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How to Create a Virtual Summit that Profits and Builds Community

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

Enthusiasm Builds Believers

The week that our first summit went live, I don’t think I posted a single thing on Instagram or Facebook because of how many other plates I had spinning.

I was the tech support, the chat box enthusiast, the sales person reminding people to buy the All-Access Pass. I was the website manager, the email provider, the stage director. I was also all of the other hat-wearing people who assist in the whirlwind of hosting a conference, whether online or in-person.

I figured I’d done as much marketing as I could up to that point — we’d created a FREE online event which had made us (us meaning my husband and me) $10,000 dollars and brought in over a thousand email list subscribers (both of which would continue to increase over the next few days).

Now I’d needed to focus on the execution and to nurture those people who were already attending.

Yet, after feeling like I was hit by a bus at the end of Day 1 (of 4), I went to check out Instagram because… well, do I need a reason? (Just because, okay!

I. Was. Floored.

My feed was FILLED with people attending the 100% online Creative Brand Summit.

Creatives showing off the pages full of notes they were taking.

Attendees posting screenshots of their computer with the current-at-the-time speaker they were watching.

Messy-haired, yoga pants-wearing, MacBook, and notebook-clad women posting photos of their groups of friends sitting around tiny Starbucks tables across the world. With their headphones in and their faces scrunched in concentration, they were watching the current-at-the-time speakers.

People showing off MY website! MY efforts! ALL over Instagram! What was happening?!

People tagging ME and raving to their audience about how much they were getting out of the presentations.

All-Access Pass sale after sale after sale, email subscriber after email subscriber, all flowing in to watch this event. AND they were bringing with them those they love, follow, and engage with in the creative industry.

And I don’t think I posted a thing that week.

If you look today, you’ll find over 160 #creativebrandsummit Instagram posts and those are only the ones that were actually hashtagged.

Was it a super viral thing that turned us into instant celebrities? No.

Was it one of the most heartwarming, validating, self-esteem boosting moments ever? Absolutely.

This, my friends, is the power of creating a truly engaging event in the online space.

This is what we’re calling The Modern Conference.

Let’s Back that Thang Up: Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a Virtual Summit.

You know the kind: online, sometimes free, sometimes available for a low price, no real engagement with speakers or fellow attendees, you probably forget to even go to a couple (or all of the?) sessions, etc.

You get lured in by the “IT’S FREE!” price tag, but end up walking away subscribed to 20+ email lists that you didn’t know you were being given to and the content is stuff you could have found on Pinterest or in other, free, evergreen webinars and that you could have consumed in 5-10 minutes, rather than 5 days.

Sound familiar?

But how about those of you who have been to an in person conference?

Especially those conferences that totally blow you away — where the speakers engage with attendees like they’re not just celebrities who you’ve looked up to for the past two years (no big deal — it’s whatever — it’s not like I just SHOOK MY FAVORITE PERSON’S HAND EVER OMG I’m never washing this hand, can I frame it?!?! I die!).

At these wonderful events, you get:

  • so much amazing swag that it hardly fits in your luggage
  • a beautifully curated environment filled with loads of Instagram-worthy photo ops
  • inspiring and educational presentations that totally blow you away and make you want to go back to your hotel room right this second so you can implement everything into your business immediately
  • etc!

It’s basically a dream come true, right? Connecting with people on a deeper level, walking away so inspired that you can’t even contain yourself, getting on the plane back home feeling exhausted but hopeful, like you need to sleep for a month but are also primped and pampered and ready to take on the world.

Which raises the questions…

If money wasn’t an issue — if this in person conference was FREE, even if it were just the tiniest bit dimmed down from the starlight-y brightness described above — would you attend it?

Well duh you would, right?

If it was possible to connect with these influencers and people you’ve looked up to on a personal level, if you could make some of these truly deep connections with fellow attendees, walk away with some amazing swag and super inspiring and educational presentations — would you go to a free event like this?

If you wouldn’t, then I don’t think we’re speaking the same language and you might want to give up on this article here (I tend to get REALLY wordy – you should probably quit while you’re ahead!).

But if you would attend this kind of event — nay — maybe you’d even want to HOST one of these things without having to worry about massive overheads of renting venues and catering and hotel blocks and props and sound systems and on the list goes…

And if you could be the person who brings all of these amazing influencers and attendees and experiences together for very little cost and with a (possibly VERY) high return not only in marketing results but also financially — would you do that?

Red Pill or Blue Pill? Or… Purple Pill?

(That was confusing, we went from The Matrix to Eminem, but)

The point is this:

It’s all about blending.

See, it turns out that in person conference experiences hosted on virtual summit technology isn’t actually that out of reach.

(I know, you’re like no way Jose, but we’re like, YES way Guadalupe!)

And here’s how we’ve personally created two (currently launching our THIRD!) virtual conferences that we’ve been told have revolutionized the industry and set the bar super high for virtual summits:

>> ALSO!! Make sure you register for the free Creative Growth Summit happening THIS September 10-13th! <<

Creating a Community Event

Community and networking opportunities should be one of the number one focuses when hosting a virtual summit.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least focused on aspects (womp womp).

The potential to bond with others who you can talk to emphatically and who actually understand what you’re going through (moms and friends truly do mean the best, but sometimes they just have no idea what you’re going on about) and the ideal of meeting a million amazing potential clients is a strong one!

So, how can you possibly create a community-based event without 1. breaking the bank and 2. keeping the summit virtual?

Welp, here’s how:

Step One: Encourage micro conference meet ups.

Have guests plan meet ups together where they can sit with each other during the summit air time.

Places like Starbucks and Panera Bread are great places to park for the day (just make sure you’re respectful – buy their products, don’t disturb other customers, you know, just — like — be a good adult).

Have attendees meet at each other’s homes – hook a computer up to a big screen, have a good coffee system and buy a handful of notebooks and snacks from Target!

Step Two: Have a chat system during the conference.

When hosting the conference, ALWAYS have a chat box handy (I had a typo that said hat box — you could have a hat box ready, too, that would be pretty funny!).

Nothing’s worse and less engaging than going it alone at a conference.

Even better: if you pre-record your speakers’ presentations, then encourage them to be active in the chat box (don’t pack them into the hat box though)!

This ups the engagement of their own presentation, which is valuable for the relationships that they can make with attendees, as well as creates a feeling of prestige — having your speakers and influencers “walking around” the “venue” so to speak.

Bonus: See if your speakers would like to host or attend the local meet ups mentioned above!

Step Three: Offer Swag.

Okay, so whether or not you’re interested in investing in swag for your attendees, I highly encourage you to at least send thank you cards or Greetabl gifts to your speakers.

Your speakers have taken the time to record presentations for you, tell their audiences about the summit (hopefully), and you’ve been using their names to promote your event. A little thank you can go a long way in solidifying these relationships and letting them know that you truly appreciate the relationship that you have with them.

And if you want to take it a step farther, invest in swag for your attendees! Our swag typically consists of virtual freebies from the speakers – we’ve had speakers give away micro courses, templates, checklists, workbooks, free months to membership communities, etc.

But if you’re really wanting to take it a step further (which we’ll be doing for our 2019 Summits!), send your VIP members some physical swag to really encourage the in person conference feel.

Send a printed welcome packet (we love The Printed Orchid for on brand event stationery!), a cute notebook and pen, maybe even a face mask or energizing drink and/or snacks – whatever makes sense for your brand and how you’d like your attendees to feel during this summit!

Pro Tip: this is an awesome opportunity to chat with potential sponsors who would love to get their products in front of more people and who align with your brand’s message.

Step Four: Host it on your OWN website.

One of my biggest suggestions is to host the summit on your own website. By doing this, you:

  1. Benefit from all of the traffic coming to your site. Google LOVES seeing lots of organic traffic to your site and LOVES seeing that all of this traffic is coming from multiple different links (all of your affiliates and speakers!).
  2. Can truly curate the look and feel of your attendees experience. Your attendees will be spending a LOT of time wherever you host the videos and by having a nice space for them to feel like they’re able to stretch out and enjoy themselves virtually, they’ll be more likely to remember the feel of your brand.

Whereas, if you host your summit on a platform like Webinar Jam or Click Funnels or even Youtube, you’re essentially allowing those spaces to dictate the feel of your conference’s environment, which may feel more stiff, corporate or generally not particularly coherent with your brand’s message.

Step Five: Make it easy for people to talk about!

As I implied at the beginning of the post, our biggest traffic sources and sales converters were and are our affiliates.

We typically pay out around $2000+ to our affiliates each summit and it’s so incredibly worth it.

Because not only would we not have the sales that they’re driving and not only would we not have the attendees and connections that they’re introducing us to, we also wouldn’t have the hype, the feeling of togetherness or the feeling of community that they create with us.

That said, it’s INCREDIBLY important to make it as easy as possible for people to share. When sending out the confirmation email for those who grabbed the free ticket, also have a link to an affiliate hub where they can sign up to get commissions and where they can grab an array of promotional photos and swipe copy.

Everyone loves an easy Instagram caption!

The Modern Conference has revolutionized our business.

And that’s what we’re calling this movement.

The Modern Conference embodies free, accessible, inclusive, diverse, relationship building virtual collaborations.

This is what The Modern Conference looks like for our business.

I’d love to hear what it could look like for yours!

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