Host a virtual summit
1. Pick a specific topic for your virtual summit.
First, choose a niche and profitable theme. Target very specific needs, wants, and pain points, that really resonate with your market. Use this checklist of questions created by virtual summit expert Jan Koch to adapt and evaluate ideas: Do you love or have a big interest in the topic? Are you successfully selling in this niche already, or are other companies proving the viability of the niche? Are there popular publications around this topic you can tap into? Does the topic meet your company’s ethical and moral standards? Can you think of at least three things to sell? Can you think of sub-niches for the larger niche? Are the customers in this niche loyal, repeat buyers? When selecting your topic, talk to your customers and get feedback from those in your industry. Make sure the event you are planning walks the attendees through a transformational process and helps them achieve measurable results.
2. Identify the target audience for your virtual summit.
You can use a market your business already serves. Use your summit as another outlet to create value for your customers and strengthen your market position. Establish your online target audience and learn their desires and pain points, so you can highlight the benefits of your summit that your audience will be interested in. Define exactly who will attend your virtual summit so you can: Identify products to sell to your audience during the virtual event. Select speakers that get your audience excited. Use your attendees’ language when building the summit website and creating marketing materials.
3. Choose whether you want to self-host your virtual summit or use a tool.
Choose the platform you are most comfortable with and factor in reliability, customization, and ease-of-use. For example, you can self-host your virtual conference with a WordPress website. Assess the benefits of self-hosting: You are using a free tool and just need to pay for hosting. You likely already have in-house expertise for WordPress. You are using a platform that you can adapt to your ideas and needs. Assess the challenges of self-hosting: You have to design and build yourself all the summit pages, including, landing page, registration confirmation page, content pages, sales pages, and sponsorship area. Depending on your expected audience size, you need to make sure your website can handle traffic spikes. You need to protect your website from being hacked or having any downtime. You need to integrate third-party tools like video hosting platforms, chats, video calls, payment, and gateways. You have no guidance on how to structure your summit and have to map out the entire user experience yourself. You can also use the following SaaS platforms: HeySummit: This platform has talk management and speaker dashboards that help you stay on track with all the talks that are going on, but you cannot build a sponsorship area with virtual booths and virtual giveaways. Hopin: This platform gives you a virtual venue where you can build multiple interactive areas to connect and engage with attendees, however, it is nearly impossible to customize beyond the standard features they provide. vFAIRS: This platform allows you to welcome your attendees at a guidance desk, have feature-packed booths, and build custom landing pages that follow brand guidelines. However, it is less tailored to hosting a virtual summit with speakers giving talks. Alternatively, you can also use Facebook to host virtual summits.
4. Select the email marketing tools that you need to contact attendees.
Use email marketing tools that let you set up automated email sequences. For example, you can use Active Campaign to set up multiple automation workflows that trigger based on defined dates or milestones. When choosing an email marketing tool, consider what you need for the following email campaigns: Prelaunch; getting attendees excited. Onboarding; make attendees feel involved. During the event; daily campaigns with session details. After the event; push for sales and manage expectations for the future.
5. Select the technology you need to run your summit and manage access.
For example, you can use ThriveCart for payment processing because it also serves as an affiliate management platform. Integrate ThriveCart with Active Campaign so that all the customer information gets stored in Active Campaign. Then, connect Active Campaign to a WordPress plugin called Memberium for Active Campaign, which handles all the account creation and locks down the content to be accessed by paid customers only. Alternatively, you can also use platforms like Kartra or ClickFunnels, as long as it lets you connect with a membership tool to create user accounts for your customers.
6. Monetize your virtual summit by using scarcity, upsells, and downsells.
Use scarcity to increase conversions. For example, after somebody signs up for the free access, offer a discounted lifetime access for a limited amount of time. You can use a tool called Deadline Funnel to set up countdown timers on the respective sales pages. Implement upsells and downsells using ThriveCart. These can be existing products or services you already offer in your business.
7. Optimize your summit website for performance by increasing your page speed, split testing, and using heatmap insights.
Improve your page speed: Implement a content delivery network (CDN) if you expect global traffic. Leverage server-side caching. Add browser-caching, compression, and minification to your website. Ensure your website is running on the latest version of PHP and MySQL/MariaDB. Consider setting up a static landing page. Optimize your images for fast loading. Split-test by creating multiple landing pages and driving a part of your traffic to each, then measuring how they perform in terms of registrations. Heat maps can give you actionable insights on how visitors interact with your website. Microsoft Clarity is a free tool that provides reliable heatmap tracking.
8. Increase the exposure for your event using influencers, respected platforms in your niche, social media, and other media to talk about your event.
Use third-party platforms to increase exposure through guest posting, for example, writing on outlets like Medium and Dev.to, being on podcasts, or doing webinars with authorities in your field. Encourage social sharing. For example, you can run contests that reward people who drive new registrations to your event with a free lifetime access pass or a different bonus. You can also use affiliate marketing when promoting your summit. Convert your speakers into affiliates to leverage their authority and expand your reach. Alternatively, run Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Google Ads to drive more traffic to your virtual summit landing page.
9. Replicate physical networking areas online.
Create virtual networking areas: Set up standing video calls your attendees can join at their own convenience using tools like Jitsi or Zoom. Embed live chats for each session or just on a dedicated page for your attendees to network. Place attendees on virtual roundtables with access to a private video call and live chat. Offer other ways to interact, for example, audio and written, so that each attendee can pick the channel they like most.