Modern demand gen marketers know that virtual summits are among the most effective online lead generation tools today. A collaborative online event, a virtual summit connects your audience to your content. Thought leaders present keynote presentations, and the audience can interact with experts and peers. Partners or sponsors are often invited to participate by hosting virtual booths, showcasing complementary solutions with immediate access to resources and salespeople. Done right, virtual summits are helping companies like BambooHR and Hootsuite achieve incredible ROI.
A successful virtual summit can attract thousands of attendees who are able to learn and interact with without having to travel or book a flight or hotel. Virtual summit producers also save big, avoiding the costs and risks associated with a physical event.
Key Virtual Summit Decisions
Once you decide to host a virtual summit, you have a few decisions to make.
Live or Recorded?
You need to decide if you want to run your event live or pre-recorded. Running the virtual summit live is more complex because it involves more moving parts. Presenters need to be on time; sessions need to be well delivered; and internet connections must be humming along smoothly for everything to go well. Live events, however, can have a larger impact on the audience because of the live interaction and engagement they offer. The more you engange your participants, the more they will take away. While the increased complexity of a live often comes with extra costs, most event producers consider this money well spent.
What Is Your Budget?
Speaking of costs, it’s important to consider all of the costs involved in producing your virtual event. Copywriting, design, engaging speakers, and generating an audience all cost money. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of a virtual event platform to host your summit. Finally, be sure to account for the staff needed to plan and produce your program.
What Tech and Admin Tools Will You Use?
The right set of tools will allow you to create a successful and engaging virtual summit. A few technologies and tools you need include
Virtual Events Platform
You wouldn’t invite 200 for a sit down dinner at your home; similarly, you shouldn’t invite thousands to connect with you on a platform that can’t handle the crowd. Carefully evaluate your needs to find the right online event platform for your virtual summit.
How will attendees join your presentations? A wide range of options are available for running your keynotes. Choose a professional webcast platform with live streaming for a highly produced experience, or choose something like Google Hangouts on Air for a more informal conversation.
Breakout Session Tools
Creating ways for people to connect in smaller groups will drive a more interactive experience. Tools like Skype for Business, Zoom Meeting, BlueJeans and Google Hangouts on Air are all great options to provide breakout tracking in your virtual summit.
Timeline Tips for Your First Virtual Summit
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to deliver a successful virtual summit. Keep in mind that you’re planning a marquee event with many moving parts, and take these steps for success:
Step 1—Strategy Questions (3–4 months before the event)
Plan your big cornerstones early. What are the best dates for your team? Are there industry events to consider? How will the event fit in with your overall plan for the year? What is your primary goal for the virtual summit: for example, net new leads or filling your pipeline? What topics will you cover ,and who is your audience? Will partners participate? You’ll need to define your topics, your audience, and your potential partners. Ask a lot of questions, and define a solid plan for having resources you need when you need them so you can start promoting your virtual summit well ahead of time.
Step 2—Content & Audience Planning (at least 2 months before the event)
Hopefully, you will have kicked off with your virtual event platform provider by this time. This step requires a lot of planning, as you need to know your partners, your speakers, and other key elements of your event before you can start promotion. You will also need to build and clean your list for audience generation and secure any outbound communications or advertising. Remember to ask your partners to promote the event to their lists as well.
Focus on content development early. Think about what content will populate your booth(s) and what experience you want your audience to have. After you secure and schedule your speakers, make sure to keep in contact with them and develop presentation topics that are right for your event.
Step 3—Promotion & Event Build (4–6 weeks before the event)
At this point, you’ll need to really accelerate your event planning. Your assets for promotion should be ready, and you’ll need to beat the drum to get people to register. Keep a constant eye on your registration numbers, which campaigns are performing, and what message is getting the best response. This is the time to educate your partners on what you need from them and set expectations. You’ll also be very busy chasing down the right content and building everything out during the final 2–3 weeks—no matter how early you started to collect it.
Step 4—Event Launch
The final week of preparations will be filled with additional promotion and reminders to the people that have signed up, scheduling dry runs with your speakers, and making sure partners and other team members know exactly what is expected of them on the event day.
Keep everyone involved with regular emails, and help them build checklists to remember what they need to do on the live day. Check in with all speakers to make sure everyone is aware of what is expected of them. You’ll also want to circulate a call sheet with contact details for everyone involved.
On the day of the launch, have people ready to respond to the audience in multiple ways, such as sending last-minute invitations, responding to social media posts, and helping individuals find their way around the virtual summit. Consider appointing someone to keep an eye on the overall performance of the event, routing questions or immediately addressing needs; keep in mind this person needs the bandwidth to focus on only the event for the entire day.
Step 5—After the Event
A physical event has a much clearer end than a virtual one. After the event day, there are things to wrap up, but the event doesn’t live on.
Your virtual summit doesn’t end with your live day; it starts there.
One of the great advantages of online events is that you are not bound by time and space. You can keep promoting your summit to drive repeat visits and gain a larger audience. You can also create the ability to engage and interact in the post-event period. Consider inviting people back (for example, the first Tuesday every month or once every quarter). All the great content and assets you have built in your virtual summit can now be extended to keep generating results much longer than a physical event could.
Whether your organization is trying to break into a new industry or reassert its position as a market leader, a virtual summit can be a great way to cement your role as a relevant player in your space. Running a virtual summit is not easy, but correctly executed, a virtual summit can drive enormous ROI and can create a marquee event for your company. It can effectively open up a door to a new space, both in time and in reach.
If you want help from the experts, contact the 6Connex team to assist you in planning your first virtual summit.