Want to plan a virtual summit but worry about the stress and time involved? These tips can help you plan without losing your mind … and help you gain thousands of leads.
I never used to get the appeal of webinars.
Personally, I prefer to read rather than watch content, so I wasn’t convinced that a webinar was the most effective means of generating leads.
As a self-proclaimed content marketing practitioner, I have my preferred approach: to create valuable e-books and offer them as registered downloads through blog posts and pop-up invitations. And that works! I get a nice stream of new subscribers each and every day with little to no effort on my part.
But then in late 2018, it was determined that I would lead a series of webinars as part of my goals for Agorapulse and our influencer marketing efforts.
I’d participated in other people’s webinars before but had never planned and executed one of my own. We were using a platform called Livestorm.co at the time which was great for individual live video webinars, so I used that to set up my first summit.
It. Was. Awesome.
The quality of content and the number of registrants we gathered exceeded all expectations.
A couple of potential speakers couldn’t participate during that first summit live, so we scheduled one-off webinars with them in early 2019. Those didn’t perform as well. But about six months later, I ran a new summit, and it, too, was amazing! So two months after that, I ran it again and, again, the results astounded.
Oh, sorry, hi! In case we haven’t met, I’m Mike Allton. I’m the brand evangelist here at Agorapulse, which makes me responsible for our influencer relationships and overall brand awareness. A big part of my role here is to manage the activities and marketing initiatives of our ambassadors—all of the great social media marketing influencers who love our tool and enjoy working with us to promote it. With their help, I put together these massive virtual summits on an assortment of marketing topics.
Related post: Social Media Management
The Social Pulse Summit: LinkedIn Edition accrued over four thousand registrants, and each summit I launch exceeds the previous! So, I’m going to share with you today exactly how I make it happen.
Choose the Best Platform for Your Needs
One of the mental blockers for me, initially, was understanding the tech behind how a webinar or series of webinars might work. I’ve been doing live video since Google+ Hangouts On Air. But, of course, with live social video, the broadcast is open to all. There’s no email registration or gate to go through.
My first summit was comprised of a series of stand-alone webinars run on Livestorm.co.
I set up a landing page that listed each webinar, but because registration to each was separate, each session listing had its own button linked to that session’s registration page. Overall, the summit was a huge success, but there were more than a few complaints about that registration process.
A short while later, I was introduced to HeySummit, thanks to an AppSumo deal. HeySummit is a webinar platform designed for a virtual summit. If you’re only broadcasting one session, it’s not the right platform for you. But when I have a dozen or more experts and amazing sessions, it’s fantastic!
For every session you are going to offer, you need to set up:
- One or more categories
- A speaker profile
- A session title and description
With HeySummit, you can use a live streaming provider and hook that content into the session, or tie in a pre-recorded video.
That option right there is what got me really excited.
For that first summit on Livestorm.co, in addition to running each session as a separate webinar, I also ran them as live interviews and presentations. A total of 16, in fact. (If you’re ever asked to host 16 live broadcasts over three weeks, run away.)
Instead of going through the hassle of hosting a live stream and risking technical issues (which happened), I could invite speakers to record their sessions and just send me the files.
HeySummit works with a variety of hosting options, but we have a Wistia account already and use that. It works great. I would upload the video to our webinars folder and put the video’s ID number (not the full URL) into the video settings for that session. HeySummit automatically streams the video on the session’s scheduled start date!
By the way, this was another bit of learning that I found after the third summit. When you schedule a session, HeySummit will stream that video starting at that exact time. On-demand replays aren’t available until after that first live stream has concluded.
I initially thought that if I put every session’s start time and date at the same time and used pre-recorded videos, they would all be available on demand instantly. I did have some fun playing off the idea that all of the second and third summit’s sessions were dropped “Netflix-style” and that registrants could binge-watch however many they wanted. But I think for the fourth summit, it will be better to schedule the initial airing of each presentation separately.
Beyond that, many other HeySummit features saved me a tremendous amount of time:
Graphics and Copy
Many of the graphics and much of the copy was dynamically created and updated.
Every session you set up gets a generated graphic with that session’s title and speaker and speaker’s headshot, along with an updated number of sessions. The home page updates automatically with the number of sessions and categories. The main sessions and speakers pages are all updated as soon as you add or remove a session.
Bonus prizes and giveaways
The platform gives you the option of offering some bonus prizes and giveaways, will display them on their own page, and will automatically pick random winners and send notifications! You can also add session-specific offers that appear on that session’s page.
Just like all of the other pieces of data you’re adding, testimonials can be added through the dashboard individually and then automatically added to the home page.
Some 75% of the site’s text can be edited, either on the pages themselves or through the back-end “translations” area. For instance, instead of “replays,” I wanted to call that page “sessions” and just changed the text accordingly.
The platform is designed for paid summits, so e-commerce is built-in.
(That said, all our social media marketing summits are free, so tickets are offered for $0. Because we’re running these to generate leads, all the content and copy speaks to our target audience—social media agency owners and social media managers—and invite them to register at no cost.)
So spend some time going through every inch of the site and reading every email to make sure that everything is communicated exactly as you wish.
Plan Your Virtual Summit Content
In regards to the sessions of your summit, your event will differ wildly from mine. Even if you’re in the marketing space and wish to offer similar sessions on content marketing, Facebook Ads and so on, the speakers and presentations will still be different.
I can, however, answer a number of questions you’ll have in this area.
Where Do I Find Speakers?
I have to admit being somewhat blessed and over-prepared when finding speakers. (I have no shortage of friends and professional contacts who are more than willing and exceedingly qualified to deliver. In fact, thanks to my experience and past success with these kinds of collaborative projects, I’m often approached by colleagues asking to be invited to the next such initiative!)
All of which is based on relationships, which, like a tree, are best planted years ago. If you have not previously invested time in forming and nurturing relationships in your industry, start today!
Look for opportunities to connect with and help the influencers and educators in your niche.
Those are the people to look to first when you want to collaborate on a project like a virtual summit.
Next, consider reaching out to speakers and educators in your niche that you don’t already have a relationship with, but would like to partner with them. It’s helpful at this stage if you’re able to demonstrate why this project will be a win-win. Will you share registrant details with all presenters? Do you have an advertising budget to ensure their exposure? Do you have a budget to pay speakers?
Next, consider reaching out to professionals in your niche, those folks who aren’t speaking about the business so much as actually doing the business. Sometimes, these people are closest “to the ground” and have the best industry information. (But it’s also where you’re likely to find inexperienced presenters, so keep that in mind.)
Finally, think about what kinds of content you and your team can create yourselves? In my Social Pulse Summit: LinkedIn Edition I brought in presentations from our Social Media Lab scientist Scott Ayres, as well as our Social Media Manager Jennifer Watson, both of who delivered very valuable presentations and excellent supplements to the other 25 topics and speakers.
Do I Need a Theme?
You may not need an underlying theme across all sessions, but you definitely need to know who your target audience is and have a spectrum defined for your categories and topics.
In my case, my target audience is always social media agency owners and social media managers. So, I make sure that every speaker and topic I include—which are social media marketing related—will benefit them. And sometimes, it’s great to add something a little outside the norm, such as Stephanie Liu’s session, “Captivate on Command: How to Motivate the Masses With Only Your Words.”
From a marketing perspective, if you can come up with a theme that ties all your sessions together, that will certainly make it easier to talk about and promote the event.
What Should Virtual Summit Sessions Look Like?
Other than the first summit which was 100% live video interviews, I’ve since given my speakers the option of:
- Being interviewed
- Recording themselves speaking, using slides, or screen shares
- A combination of any of the above.
In my experience, some presenters live speaking (like an intro) and then voice over slides is the best approach. And as I mentioned before, I prefer important content like this be pre-recorded rather than broadcast live to prevent any issues from impacting registered viewers.
From the speaker’s perspective, this is also a far easier approach. They can use apps like Quicktime or Ecamm to record themselves speak then share their presentation screen and keep talking through all of the slides. Because they’re now off-camera, it’s easy to stop and re-record a section or even go back and edit or record new voiceover segments.
If you don’t like what you just said or if you flubbed a word, stop for a beat so you have an easy cut, then say that section again before moving on to the next part of your presentation!
For my next summit, not only am I going to require slides, I’m going to provide documentation for my presenters on how to record themselves with slides and also give them a slide template they can use. This will ensure that all my sessions have a basic, consistent look and feel.
How Many Sessions Should I Host?
There are a few variables that will go into this decision.
First, if you’re paying speakers and have budget constraints, there’ll an immediate limitation in how many speakers you can afford.
Second, if you plan to host your summit over a given timeframe (e.g., two days) and schedule all of your sessions to specific times, you’ll be limited in how many timeslots you have available.
I chose to schedule all of the sessions throughout a single day and keep them available for four weeks, so there was no limitation on how many speakers I could bring in. In fact, with my second summit, I allowed a couple of new speakers to join in the weekend before it went live. I would not recommend this though and will explain why in the next section.
We also live streamed an Opening Keynote and Closing Keynote directly into our Facebook Group, Social Pulse Community.
Once you’ve determined to do a summit, planning the summit itself is only part of the project. Promotion of the summit—getting as many qualified eyeballs on your event as possible—is critical.
You’ll want to think about audience, timing, pricing, solutions, length and more. You need to take note of and leverage every existing channel and marketing asset you currently have, as well as involve your speakers and influencers.
I mentioned above that HeySummit will automatically and dynamically create speaker graphics for you. However, if you have any last-minute changes in speakers or topics, those graphics will all be updated accordingly and anywhere you’re using them will need to have replacements.
I recommend using Canva or Easil (or more advanced graphic design tools if you have the skill) to create a series of graphics for your event. You will, at a minimum, need the following assets:
- Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn Post—1024 x 512
- Instagram Post—1,024 x 1,024
- Facebook Story, Instagram Story, Pinterest—1,080 x 1,920
- Facebook Event—1,920 x 1,080
- Facebook Ad—1,200 x 628
You may also need Facebook Page Cover graphics, YouTube thumbnails, blog post graphics, or even a Twitter Cover image. Consider every graphic you are going to require so that you can prepare as much in advance as possible.
You will also need to do some writing! And just as with images, consider these requirements in advance so you can plan accordingly.
- Landing page copy
- Blog post(s)
- Promotional emails
- Tweets and other social shares
While HeySummit allows you to create a library of promotional assets within the platform for speakers to use, I found it more convenient to use one or more Google Docs and a Google Drive for shared files and images.
At a minimum, you should begin talking about your summit on social media as soon as folks are able to register for it, so get that into your social media planner. You can even tease that it’s coming earlier than that if you wish. Putting it into your blog planner well in advance will give you ample time to create promotional plans and assets.
You can create blog content that promote the summit or introduces the speakers to your audience. You can also blog about tangential topics and mention the summit by association (the blog post you’re reading now is a perfect example!)
Announce the summit to your email list when registration opens and send at least one reminder just prior to the event. Depending on how much time you allot between the launch of registration and the day of the summit, you might send additional promotional emails.
Of course, each email can’t just be an ad for the summit … Think about stories you can share, aspects of the summit you can highlight, or different benefits you might focus on for different emails.
If possible, share testimonials! The HeySummit platform does allow and encourage attendees to leave comments on each session so you’ll start to accrue feedback as soon as the summit launches. But what if your summit hasn’t launched yet?
If you’re going with pre-recorded sessions, why not let some select audience members check out some of the sessions in advance and write testimonials for you? Or tap some influencers you know, as I did?
I asked friends and colleagues Jenn Herman, Amanda Robinson, and Jeff Sieh to check out what I’d set up for one of my previous summits, and they provided some great testimonials that I plugged into the site and home page!
“So much to learn from so many industry leaders. And all for free?!! This is a no-brainer! Agorapulse has access to many of the world’s best leaders for online marketing and to have so many of them in one place as a means to learn and understand the latest trends, tactics, and tools is invaluable. Don’t miss this summit!” – Jenn Herman
“Agorapulse has brought together a powerhouse lineup of the top industry talent bringing you real strategies and current information to help your business thrive in a highly competitive digital landscape. And it is free! Take advantage of it while it is available.” – Amanda Robinson
“I’ve met and followed many of the speakers that Agorapulse has put together for this event. If you’re wanting to take your social media strategy to the next level this is not to be missed!” – Jeff Sieh
Finally, HeySummit includes an Affiliate System that you can use whether you’re charing for your event or not. If you’re charging, the affiliate system can be configured to offer a simple commission to anyone else that promotes it and generates sales. Speakers can be automatically set up as affiliates.
Or, alternatively, use the affiliate system as a means of tracking referrals and motivate your speakers to share with a contest! You’ll be able to easily see within the platform who generates the most referrals and can award them a valuable prize.
A virtual summit is actually a great vehicle for paid promotion, particularly if the summit is free to register and watch. The ads then don’t have to “sell” anything—just inform and invite targeted audience members to register for free.
While Google ads can be used, as well as targeted ads on Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, it’s likely that Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn will be your most effective channels, depending on your target audience.
Facebook and Instagram traditionally offer the most robust targeting options. You can limit your ads to specific geographic and demographic needs, as well as specifying interests and other audience details.
LinkedIn, while expensive, offers even better targeting IF your summit is business-related. With LinkedIn, you can target individuals by job title or company and that data is likely to be extremely accurate due to the nature of LinkedIn.
If you’re relatively new to Facebook Ads, start with this guide based on an interview we did with Amanda Robinson, The Digital Gal.
Follow-up After Your Virtual Summit
Finally, give consideration to how you’re going to end your virtual summit and follow-up with both registrants and attendees.
In our case, we have an amazing inbound specialist, Hannah, who takes the time to not only think through email sequences and timing but also parses through the data.
For instance, when registering, we ask attendees a few qualifying questions. While anyone can register for our free summit, our ultimate goal is to promote our social media management tool to interested prospects. Those qualifying questions help us to determine who among the attendees may be most likely interested in Agorapulse. Such leads are scored manually and pushed into a different sequence for follow-up and VIP demonstration invitations!
Attendees should absolutely receive an email after your event thanking them for attending and giving them the next steps, whether that’s to learn more about your company, subscribe, or read some other materials.
And, by all means, thank your speakers.
If your speaker agreement included lead sharing, then now is the time to export your registrant list and share that with your speakers. Note that your event remains GDPR-compliant because the registration page clearly states that the registrant agrees to receive emails from the event, the sponsor(s), and potentially each participating speaker.
It is advised, though, that when you or your speakers are ready to message attendees that they’re sent a custom greeting and invitation to join your normal list segment.
Lots of ways and means for presenting a virtual summit exist. You can do a series of Facebook Live videos, a collection of individual webinars, or a single event with multiple sessions as I’ve outlined above.
There are also lots of reasons to hold a summit, not the least of which is lead generation. But you can also successfully use webinars and summits to sell directly, establish authority, or even just have fun! The folks I get to do sessions love what they do and love talking about their favorite topic. These kinds of sessions can absolutely be total geek-out sessions.
But whatever your reason and choice of platform, what I want to leave you with is this:
Webinars and Summits are an extremely effective means for reaching and educating a highly relevant and engaged audience.
This isn’t just interruptive advertising. When you create a virtual event of this kind and someone signs up, you know they’re interested in the content you’re offering and that should tell you a lot about that individual.
Feel free to check out the current Social Pulse Summit and take notes and inspiration from how we set things up. Then improve and adapt it and make it your own.
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