We’re living in a virtual age, with many in-person events shut down due to costs or COVID-19. But while that’s undeniably unfortunate, it’s also a significant opportunity. It means that anyone can hold a virtual summit within their industry, leading to potentially significant returns for their business.
Organizing and executing a virtual summit is complex. But it also comes with potentially significant returns. Let’s dig into the basics of this type of marketing strategy, along with its benefits, before launching into the ultimate checklist you need to follow to host your own virtual summit.
Think of a virtual summit as the digital equivalent of a physical industry conference. It’s a collection of seminars, networking events, and speeches, except it’s accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection.
For your audience, they’re great opportunities to learn more about their own professional and personal interests. For you, hosting a virtual summit comes with a number of undeniable advantages:
- Gaining authority and credibility among your target audience, who will view you as an industry thought leader.
- Expanding your email list with the contact information of attendees.
- Increasing your revenue, whether it is through paid sign-ups or potential post-summit product purchases.
- Building relationships with the co-hosts and speakers, who are typically industry experts and thought leaders.
You can do all of that, even as you continue running your business. This checklist will tell you how, split up into the three basic phases of planning, execution, and follow-up.
Virtual Summit Checklist: Before the Summit
Obviously, you need to start with the planning process. These 10 steps are not necessarily linear, but they’re all vital in making sure that you set yourself (and your audience) up for success.
 Define Your Target Audience
As with any marketing tactics and strategy, always start with your target audience. That ensures you will make every decision in planning and executing the event with your audience in mind, maximizing your chances of success in the process.
Expand on your target audience definition as much as possible. What are their interests and pain points? What types of events would they have attended otherwise? What are their typical sources of industry knowledge and information? All these questions help you optimize your planning.
 Finalize Your Core Idea
Based on your target audience, define what exactly you want your virtual summit to be about. In other words, write down the one phrase or sentence that you would use to describe what audiences can get from the event.
Think of this like a core value proposition for your event. It doesn’t have to become your summit title or description, but the title or description should aim to communicate it. The core purpose becomes your guiding principle for everything else, from your marketing to the speakers you choose.
 Plan Your Timeline
Next, it’s time to plan the timing of the event. Plan at least three months into the future the first time you host a summit, giving yourself plenty of leeway to choose speakers and get the word out. But don’t just go 90 days out and hope for the best. Instead, you should operate under a few guiding principles:
- Check for other events already published that might conflict with your own planning.
- Account for the seasonal calendar of the industry you’re in. A gift-based company might not do well with a conference around the holidays.
- Check your own schedule. Don’t accidentally plan for a date that actually falls into your busiest time.
Don’t think of the event as a one-day conference, either. Its virtual nature means you can spread it out over a few days or even a week. You just need to get that on the schedule early.
 Choose Your Technology
Once you know your dates, your next step should be finding the platform that can host your virtual event. The evaluation of vendors and purchasing/contracting process might take some time, so you’ll want to start early in your 90-day planning window.
You need a vendor that checks all the boxes:
- An easy sign-up process for attendees, potentially with payments built in.
- A stable hosting process that won’t crash if your attendance is better than expected.
- The ability to train you and any staff working with you on the platform, so you’re experts by the time the event begins.
- Live support the days of the event, should anything go wrong.
- Tracking and reporting tools that help in the post-summit evaluation process.
- Lead collection integration, so signed-up contacts flow right into your CRM for follow-up communication.
 Invite Guest Speakers
Next, it’s time to think through the names you want to put on the virtual billboards for any promotions you do. Your guest speakers are your headliners, the names that promote the summit.
Look for well-known experts in your area. Even if it seems like a reach, connect with them and ask whether they’d be available. Worst case scenario, they say no and you move on to the next one.
Some experts recommend splitting profits from the summit 50/50 with the keynote speakers. That will get you some bigger names, but is not absolutely necessary and depends on the industry. Existing connections from past events and networking can come in handy here.
 Set the Agenda
Once you have your speakers, it’s time to build the agenda. Notably, this needs to happen before anything about the summit goes public. Plan out an agenda that makes intuitive sense, including:
- An opening keynote with your most notable guest speaker.
- Networking sessions that help attendees get to know each other.
- Seminars that provide actionable takeaways for the attendees.
- A closing session that provides key conclusions from the summit.
 Build the Landing Page(s)
With your agenda set, it’s time to start building your landing pages. If you have the right vendor in place, you can likely to it through their platforms. Most virtual summits take one of two forms:
- A one-time signup for the entire event, all sessions included.
- Individual sign-ups for each session, plus an all-access plan to access all of them.
The second option introduces more flexibility and might get you more overall signups, but also requires a much more complex build-out. If you have the capacity for it, the returns could be significant.
 Promote the Summit
It’s time! With the landing pages in place, you need to get the word out. Here, the full arsenal of digital advertising tactics stands at your disposal:
- Search engine optimization on your landing page, to be found by anyone looking for these industry-specific topics.
- Organic social media on your existing social channels, along with the potential for your guest speakers to push out messaging as well.
- Paid digital ads, on search and social media, for targeted reach of potential attendees based on their demographics and interests.
You will likely need to spend at least a little on digital ads to get maximum return. Fortunately, digital marketing can come with incredibly high ROI rates.
 Record Each Session
As the promotions are running in full-swing, start working in earnest to build your sessions. Here’s a secret: other than the live Q&A sessions or any networking events, your sessions don’t actually have to be live. They could be entirely pre-recorded.
Taking that approach takes out significant margin for error as you run the summit. It means some extra work ahead of time, though. Jump on Zoom and record each session, both with your guest speakers and any sessions you’re holding yourself, to make sure you have the assets needed for the summit.
 Find Sponsors and Affiliates
They’re not absolutely necessary, but sponsors and affiliates can turn your virtual summit into a revenue-generating machine. You get paid just for providing exposure to a company who has a vested interest in reaching your audience.
Of course, you have to find sponsors first. Again, look for companies and organizations your target audience tends to use in their professional life to maximize overlap.
Looking to get even more complex, consider leveraging your summit for an affiliate program. Explaining how to do that goes beyond the scope of this guide, but this article on launching an affiliate program is a great starting point.
Virtual Summit Checklist: During the Summit
You’ve done it! Your sessions are recorded, leads are flowing in, and you’re ready to bring in extra revenue. Now, the moment of truth arrives: the day of the event. Fortunately, a few simple steps can help you ensure that it will run smoothly.
 Perform Initial Quality Control
First, you need to do some dirty work. Each morning during your scheduled summit, check all the links and assets to make sure they’re working as required. Turn it into a routine, complete with its own checklist of all of your landing and conference pages, to make sure you’re not missing anything and ensure smooth operations for your attendees.
 Check in on Each Speaker
Even if not all the sessions are live, your speakers should still be available during the days of the summit. They might receive questions, or might even have live components as part of their pre-recorded session and keynote.
Check in on them every morning. Make sure they’re ready to do their part, treating it almost like a team huddle before the next play of a football game. Everyone ready to start the day? Break!
 Schedule Your Social Coverage
Forget about the pre-summit promotions. It’s time to turn your social media channels into full-on coverage of the event. Are you ready for that?
You might have hashtags to promote the event, and to encourage others to do the same. Use them for quotes, snippets, and takeaways. Post just enough for the summit to sound exciting, without giving the game away.
Especially if you’re showing pre-recorded sessions, you can schedule many of them ahead of time. But even then, you should still check in on your posts and dedicated hashtags to engage with anyone who posts.
 Send Your Email Reminders
When it comes to your summit, you cannot be afraid of sending too many emails. Your attendees expect that to be the primary mode of communication with them. Every session should come with at least two reminders, an hour and a few minutes before start, that tell your attendees exactly how to join.
Check in on these reminders. Make sure they’re not going out on the wrong dates, or with the wrong information. Some virtual summit host platforms have integrated systems that can go along way towards preventing those types of snafus.
 Actively Monitor for Questions and Problems
Finally, stay vigilant. Make sure that you’re available for any attendees who has questions, both subject-matter and technology-related. Provide real-time engagement opportunities, but also the ability to solve problems for them as they arise. That way, they can feel like they’re in safe hands, focusing their attention on attending (and enjoying) the summit.
Virtual Summit Checklist: After the Summit
You’ve done it! Thanks to the quality control and customer service, your virtual summit was a success. But the game isn’t quite over yet. In fact, the final stage after the event might just determine its success or failure. Checking off these tasks can help to ensure it’s the first.
 Send a Survey to Attendees
Naturally, you need to know what your audience actually thought of the event. Send out a survey to get answers to a few crucial questions:
- Overall satisfaction, using a metric like Net Promoter Score: would they recommend the summit to a friend?
- Overall improvement suggestions.
- Satisfaction and improvement suggestions for every individual session.
- Technical feedback on the platform and operations.
- A forward-looking question: what would your audience like to see in the future?
Some event software has this type of follow-up survey built in. If that’s not the case, services like Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey offer free or low-cost options for you to not just survey your audience but also analyze the results for tangible improvement.
 Thank Your Speakers and Gather Feedback
Just as you need to reach out to your audience, the same is true with your speakers. Reach out to each of them to thank them for their participation—a handwritten note can go a long way.
Don’t miss this opportunity for feedback, though. Ask them how they enjoyed the event, and what they would do better. You might invite them or someone in their network back, and it’s always good to learn from what went right and wrong.
 Follow up on any Promises and Purchases
Did you promise your audience recordings of the sessions or the slide decks? Now is the time to make them available. Was your product or service available for sale or subscription? Now is the time to process those transactions.
Make sure you follow up in a timely matter so that the purchase is completed while your audience still remembers the positive experience of your virtual summit.
 Perform an Internal Recap
Whether it’s just for yourself or for anyone else who worked with you on the summit, gather your own feedback to throw into the evaluation mix. Ask yourself honestly how the event platform worked, what you would do better in terms of planning, and what lessons you’ve learned.
It’s important to write down your own feedback, even though you might think you’ll remember it next time. Chances are you don’t. And while your first summit was hopefully a success, the next one could be even better with your learnings, both from your audience and from your own team.
 Archive Your Summit Content
Here’s a secret: your virtual summit can work for you long after the actual event is over. But that’s only true if you archive the content in a way that’s easily accessible and searchable.
With an archive in place, you can refer back to individual sessions and even offer them to audiences at a reduced rate. That way, you can continue to gain revenue even as you start planning the next big event.
 Repurpose Summit Content in other Media
It’s not just about archiving content, though. As the summit concludes, you can also use nuggets from the individual sessions as part of your social media and content marketing strategy:
- Summaries of sessions can turn into blog posts on your website.
- Video snippets from the session could play well on social media.
- Sessions could be turned into podcasts to reach a broader audience.
And that’s just the beginning. By hosting your virtual session, you’ve created a goldmine of content that’s bound to pay off in all of your marketing channels, for a long time to come.
 Start Planning Your Next Summit
Before the game is after the game, and the same is certainly true for your virtual events. Do it right, and your summit can bring in a good chunk of revenue, leads, and authority. So why not duplicate those results by hosting another one?
That depends, of course, on the learnings you take away from this first event. But if you do it right, you could get even better. Take some time to breathe first, then plan the next one. Make sure the topic is sufficiently different to avoid a feeling of duplication.
If it all seems overwhelming, that’s OK. As long as the results are there, though, planning your next virtual summit should be a serious consideration. You can always hire a virtual assistant to help you in the administrative side of things, allowing you to focus on optimizing the strategy and ensuring your future success.