Virtual summits are one of the most unsaturated methods to rapidly generate leads in 2021. Just hosting 1 virtual summit event can rapidly propel your brand to the big leagues with great new partnerships, new leads & referrals, authority boost, content that can be used for years to come and so much more.
In this guide, I will cover all the main benefits of hosting a virtual summit. Next, we will take a look into how to host a virtual summit for your SaaS company.
But first, let me share my own experience on how a single virtual summit helped me scale a few SaaS companies while increasing brand authority.
Virtual Summit – Wiremo case study
Wiremo.co is a customer review platform for e-commerce.
I work with wiremo.co as a growth coach and consultant.
2 months ago, as part of my growth strategy, I decided to organize a virtual summit for Wiremo. The aim was to use this summit as a platform to build brand awareness, establish strategic relationships, create influential content, and get leads for the SaaS.
I decided to organize a summit around Black Friday and invite top influencers in the industry to share their best Black Friday growth hacks.
I just finished running this summit here – https://ecommerce-event.wiremo.co/
Here are the results from the event:
1) 400+ registrants for the summit.
2) Got 2 lucrative sponsors that covered the entire cost of running the summit! As a direct result of this, we not only broke even but actually made a profit before even starting the actual event!
3) Generated valuable industry-specific leads that we funneled into our drip campaigns.
4) The summit helped us share our brand name with some of the top minds in our industry. This helped us rapidly scale our authority and influence in the niche.
5) The summit helped us build strategic relationships with potential partners that were previously inaccessible to us. This summit helped us leverage the platform to get connected with them and discuss business opportunities. And in fact they referred their contacts to me to become speakers, they did the hard work for me!
6) A very well known agency in the Ecommerce world asked Wiremo to speak to their team during their weekly educational internal sessions – score!
7) We generated 9+ hours of high-quality informational content that we will be able to repurpose on social media for the next 12 months.
8) We got high-quality interviews that we later transcribe and publish as blog posts, leveraging the thought leader’s name on our blog articles. This can also be used as a tool to build further relationships.
9) We generated a bunch of organic backlinks from high authority blogs in our industry. This will boost Wiremo’s SEO.
10) We were able to get exposure for our product in front of thousands of ideal clients via the followers of our guest speakers and industry experts.
All this makes virtual summit one of the smartest growth strategies and lead generation tools on the market today.
But can you really pull it off?
Who should run it?
How to host a virtual summit?
Hold your horses, here we go!
What is a Virtual Summit?
A virtual summit is an online event done by a host/interviewer in collaboration with various experts. A typical virtual summit takes place via video conferencing over 1-3 days and consists of a variety of talks or interviews given by experts on a particular subject.
Below I will show you why virtual summits are worth your time, how to host a virtual summit, and how to promote it.
Are you the right fit to organize a virtual summit?
If you are a growth stage SaaS company with solid product/market fit, looking to position your product and the founder as a thought leader in 2021, then virtual summits can be the smartest way to get there.
I personally work with SaaS companies helping them scale their companies, and I have been an active user of the summit strategy to generate revenue and boost authority.
Virtual summits are a great way to scale your SaaS product and position it in front of your ideal target audience.
A summit can quickly scale your brand recognition and grow revenue by allowing your SaaS brand rub shoulders and share credits with industry heavyweights. This can lead to a surge of leads and subscriptions for your product.
Based on this, here are 14 reasons why you should host a virtual summit in 2021.
14 reasons why you should host a virtual summit in 2021
1. A great tool for lead generation
Virtual summits can turn out to be the no.1 lead generation source for your SaaS.
The prospect of accessing dozens of expert sessions and talks from influencers in the industry is a great incentive. It can be packaged as an attractive lead magnet for your SaaS, pulling in traffic and leads from the followers of the influencers who are part of your summit.
2. An alternative source of revenue generation
You can stream the summit for free to get buzz and followers around your event. Once you get the attention, you can throw in a 1-time offer to access the entire summit product for a one-time-price. Since not everyone will be able to attend all the interviews and talks happening round the clock over 2-3 days, some people will purchase the summit recordings for a one-time price.
You can also add PDFs and notes of each talk to go complimentary with the recordings or pre-sell them separately with the free registration.
3. Virtual summits help in scaling authority and brand reach
Virtual summits have the power to instantly put you on the map. It can be a great PR tool. With these online summits, you are sharing credits with the top influencers and experts in your industry. This fact alone put your brand to a different league.
Also, since you are interviewing industry experts on some of the hottest topics in your niche, you are positioning yourself as the media company in your niche. As Gary V says, any company can become a media company.
Couple this with the fact that you are providing high-quality information and value, and you will see a massive surge in your authority and brand influence.
4. Gets you sponsorship
Since you will rope in influencers and known personalities in your industry for the event, you are assured a set amount of viewership for the event. This traffic is very lucrative and desirable for companies looking for customers in your industry. This match can lead to a lot of companies agreeing to sponsor your entire event in exchange for their product being advertised at the summit.
Getting these sponsors can have 2 benefits.
- Their sponsorship can pay for the entire investment that goes into your event, thus making it a profitable venture for you even before you launch the event.
- These sponsorships can establish highly profitable relationships with the sponsoring companies and lead to collaborations for future events.
- You can use the sponsorships as media spend to get even more attendees.
5. Builds relationships
Virtual summits are a great way to build solid relationships with the top influencers in your industry. These power relationships can help you scale your growth as now you will be on the radar of these top of the crop influencers, who will be aware of your product and service.
A great growth hack to amplify these relationships is by offering them the stage to promote their product in the summit. You can double it up by posting a Thank you note on your social media and tagging them with a promotional line about their product.
By providing value to these influencers, it will help you earn some points with them. Once you get them the results via product sales and sign-ups as a direct result of their appearance on your summit, they will consider you as a great partner to do business with.
Working with these influencers will help you scale your growth and revenue exponentially. A testimonial or shoutout from them can pull in a lot of weight in the industry and instantly shoot you up to the top.
So do this smart, and provide as much value as you can to these influencers.
6. Helps you get more sales
You can use your virtual summit to promote your product to your audience. You can organize a virtual summit topic that talks about how to master a specific goal in your niche, then invite various speakers and experts to speak on it. Present your product as an acting sponsor for the event.
7. Helps you create a year’s worth of social media content
Virtual events help you create hours of valuable content via interviews with experts and influencers in your niche. These are influential pieces of content that have evergreen value.
You can break interview videos into bite-sized video takeaways and schedule them on social media.
Additionally, you can write the key takeaways in an infographic.
Virtual Summit pro-growth hack: You can repost video snippets from your virtual summit and set it as recurring posts. You can set it to keep posting automatically once or twice a month. You can use a tool like socialbee.io to get this done.
8. Backlinks goldmine
Promoting your event on various event directories and industry-specific websites will also help you get valuable backlinks.
Encourage the guests to promote the summit by putting a link back in their own blogs. Here’s an example of banners I created for our speakers to promote our summit:
9. 10X exposure
Since you are hosting and interviewing influencers and industry heavyweights, you will open yourself to access the audiences of these experts.
The experts more often than not, will proactively share information about your summit and promote it on their social media channels and newsletters. This is due to the virtual summit being a great PR tool for them in showcasing 3rd party recognition of their expertise along with other top experts in the field.
Leverage this further by giving the space to the guest speaker to promote their product or service within the span of the talk/interview. This will give them an additional incentive to promote the summit to their followers.
10. Growing your email list
The fact that speakers will also be promoting your summit will lead to previously inaccessible sets of audience reach.
Leverage this growing attention by inserting call to actions throughout your summit content.
Keep track of how many people land on the summit page but don’t register and show them retargeting ads to encourage them to finish the registration.
Virtual Summit pro-growth hack: With Heysummit you can also add your Facebook pixel to later target those visitors.
11. Grow your social media channels
You can use the virtual summits to promote your social media channels and get industry-specific audiences to follow your SaaS.
A great way to leverage this is by making your content interactive. You can do that by asking your LIVE summit audiences to Tweet or post a question on your Instagram that you will then address at the end of the session. This is a great way to get real-time engagement and followers towards your social media brand handles.
Virtual summit pro-growth hack: Amplify this further by offering a special prize or a shout out to the best question asked on your social media channels. This gamifies social media engagement and leads to active interactions. I always mention that we’ll have giveaways for most active attendees, that usually gets things going.
12.Generate high-quality blog content
The video content generated from virtual summits can be easily repurposed into listicles and how-to guides for your blog. You can simply take each video interview and transcribe it using a service like rev.com, make it presentable and then publish it as a blog piece. This way, you can generate 20-30 articles depending on the number of people you have interviewed and hosted for the event.
Also, since these are interviews with influential people in your industry, you can leverage it further by tagging them on social media with a link to the article. This will help in building stronger relationships with the influencer. It will also make your content be seen by the followers of the influencer.
13. More speaking opportunities
Hosting virtual summits can lead to you becoming seen by the right people. This can lead to more speaking opportunities. The influencers you interview may invite you as a guest on their podcast or ask you to speak on their platform. This reciprocity can go a long way as you will be sharing credits with big names on multiple platforms. Imagine what that can do for your personal brand!
14. A great learning experience
Organizing and hosting a virtual summit and interviewing the top minds in your industry will be a great learning experience. It can fill you with previously unknown ideas, strategies, and tactics that can rapidly scale your SaaS. Also, the very act of organizing and coordinating with the top minds in your industry can improve your industry acumen. You can later use this experience to conduct future industry-related events.
Additional ways to generate revenue from your virtual summit
Below are some ideas how to generate revenue from hosting a summit without spending any extra time or resources.
–Offer a live Q&A at the end of your summit. You can ask participants to pay for participation and get answers in live mode. If you have high-authority guests and influencers as speakers, your audience will be ready to pay for picking their brains.
–Access to replays or all-access pass. When you and speakers share presentations during the event, attendees have a very limited time to watch them. After the event, the presentations/resources might be available for 1-2 days and then you can start charging a fee for allowing access. For example, MicroConf charges $25 for access to replays.
–Charging speakers a fee. This is not for everyone. This method will work depending on how authoritative your virtual summit is and/or how influential your speakers are. Well-known experts won’t agree to pay a participation fee. However, micro-influencers or little-known experts who want to build trust will be ready to invest in your virtual summit.
–Create an online course that is related to the summit topic and offer it at a discounted price before and during the summit. An online course is an additional digital product that solves your audience’s problems at a deeper level.
–Advertise products and services that are related to the topic of the summit and will fit the context of the summit. As you will be reaching hundreds and thousands of targeted users, advertisers will be interested in appearing in front of your summit audience. Besides, people trust third-party recommendations more than ads and promotions directly from the companies. Kind of like sponsorships.
–Add the affiliate links of the products/services you use. If you are talking about any third-party tools in your presentation, you can add affiliate links and earn commissions when the attendees register for that given product. The affiliate links might also be included in the virtual summit summary report and in the list of resources that you will share with the attendees.
–Promote your book that is up for pre-orders. Invite participants in advance to order their copy of the new release at a discounted price, such as $25 instead of regular retail pricing at $30 or more. Moreover, you can offer them additional bonuses such as free shipping, printed + digital copy, free Q&A session, access to your community, etc.
–Promote a new offer to your summit attendee email list. Since you have the email address of the attendees, you can wait until the virtual summit is over and introduce your offers via email. Consider creating a post-event Facebook community of attendees to use as an extra channel to reach them.
Virtual summits: What is the best mode of delivery? Live or recorded?
When deciding how to deliver your virtual summit, you will come with 2 options.
Either you can deploy it live and conduct interviews and host presentations in real-time and stream it live to your audiences.
The second option is recording all the interviews and presentations and then streaming the recorded version.
I always prefer live delivery over the recorded one as it provides opportunities for real-time interaction between the summit and its audiences and the whole idea is to bond with the speakers. When your summit is streamed live, audiences can engage with it by asking questions, giving their opinion, and more. The questions can then be addressed and acknowledged in the live stream.
Additionally, live streaming can also enable social media growth. With live streaming, you can encourage viewers to ask questions and give their opinion by posting to your brand handles using specific hashtags on social media. This will lead to more eyeballs on your summit as now the followers and connections of the viewer will see their summit-related tweets and posts, thus amplifying reach.
Having said that, there are certain risks involved, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that it’s not that bad. Finally, let’s move to the section where I show the step-by-step process of how to host a virtual summit for your SaaS company and where to start.
How to host a virtual summit in 7 steps
1. Evaluate your summit goals
The very first step you need to take before starting a summit is zeroing in on your WHY. What is the goal you want to achieve with the summit?
Summits involve a huge time investment, so you need to make sure that it aligns with your product’s goals and the persona you want to reach. The summit should act as an extension of your product/service and brand and ultimately help in growth and revenue for your SaaS.
Usually, a summit should achieve the following goals:
- Generate high-quality leads for your SaaS
- Grow your network and establish relationships with influencers in your industry.
- Generate brand awareness for your product
- Increase authority and influence for your brand
There are many other goals, but in general, these should be the primary reasons for you to start a summit.
2. Strategy and planning
Next, start deciding on the logistics involved with the event. Decide on the following aspects of the summit:
- The dates for the event (avoid holidays, busy times, school breaks etc)
- The tech stack you are going to use (I use HeySummit + Zoom Webinar)
- The mode of delivery – Live or pre-recorded (I do live)
- The focus topic for the event along with the ancillary sub-topics (you’ll need to decide what’s hot in your industry)
- The offers you will promote via the event (something you can ask your speakers)
- The assets you need to create in support of the event (email copy, banner designs, event logo, etc.).
3. Researching guest speakers
The next step is zeroing in on the right speakers for your event. You need to see profiles of different experts/influencers and screen if they are the right fit for your event. Here are some of the critical things to look for when screening for speakers:
- Their expertise – Are they an expert on the topic? Do they have a book, a blog, a channel, podcast, or any other media that showcases their expertise?
- Their following – Do they have a considerable following in the industry? Check their social media handles to measure the weight they pull in the industry.
- Their past appearances – Have they appeared on summits in the past? This will give you a good idea for an event like yours.
- Their products – What products or services do they sell? Do they have a new product launch or book release happening soon? This might make them a perfect candidate as they can use your platform to promote their product.
Next, start doing your outreach.
The best way to start outreach is by first building relationships. I recommend you plan at least 3 months in advance. Start your outreach phase around 2 months before the actual event, so you can get ample time to establish familiarity and build a relationship with the prospective experts (although every time I hosted a summit I had to make last time changes with speakers just a few days before the event, so don’t expect it to be perfect).
Start by subscribing to their newsletters, listening to their podcasts, and following their social media channels.
Once there, leave meaningful comments and questions related to the content they are producing. Make the questions and comments as specific and contextual as possible.
If possible, buy their product or book, and leave a detailed review about it on Amazon and other channels.
Following that, use your newly established relationship as a conversation bridge to ask them to be part of your summit.
5. Roping in the sponsors
Since having sponsors will allow you more budget to play with, you can do a similar screening as you did for speakers. Look for companies in your market that are actively looking to promote themselves to audiences that are similar to yours. For example, you can look for brands that are currently running ads on social media.
Apart from that, you can also check different podcasts in your industry. Check who is advertising there, and then approach them with your offer.
6. Event launch
Now comes the big day. Send frequent reminders. Make sure to repeatedly broadcast the schedule of the event along with the reminders. This will help your audiences to select the timings and speakers they want to listen to. HeySummit does all the reminders for you if you choose to use it.
Don’t forget to hit record and look at the camera!
Run the event on time and ask all speakers to pay attention and to not run over time. I add this in the notes to calendar invites that I send to all the speakers. When someone does go over time you need to be the time keeper and end each session on time. I once was a speaker at a summit where each session ran over time and so by 1pm we were running almost 30 minutes behind the schedule and attendees actually were asking when the session they wanted to attend would start. Not a good user experience.
Keep an eye on the chat and try to keep it active, add links to speakers websites and additional resources. Add your comments and notes, pointing out interesting ideas from presentations.
At the end of the event I like including a few minutes where I invite all attendees to share the cameras and network with all other attendees for a while.
7. Post-event emails
I prefer to do a networking session for all the speakers to promote partnership opportunities among the speakers a couple of days after the event, I find they are usually well received.
You’ll also need to cut the big 8-9 hours video recording of the entire summit into separate clips for each session and upload it as replay – attendees usually ask for access to these, I get at least a few emails every time asking if the sessions will be recorded.
How to promote a virtual event
A summit will be of no use until you get the right people to attend it.
You need to promote your summit on every platform you have access to. However even with all the efforts you may still find that the majority of your attendees will register just in the last couple of days before the event.
Here are some virtual summit promotion ideas:
1) Launch drip campaigns to your email list. Highlight the different speakers and topics that will be part of the summit.
2) Publish social media posts. Create a series of social media graphics highlighting and promoting each speaker. You can highlight their credentials and key takeaways on a graphic card and post it on social media channels.
3) Buy ads. Run ads on various social media platforms, highlighting the main benefit of your summit, with an ad image of the keynote speakers. Here’s a design that worked best for my ads.
4) Attract with lead magnets. You can promote your summit on all your Lead Magnets and Thank You Pages. Since people who are interested in your lead magnets have already shown interest in your content, promoting the summit to these people can ensure higher attendance.
5) Email signatures banner. Add a small banner to your email signature
6) Promote your summit a few weeks before it actually begins. First, you will have enough time to reach your audience and convince them to reserve the time on their calendars. Second, you can build anticipation for the event and make the attendees feel enthusiastic.
7) Create a teaser video that explains how they can register at your website and get their tickets for attending.
8) Use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and the power of attendees + speakers. When a new user registers to attend the event, send them a thank you email and ask for a small favor:
“We have a simple ask. Can you share this across your social channels? We’ve created a handy tweet to get you started”.
Make promoting the summit easy and quick so users can do it in a matter of a couple of seconds.
9) Build a website for your event or use a subdomain under your existing website. Use it for adding the list of speakers, mentioning your partners and sponsors, answering FAQ, sharing the summit schedule, and, of course, allowing the attendees to book their spots.
After the summit, add session replays and the audience feedback.
10) Write articles based on the most popular topics during the summit. Make sure these articles link back to your summit website and help attract targeted traffic.
11) List your summit on event directories, such as 10Times, Eventbrite, CFP Land. Most similar event directories are free but you might want to pay the platform for suggesting your summit and helping more users learn about it.
12) Find media partners by reaching out to bloggers, TV or podcast hosts who can help promote your event. You can ask them to promote your virtual summit to their email list and social media followers. In return, offer to add them to your list of media partners, feature their logo and company name on the summit website, and provide a backlink.
Other benefits you can offer include publishing a couple of social media posts and tagging the media partners and including their company info in a summit summary booklet.
13) Create Facebook and LinkedIn events. Your friends and connections will be the first people to invite to the summit.
14) Use Facebook groups and Quora communities. There are Facebook groups and Quora communities on almost every topic under the Sun. But if you start promoting your summit in these groups, your posts are going to be removed or not even approved by the admins. Instead, reach out to the group/community admins first and get permission for posting. Some groups have special threads where members can talk about events.
The Next Step
I covered the main aspects of how to host a virtual summit and why it deserves your time and attention. Now, there are still a lot of other moving parts associated with a summit that cannot be covered within the scope of this article. From aspects like copywriting, email sequences to partnership building and networking, this is a highly nuanced marketing ploy that needs considerable time investment and expert attention.
If you need professional help organizing your summit or simply want to talk about it, feel free to connect with me here.
I can help you organize and optimize your virtual summit for revenue growth and media authority.
Here’s what you will get when you work with me:
- Mapping of your virtual event plan, including tools and tech stack.
- Researching your industry leaders to find the best speakers for the summit.
- Conducting outreach operations and roping in the best speakers for the event.
- Filling the event with itinerary and talk details.
- Establishing relationships with the speakers to leverage their network for the event.
- Creating offers and giveaways
- Creating promotional materials and sharing them with the speakers.
- Launch day preparations – Managing all the backend and various moving parts for a smooth event.
- Being the facilitator/host for the event, if needed.
- Post-event outreach and relationship building exercises to establish partnerships and referral opportunities.