4 Lessons Learned from Running my First Virtual Summit
May 8, 2018 | Kara Widdison
March marked our first ever SnapApp virtual summit. We had been sponsors of them before, but this was the first one we owned and were executing ourselves. I had never run a virtual summit before this but, having managed our webinars for the past two years, I thought it would be like one giant webinar. While I wasn’t wrong, I wasn’t exactly right either.
Virtual Summits: What’s the deal?
Virtual Summits are the newest tool in a modern demand gen marketer’s arsenal to drive engagement with a skeptical audience jaded by constant bombardment with messaging in today’s saturated digital space.
And people are taking notice…
Virtual summits are webinar-like presentations or interviews of experts and thought leaders organized around a central topic. According to Entrepreneur, “They’re often free for a short period of time, such as 24 to 72 hours, and then subscribers may choose to purchase an ‘all-access pass’ for unlimited viewing later.”
It isn’t difficult to see that virtual summits can be a real win-win: the potential for audience members to hear many expert opinions at once and for partners to all access net new leads mean that everyone wins.
But before you start planning your first Virtual Summit, check out four lessons learned from running our first…
Timing is everything
Start planning months in advance. I’m talking 2-3 months. This is a big undertaking, and you have to think about your partners and the fact that just like you, they will be planning their marketing campaigns months in advance.
If you really want a specific company to partner with you on your virtual summit, you have to get in front of them the quarter before you plan to run it.
You also want to make sure you are thinking about the time allotted for each session. In today’s marketing environment, we don’t have an hour to carve out for a webinar, let alone several for a Virtual Summit, regardless of how awesome the speakers you lock down are.
During our virtual summit we found that attendees spent between 10 and 20 minutes in a speaking session.
This was HUGE.
Now we know to tell future speakers to plan for a presentation that lasts about 20 minutes. If they’re worried about giving the viewer enough information, they can always add resources to their virtual booth.
Sponsors need to be varied
Think of your virtual summit partners like a tech stack.
You wouldn’t buy two different marketing automation platforms would you? You don’t want two different marketing automation platforms presenting at your virtual summit either.
Find companies that compliment your mission and product. Do you have partners? Integrations with other products? If you plan any content syndication, those companies can be powerhouse partners. They have an audience that you know already matches your ideal lead and they’re naturals at promoting a new program.
If you are thoughtful about including partners that your customers could easily incorporate into their tech stack, you can build a seamless experience where both you and your summit partners are highlighting a fantastic working relationship that supports your audience’s growth.
Yep, planning one as we speak
Thinking about it
We don’t have marketing automation in place now
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Don’t pitch your audience
One thing I can’t stand (and I’d bet good money you feel the same) is when I attend a session and get a sales pitch instead.
Make sure your topic, presentations, and your partners’ presentations steer clear of sales pitches. Virtual summits are a space for people to be engaged, educated, and inspired. Instead of creating a presentation that’s pitch focused, create a virtual room within your environment that is meant for pitches.
For example, with our 6Connex virtual environment we can create a space for sponsors to have virtual meetings or demo their product.
By offering this additional space for dedicated sales conversation we were able to keep the content of the summit that our audience came for focused on them, and their needs, not our deep desire to sell software.
Do Your Homework
Careful planning for your virtual summit is critical, and you can’t let event prep best practices fall to the wayside just because you are working with a new medium.
Remember to focus on the details here: Are session titles compelling? Do you have enough resources to give out to attendees? Are you running a raffle for folks who attend? Do you have updates that notify attendees when and where things are happening in your environment?
All of these details should be ironed out before you start heavily promoting your event, and certainly finalized before the big day comes.
You should also make sure that you are prepared for the day of to go off without a hitch by learning the technology. For many teams, technology to run a virtual summit will be a new purchase, or at least expansion of your current video or webinar software.
We were lucky because our team at 6Connex is amazing and has a team with us for the day of each virtual summit. While that’s a great safety net, it’s no excuse not to learn the product yourself.
The day of our event I noticed that the times of each session weren’t being displayed correctly. Instead of displaying “30 minutes until the session”, the sessions were displaying “8 hours and 30 minutes until the session”. Turns out the sessions had been labelled with the wrong time zone. Thankfully I had learned enough about the product to fix it myself and not have to rely on the support team.
What are you waiting for?
Virtual summits need the same (or even more!) attention and care as a live event or large webinar, but they can also drive explosive ROI and audience building for you and your partners.
It’s going to take more than just you to run them, so don’t be afraid to rely on your partners or your tech team. You’re all working together to promote this virtual summit and make it an exceptional experience, which means you’re all invested and have a goal to work towards.