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How to Create a Virtual Summit that Profits and Builds Community

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 salesperson reminding people to buy the All-Access Pass, the website manager, the stage director and all of the other people involved in the whirlwind of hosting a conference.

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

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

Nonetheless, after feeling like I was hit by a bus at the end of Day 1 (of 4), I went to check Instagram.

I. Was. Floored.

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

Creatives showing off the pages of notes they were taking.

Attendees posting screenshots of the speaker they were watching.

Messy-haired, yoga-pants-wearing, MacBook-holding women posting photos of their friends sitting around tiny Starbucks tables across the world with their headphones and their faces scrunched in concentration, watching the live presentations.

People showing off MY website. MY effort. What was happening?

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

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

If you look today, you’ll find over 160 #creativebrandsummit Instagram posts (and those are only the ones that were 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 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, with no real engagement with speakers or fellow attendees, etc. There’s a good chance you forget to even go to a couple (or more) of the sessions.

You get lured in by the free price tag, but end up walking away subscribed to 20 email lists that you didn’t know about, having learned nothing that you couldn’t have found on Pinterest or in other free webinars and consumed in 5-10 minutes, rather than five 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 not like I just shook MY FAVORITE PERSON’S HAND EVER).

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 wow you and make you want to go implement everything in your business immediately
  • And more!

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, and going home feeling exhausted but hopeful and ready to take on the world.

There’s just one problem with this—the price tag. Which raises the question:

If money weren’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? If it were possible to connect with these influencers, make these deep connections with fellow attendees, and walk away with some amazing swag and powerful presentations—would you go to a free event like this?

Of course, right?

Maybe you’d even want to HOST one of these things without having to worry about the massive overhead of renting venues and catering and hotel blocks and so on.

If you could be the person who brings all of these amazing influencers, attendees, and experiences together for very little cost and with a (possibly VERY) high return in both publicity and profits—would you do it?

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

It’s all about blending.

And it’s how we’ve personally created two (currently launching our third) virtual conferences that we’ve been told have revolutionized summits.

How to create a community event

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

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least-focused-on aspects.

So, how can you possibly create a community-based event while 1) not breaking the bank and 2) keeping the summit virtual?

Here’s what to do:

1. Encourage micro conference meet-ups.

Have guests plan meet-ups where they can sit with each other during the summit airtime.

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

Attendees can also meet at each other’s homes—just hook a computer up to a big screen, provide coffee, and bring a handful of notebooks and snacks!

2. Have a chat system during the conference.

When hosting the conference, ALWAYS have a chat box handy.

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

Even better: if you pre-record your speakers’ presentations, encourage them to be active in the chat box.

This lets them up the engagement of their own presentation, which is valuable for the relationships they can form with attendees. It also 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!

3. Offer swag.

Whether or not you invest in swag for your attendees, I highly encourage you to at least send thank you cards or Greetabl gifts to your speakers.

They’ve taken the time to record presentations for you and 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 let them know that you truly appreciate the partnership.

And if you want to take it a step further, invest in swag for your attendees! Our swag typically consists of virtual freebies from the speakers, such as micro courses, templates, checklists, workbooks, free months in membership communities, etc.

Or beyond that, 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 event stationery!), a cute notebook and pen, maybe even a face mask or energizing 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 find potential sponsors who align with your brand’s message and would love to get their products in front of more people.

4. 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. Will benefit from all of the traffic coming to your site: Google LOVES seeing lots of organic traffic to your site, especially when this traffic is coming from multiple different links (all of your affiliates and speakers).
  2. Will be able to 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 if they have a nice space where they feel like they’re able to stretch out and enjoy themselves (virtually), they’ll be more likely to remember your brand.

On the other hand, if you host your summit on a platform like Webinar Jam or Click Funnels or even YouTube, you’re essentially allowing those sites to dictate the feel of your conference’s environment, which may feel too stiff, corporate, or otherwise inconsistent with your brand.

5. Make it easy for people to talk about.

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

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

Not only do we gain the sales that they’re driving and the attendees and connections that they’re introducing us to, we also get the hype and feeling of community that they create with us.

To make this happen, it’s INCREDIBLY important to make it as easy as possible for people to share. In the ticket confirmation email, include a link to an affiliate hub where they can sign up to get commissions and grab an array of promotional photos and swipe copy (everyone loves an easy Instagram caption!).

 

We’re calling this movement The Modern Conference, and it’s revolutionized our business.

It embodies free, accessible, inclusive, diverse, relationship-building virtual collaborations.

You’ve now seen what The Modern Conference looks like for our business.

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

 

**Make sure you register for the free Creative Growth Summit happening this September 10-13th!**

Kyrsten Sherwood

Kyrsten and Kelly Sherwood are a wife and husband team who help creative entrepreneurs worldwide to start and scale their small businesses. The Modern Conference program helps creative entrepreneurs to create truly engaged and enthusiastic communities, network with influencers and create profitable and educational summits to boost their business's credibility, marketing reach and authority in their market! Kyrsten, Kelly and their 3 (going on 4!) kids are from rainy Seattle, WA and are currently living in Chandler, AZ after traveling the states full time for for most of 2017.

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