Today, in-person summits aren’t the only way to create meaningful business relationships. Virtual summits and events bring people together to discuss important topics, generate leads, and drive sales. The power of video and production tools can help any business or creator build meaningful digital spaces where industry leaders can connect, thrive, and grow their business.

So how do you get started? In this article, we’ll cover the basics of what a virtual summit is, how to make a stunning virtual event, and why they can have a meaningful impact on your business.

What is a virtual summit?

A virtual summit is an exclusive online collaborative event where speakers are invited to discuss a specific topic. Virtual summits are a great lead generation opportunity for businesses as attendees typically register to join the event. Some summits are invite-only with top level executives or people of influence in attendance, making them a great venue to share new industry information.

Just like an in-person summit, a virtual summit is a great way to attract clients and nurture existing customer relationships, all without the cost of erecting a physical event.

Typically, virtual summits can run 3-5 days depending on the volume of event content and roster of speakers. However, a recent survey showed that 70% of respondents believe an event should be an hour or less. Event planners should consider breaking out speaker content over the course of a few weeks, to help mitigate any video or event fatigue. This allows for all the event topics to come together to solve industry problems and support the overall theme of the virtual summit.

Why virtual summits are booming

Reach more event attendees

A big reason that virtual summits are popular is because they have an extended global footprint. This ensures event content has the potential to reach more people and attract more speakers, making for a rich and inclusive event with vast networking and learning opportunities. These events have the power to connect industry leaders from all around the globe who would have otherwise not been able to attend in-person. 

Virtual summits are also attractive for executives or key business decision makers.  With busy schedules, executives typically find it difficult to all meet in one place. Not to mention the hassle of arranging travel and accommodations. But a virtual summit makes it easy for the c-suite to fit into their already busy schedules. This means marketers can find a key lead generation channel through virtual summits and other virtual events or webinar series.

Since we can now reach people across the globe, we’ve seen a big increase in registrations, leads, and have a wider selection of speakers to choose from. Taking travel out of the equation lets us reach out to speakers we may not have been able to work with in the past.

Kerrie Bond-MacInnes, Director of Global Events at Medallia

Create impactful, cost-effective event experiences

By taking the time to plan your virtual event with the right content and experience, you can build your brand’s influence and clout and make your summit a must-attend industry event.

The right content, speakers, and virtual event design can help you attract your target event audience and you can engage them with education, thought leadership, product demonstrations, and networking opportunities. 

Virtual summits are generally cost-effective in comparison to in-person summits. While in-person events can take months or even a year of planning with multiple people, teams, and resources involved, virtual summits can be broadcast straight from a browser with minimal resources like a video and audio output. They’re a sustainable way to create events without losing out on the potential attendee numbers.

Virtual summits truly deliver accessibility and sustainability. Attendees from all over the world or even from the same location are not any more limited by the physical venue. And as long as you offset the carbon footprint based on the number of attendees watching your stream, you can create an environmentally virtual summit.

Aleksandra Panyukhina, Head of Events and Experiences at parcelLab

You can also boost lead generation and revenue opportunities with paid ticket options that offer access to exclusive content your audience needs.  This opens the door for potential profit and will keep your sales teams busy.

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How to host a virtual summit

Hosting a virtual summit is very similar to hosting a virtual event. What really sets a summit apart is the focus on collaboration. From content, to speakers, to engagement opportunities, you’ll want to make room for discussions as you build your virtual summit.

Here are some key steps to consider in the process:

Plan your event and set goals

Planning and goal setting is of the utmost importance. Ask a few important questions including:

  1. Who is your target audience for this summit?
  2. What is the problem your audience is trying to solve?
  3. How will this audience contribute to the solution(s)?

Answering these questions will help you create a blueprint for your summit. Next, determine when to have your summit. Keep in mind holidays, back-to-school season, and time zones. Also be mindful of other potential competitive events.

While the time to prepare your virtual summit can vary depending on the size and goals,  it’s typically safe to estimate 12-20 weeks of lead time. The key reason for a longer lead time is that you want to include both the time to organize the summit in addition to preparing and onboarding speakers for the event.  This includes time for pitching, narrowing down on discussion topics, presentation creation, rehearsals, and overall promotion. 

*Pro Tip:  Virtual summit speakers require a little more attention. It’s common to send reminders for deadlines and updates on event registration numbers. Transparency with speakers is critical in order to build a strong relationship. 

Build your event website and assess your tech needs

Website creation and tech set-up is critical to your virtual summit.  When building out the experience of registering for the event, always keep the attendee experience top of mind.

For example, your registration page or form should be designed to capture your audience’s attention. Your event tech should also be easy to navigate on the day of the virtual summit, which means less time downloading apps and more time engaging in content within a browser.

We’ve highlighted key virtual summit features to look for when evaluating an event solution:

Customizable registration portal: A registration form, portal, or page is how attendees register for your event. If you have paid ticket options, this is also where your attendees can also purchase upgraded tickets for VIP all access passes

High quality viewing experience: Your event content and viewing experience is critical to keep summit attendees engaged. And with so many ways to spend time, toggling between tabs, it’s helpful to choose a solution that offers viewers the ease of watching the event within their browser, rather than asking them to download an application beforehand.

Intuitive production studio: Virtual event programmers need the confidence to go live . Powerful and intuitive broadcaster tools that allow a single user to upload and manipulate content before a live event is a great way to ensure everything is good to go backstage before going live.

Event branding: Controlling colors, fonts, opacity, and logos all help to build a cohesive virtual experience that’s on brand.

Video library: Virtual summits include loads of video content like keynotes, speaker sessions, panel discussions, and workshops. A video library can act as a place where attendees can access event materials and presentations after the event. This feature is a game changer especially post-event.

Engagement tools: Your audience is attending the event to learn and move their career forward, but they’re also hoping to build new business relationships.  Live chat, moderated Q&A, quizzes, polls, 1:1 meetings, and dedicated networking sessions can help facilitate casual collisions online. 

Email list opt-in: Add to your marketing funnel and grow your brand’s audience with options to subscribe to newsletters or email lists. Explore event solutions that include integrations to your marketing operations and CRM tools.

Post-event analytics: Get a grasp of your virtual event performance with macro event stats like total views, average watch time, and peak viewers as well as viewer level analytics like the number of registrants vs attendees, watch time, and any engagement from polls and Q&A. This data can help event producers ​​understand attendee behavior at a granular level in order to optimize future event experiences.

Video editing tools: After your event, you can trim your video and add chapters before hosting the content for on-demand use. Want to create a highlight reel? Look for platforms that can create fun GIFs from your content so you can share via email or social campaigns once the event ends.

*Pro Tip:  Make sure the content on your website speaks directly to your audience. Consider hiring a copywriter who is well versed in the topic or industry at hand. They can also assist in reviewing presentations, website content, and any visual graphics.

Virtual summits are like a content engine. All the great content that has been produced is now at your fingertips! All set for being turned into clips, blogs, ebooks, podcasts and more.

Aleksandra Panyukhina, Head of Events and Experiences at parcelLab

Promote the event with partners and sponsors

Partnering with niche brands can bring in a big audience to our virtual summit. It’s best to start looking within your existing network. You never know, you may discover new connections or be offered introductions to other brands.  

When strategizing on your sponsor outreach strategy, personalization is key. Get their attention within seconds of reading the email. The key tactic is to note what the value proposition is for them. You may even consider recording a video in the email that summarizes “What’s in it for them to participate?” to help them answer that question and get the conversation started.

Proper partnerships can do wonders for your summit and also impact the industry at large. Adeek’s Mediaweek has the support of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the 4A’s. The ANA alone represents marketers that account for more than $400 billion in marketing and advertising annually. The 4A’s serves over 700 member agencies that help direct more than 85% of total U.S. advertising spend. Now that’s what I call powerful partnerships.

Prepare live and pre-recorded event content

One of the biggest questions for any virtual event is whether or not sessions should be live or pre-recorded. Because virtual summits are more collaborative and work best with live attendee engagement, going 100% live is best. This allows for real time audience Q&A. This is major for a summit to have a constant dialogue with on-going contributing discussion points. Pre-recorded content should be for quick video snippets or informative content that comes from your brand in this setting.

No matter if speakers are coming in live or airing simulive, you’ll want them to look their best and feel confident. As part of their onboarding process send them a virtual speaker kit. This includes everything they need to be successful when going live like lighting, a microphone, and a backdrop for a full on professional display. Rehearsals should include testing of all equipment well in advance.

*Pro Tip: The standards for a virtual summit are higher than other virtual events. If you have wiggle room in your budget, hire a professional production team to manage the live recordings. They usually consist of a director, producer, sound operator, and broadcast engineer.  They will ensure the stream is high quality, maintain audio levels, use the right equipment, and transition to different shots seamlessly.

Review feedback and analytics post-event

Feedback is essential when measuring the success of your virtual event. Attendee feedback will give insights into the value of the event content and experience. Speaker feedback will give you insights into how the onboarding process was and how successful speakers feel about their sessions. Ultimately, your speakers should feel in control of their presentations, yet clearly guided by your team. Feedback forms can be sent via email with different messaging based attendee roles, event participation, or other details used to segment audiences. 

Additionally, event analytics like the number of registrants, attendees, total watch time, peak viewership, and details about Q&A, polling, and comments can give event planners more visibility into what parts of the event are engaging and how to improve for the future.

Provide more ways to engage with content and connect with attendees

The end of your virtual summit should not mark the end of the business conversations. Don’t forget to edit your video content and host it on-demand for event registrants and attendees.

You can also encourage ways for attendees to connect and collaborate post-summit. Consider hosting an exclusive community through social channels like Facebook or Slack. Monitor these channels on a regular basis and nurture these channels with incentives from your brand. This can look like advocacy groups, mentorship programs, membership groups, meet-ups, advisory groups, and more. 

*Pro Tip:  A follow-up that’s often overlooked is the post-event touchpoint with your partners. Go beyond sending an attendee list and arrange for a call or lunch meeting after your summit.You want your partners to feel valued and that their feedback and opinions are heard. They also may have suggestions for future summits that will secure their support for virtual summits to come. 

Don’t discount the time and effort it takes to put on a truly impressive and impactful virtual summit. There’s a misconception that transitioning to virtual means that you save time + money in planning – that’s not true if you want the event to be great! They can take as much time, if not more, to really get right.

Kerrie Bond-MacInnes, Director of Global events at Medallia

Virtual summit FAQ

What is a virtual summit?

A virtual summit is an online collaborative event that features a collection of presentations anywhere from 6 to 30+ experts on a topic. Virtual summits are generally invite-only with top level executives or people of influence in attendance.  This is often where new industry information is often shared first.

How do I create a virtual summit?

Creating a virtual summit includes these basic steps:

  • Select an appropriate date and time
  • Strategize on content and goals
  • Decide on admission fees, if any 
  • Create a robust agenda as it relates to your audience
  • Onboard speakers and approving content
  • Select the appropriate software 
  • Create a website that includes a registration page
  • Promote your event with speakers and partnerships
  • Schedule live and pre-recorded components 
  • Hire professional production teams or other third party suppliers if needed
  • Rehearse and launch your event
  • Following up with speakers, partners, and your audience post-event
  • Create social channels to encourage business collaborations
How long should a virtual summit be?

A virtual summit should be 3 – 5 days long. You don’t want to rush a virtual summit. With so many speakers and a collection of content, this gives ample time to deep dive into topics and solutions.

Explore ways to launch your next virtual summit