactivity as one of their key aspects and use this as their ultimate advantage.
The main ideas and goals behind Successful Virtual Summits are:
- Promoting your company by inviting interesting and thought-provoking speakers
- Establishing your company as a relevant competitor in your field
- Team building
- Connecting people inside your group
- Generating leads by promoting idea exchange between attendees
If achieving this seems like a sizable task at first glance, you’re right. It is. But the benefits of Virtual Summits are strong and long-lasting.
Depending on the type of your business, you could be tempted to think that a Webinar is more suitable for you — and this could of course be true.
If you are trying to use your Virtual Event as a sort of mass marketing tactic, and if you are attempting to present your ideas to a larger group more quickly, this would be a better way to go.
A Webinar really has its advantages over a Virtual Summit, but the simple truth is this: Regardless of the smaller number of attendants, engaging with people directly always pays off more in the long term. How so?
Narrowing down your target audience and creating an atmosphere of familiarity and sharing useful insights is a sure way to create new leads that will most likely recommend your business elsewhere — outside of your community.
Engaging with people as directly as possible is a wise primary goal. That’s how your community grows and therefore, how your business grows. What’s more, your customers leave with a pleasant experience. It’s both a win-win situation and a great growth strategy.
Now that you know the power behind Virtual Summits, it could be useful to look up other successful Virtual Events, especially in your niche. Try to unpack what they’ve accomplished and how.
Here are some innovative examples that pushed the limits of what’s expected from an Online Summit.
Verizon Media’s Virtual Summit in 2020 was game board inspired, designed to present a physical journey through a day in the life of a consumer as they interact with 14 different brands under the Verizon Media umbrella.
This Virtual Summit had 42 interactive experiences: trivia games, a simulated leaderboard with prizes, photo submissions, and much more.
They managed to evoke some friendly competition between employees and the virtual environment gave them a chance to communicate with other employees around the world.
In the words of Allison Galloway, director of global events for Verizon Media:
“The result [of the Summit] was a new sense of connectedness in a time where companies are struggling to find ways to maintain team morale and engagement.”
Facebook’s annual conference for its global marketing and sales staff had less than three weeks to shift to a Virtual Conference. It featured more than 30 TED-style keynotes with a theme titled “Transform.”
Organizers managed to create 17 TV segments — professionally scripted, filmed, edited, and produced — and later packaged them into seven programming blocks, available to attendees in different time zones around the world.
The blocks were then later released as a series, allowing employees to watch the Summit on-demand. The content continues to be available and viewing it is encouraged as part of onboarding for new members within the organization.
This Virtual Summit essentially became a training manual for future employees and will probably be useful for many years to come.
Even if you are a one-man army or a small team, the main thing to take away from these examples isn’t the size of these Virtual Events, but the way of thinking behind their creation.
The key lies in organizing Your Virtual Event in such a way that it inspires your attendees and directly communicates everything that your business stands for. It’s a sure way to evoke an emotional response and to be impactful. And that’s always possible — regardless of your budget.
Try to find out how your idea of your First Summit compares to the approaches of different industry leaders and their authentic Summit Content. Once you’ve taken in the mindset behind Successful Virtual Summits, you’re ready for the real stuff.
Let’s get specific.
Before we “go virtual”, let’s stop for a moment to think “traditional”. How would you organize a regular Summit or a Live Event?
The essential steps are:
- Defining the purpose and format of your Summit (down to the smallest details)
- Careful planning (logistics, content, presentation, etc.)
- Drafting the budget (always try to predict the unpredictable)
- Creating a pleasant user experience (no part should be too complicated)
- Organizing the event’s location (have a backup or two, just in case)
- Promoting your Event (offline and online)
- Hosting your event
- Asking for feedback and analyzing the results after the event
Each item on this simplified list has close to 15 or 20 substeps — and those are just the basics. A typical Summit lasts several days and takes a lot of careful planning to be both memorable and run smoothly.
The good news is: organizing Your Summit in a virtual environment makes things considerably easier.
Firstly, you guessed it — there’s no physical location. There’s also not that much need for offline marketing and the unpredictable factors are narrowed down mostly to technical issues that could arise.
So how do you do it?
You could achieve a multitude of things with your Summit.
You could have business-oriented goals like raising brand awareness, lead generation, revenue, specific product/service promotion, or attendee-oriented goals like networking, training, learning, or celebration and entertainment.
Do you want to generate new leads, build brand authority, or something completely different? Take your time to think about it.
The main advice is — focus, and don’t be too broad with your goal. Keep it as straight to the point as possible. The best way to do this is by centering your goal around a specific problem that your business is looking to solve. This will also help you in the promotion phase.
Keep your business’s benefits as well as the attendant’s benefits in mind. Behind the goal, there should also be a purposeful motivation for your potential attendants to apply.
The most popular goals of Virtual Summits are generating new email subscribers (the famous, all-important email list) and increasing the number of paying customers.
To truly create a win-win situation, you should keep in mind the benefits of attendees but also make your specific goal about what works best for your business strategy.
Ask yourself: “How will this Virtual Summit move my business forward?”
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to deciding the actual format of your Online Summit. This is why spending sufficient time on phases #1 and #2 is of utmost importance, especially when organizing your First Summit.
There are various platforms out there that can serve as a template and give you common ideas that simply “work”, but it’s best if the final result is connected to your business’s main idea as strongly as possible.
Try to look at your Virtual Event as exactly that: an EVENT. Something to write home about. The best way to make your business stand out is to make an impact — to create a memorable experience that will always be associated with your business.
Invite a smaller group — but focus on leaving a more profound impression.
Analyze your target audience and ask yourself: What will my attendees take away from this summit? Will they remember it? How would they retell it?
One way to make your event memorable is to think long and hard about the potential speakers. Depending on your business, they could be exhibitors, industry leaders that are not direct competitors, different influencers, the so-called “thought leaders” or simply big names that will look good on your Summit’s invitation.
All of this should of course, directly connect to the first two phases.
Finding a sponsorship (depending on what type of sponsorship it is) may help you with funding your Virtual Summit, but it can also help you establish brand authority. Having a well-known sponsor (it’s never bad to have a big name attached) can have your attendee leaving with a sense of admiration.
As you’ve seen so far, putting more emphasis on engaging content and less of it on monotonous presentations that resemble stretched-out ads is a MUST. Don’t make presentations or discussions too long — the so-called “Zoom fatigue” can be a serious issue.
Some good tips are:
- “Gamify” your Online Summit
- Give your attendants some decision making power
- Create breakout sessions
Paid, unpaid, or freemium?
If your Virtual Summit’s main purpose is to attract as many new leads as possible, you’re probably going to go for the “free attendance” option. Some Virtual Summits are “pay-to-enter”, and some have different categories of pricing for the attendants (premium talks or workshops are sometimes billed differently or separately).
Some Virtual Summits can also become products after they close. People can buy them and rewatch them if they couldn’t take everything in during live sessions, or if they’ve missed a speaker they were eager to see.
You can keep the summit sessions free forever — if your Virtual Summit’s goal is to generate leads and grow your community. A common idea is opt-in: “Sign up and attend for free” — become an email subscriber in exchange for free attendance.
Maybe you have your own premium content that you’re trying to advertise with your Virtual Summit from the start — the possibilities are truly endless. All of this depends on the type of your business and your Event’s main objective.
GroupApp can help you with creating and pricing different packages with different content for your community so that you can transform your Virtual Summit into a product easily, once it’s finished.
This is your pull-in — make it stand out.
There are different landing page builders such as CSSIgniter, The Landing Factory, or Elementor. If there’s a template you like, you can purchase it and edit it as you wish. This can save you a lot of time and help you if you’re not exactly a pro designer.
Is your head spinning yet? That’s normal. Organizing an ambitious event can be overwhelming. That’s why there are platforms tailored specifically for online community management.
GroupApp can help you build a community before starting your summit so that you have a certain number of attendants that are “guaranteed” (very likely to come). You can also sell your products or access your online services there.
My sincere advice would be to do your research and decide what community platform suits you and your business model best before diving in to organize your Virtual Summit.
Promote your Virtual Summit on your digital channels (LinkedIn, Facebook) and encourage your speakers and participants to use their digital channels to promote your Virtual Event. If you wish to go broader and bring in a new audience, Facebook Ads can be a very good option for you.
Although many recommend using WordPress, your best bet at organizing your First Summit is to use a more user-friendly and easy-to-use hosting service.
Depending on the size of your Virtual Event, you may choose to host it independently through a platform like Zoom and invite a reliable community you are already connected with — to “test the waters” before taking a bigger step into hosting a larger-scale event where you can aim to generate much more leads.
It all depends on the purpose and the goal behind the event.
The follow-up is as important as the event itself.
You would greatly benefit from surveying your attendants after your Virtual Summit. Try to get as many complete surveys as possible.
This is the best way to see what you’ve gained after your Virtual Event, analyze what you could have done better, and implement those improvements.
If you’re sending your survey via email, thank your attendees for their participation in the event, and — if you’ve made the event memorable — this will be the cherry on top and many won’t find it difficult to complete your survey.
It’s also important to have someone keep the numbers during the event and watch out for conversion rates. They represent the relation between the number of attendants and the number of people that you’ve actually made an impact on — new paying customers, new email subscribers, new business partners, etc.
Virtual Summit platforms have analytics options — but research this carefully before choosing your hosting platform.
At this point, there should be no doubt in your mind about how Virtual Summits can help you spread awareness about your business, generate new leads, and strengthen your online community on an entirely new level.
The main things to take away are:
- Center your Virtual Event around a goal that’s important to your business
- Organize your Online Summit in a way that will inspire your attendees
- Don’t hesitate to challenge the norm a little
- Analyze what you’ve learned and improve
Still, having second thoughts? Check out some interesting statistics:
Do you think your Virtual Summit can improve these numbers? Go for it, and good luck!