Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of companies and brands that transitioned from physical to online events? Do you feel you should be doing the same, yet aren’t sure where to start? You’re reading the right article, then!
Although physical events are far from extinct and we’ll most surely see a rebirth of the events industry at some point, you should definitely take advantage of this time and explore your online options … and no, webinars don’t count. While webinars have many benefits, they lack the experiential vibe and are far from being a full-fledged online event. But for now, while we’re in the “new normal,” maybe it’s time to launch your very first virtual summit.
Not sure what a virtual event is? According to entrepreneur and publisher Tom Morkes, "A virtual summit is a collaborative, online event, that features a series of expert interviews, typically focused on one specific area or niche.” In other words, a virtual summit is a series of keynote speeches, roundtable, and networking experiences that happen online. These events can be one day long or three days long—it’s your choice. Also, you can run a free or pay-to-attend virtual summit. Best of all, you can use your virtual summit content as lead magnets long after the event is over.
As Morkes highlights, “Virtual summits are effective for generating traffic, leads, and sales, quickly. And this by itself is probably enough to consider hosting a summit for your business.” Running a virtual summit will give you visibility, increase your brand awareness, help you build a community, and generate high-quality leads. So here’s how you can get started and launch your very first virtual summit.
Step 1. Choose the right event technology partner
Although online events are easier when it comes to setting up the logistics, they also require a good online event platform. And by a good platform, we don’t mean Zoom or Google Hangouts—you need performance event technology software that will help you create a website for the event, set up a registration, run online networking sessions, ensure maximum engagement, make sure the event is streamlined analyze the online event ROI, etc. So your first step should be focused on researching the event technology market and identifying your best option.
Step 2. Come up with a strong topic that’s aligned with your audience’s interests
Next, you’ll want to think about an interesting subject to present at your virtual summit. Your topic should be narrow enough to target a specific audience, yet wide enough to allow your speakers to find comfortable angles they could tackle. Moreover, you can ask your speakers to help brainstorm and design a strong editorial line for the summit. When you do this, make sure to take your audience’s needs and interests into consideration. If you come up with a subject that will bore your attendees, you’re essentially neglecting their needs, which will surely lead to a lower attendance rate.
Step 3. Create a friendly online event program
How do you create an event program for your virtual summit and also break down the activities correctly? Well, you have two options. You could run a virtual summit for one full day and be okay with the fact that your online attendees will disconnect periodically, reconnecting to those keynote speeches or activities that interest them the most. Or, you can break your virtual events into smaller sessions for a few days (for example, about two hours per day). Regardless of your choice, you’ll want to get comfortable with the idea that compared to a physical event, the attendance will fluctuate.
Step 4. Invite high-quality speakers
This one goes without saying, but how do you get good speakers when you don’t have a strong brand or haven’t run a virtual summit before? The secret is to avoid aiming for top-notch names, and instead, search for great professionals who have something to share, yet didn’t have a platform before. This will increase your chances of getting a “yes” from those people you want to invite as a speaker.
Step 5. Decide what the production will look like
How will you film or stream your virtual summit? Will the moderators and speakers be at home using their laptops? Will they be in a studio using professional cameras? In many cases, it can be difficult to ensure a highly professional production, but it’s important to recognize the aesthetic element and what the overall streaming will look like. Find a nice background and, at the very least, use a professional camera.
Step 6. Design the engagement sessions
How will you engage your attendees? Don’t forget that in the case of virtual summits, you’ll be dealing with online attendees who will have many distractions all around them. To make sure they stay present and interact with the event, incorporate special engagement sessions every ten minutes. For example, you can have the moderator or the speaker launch live polls or ask people questions, and then read the answers. This simple strategy will keep people paying attention to your virtual summit.
Step 7. Launch your virtual summit promotion campaign
As in the case of physical events, you’ll want to kick off your virtual summit marketing campaign as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute—create content that will promote your event. Encourage your employees to add an event-related email signature. Ask your speakers and sponsors for permission to guest post on their websites. Film quick videos with your speakers about the main topics they’ll be addressing during the virtual summit. Design a powerful email marketing campaign. Finally, retarget your website visitors by creating virtual summit ad banners. All these little tips will increase awareness about your online event and get you more attendees.
Step 8. Test everything before the event
Last but not least, make sure that everything works properly before the event. During physical events, you’ll have an A/V team running the tests, and even if something fails, you know that it will get fixed. When it comes to online events, however, everything depends on technology. That’s why it’s crucial to test everything out several times with your team and your speakers so that they know how to use everything on the day of the summit.
Although planning a virtual summit may involve fewer logistics, it isn’t any less stressful than planning a physical event. That’s why you’ll need the help of an entire team who’ll assist you with setting up the event technology, creating the editorial line, engaging with the speakers, designing the event program, deciding on the format of the engagement sessions, working on production, designing a promotional campaign, and making sure that everything works correctly on the day of the event. So be prepared for learning new things and working hard to release your virtual summit.