6 Crucial Strategies for a Successful Virtual Summit
Virtual events have been rising in popularity steadily over the last few years, but the COVID crisis seems to have skyrocketed the popularity of virtual conferences, with several companies even canceling their annual place-based conferences and switching to virtual conferences.
According to The Virtual Events Report released by Tagoras, about 44 percent of companies have already offered a virtual event in the past, and about 25 percent have virtual events on their agenda within the next year, putting us on the cusp of virtual conferences across industries. Industries like education, already fueled by the online education trend, are seeing accelerated growth with virtual conferences.
With virtual conferences soon set to become the mainstay offering across industries and organizations, the format deserves a full-blown marketing strategy.
From my experience of managing two virtual conferences, here are some key questions I would recommend considering for a successful event:
- How can we align the virtual conference to the organization’s long-term strategy?
- What kind of sponsors will see value in the event?
- How can we maximize value for our attendees?
- How can we use the virtual event to expand/narrow our offering?
Here are six strategies to align with the above questions:
1. “Niche down” on the conference theme:
Given that virtual events aren’t restricted by physical travel and logistics, it presents an opportunity to galvanize an international community toward a common purpose. Picking a hyper-focused theme for a virtual conference that aligns with your organization’s larger goals can be a great way to touch global advocates for your conference mission, driving brand awareness and new-user growth from diverse sources. My first conference was for parents and educators with the objective of bridging their worlds. The second edition of virtual conferences narrowed down the niche to special needs health and education, while sticking with the larger mission of bridging parents and educators.
2. Drive conversations before the event
Virtual conferences can be absolutely great to drive focused conversations, and there’s nothing like addressing the needs of your target community directly to have them participate in the event. I had used a simple Google form to collect questions that I could present to the speakers during my recorded conversations, but other ways to seed content beforehand could be through a Slack community or a separate Facebook group to drive discussions.
3. Focus on Win-Win-Win
As a host, your priority should be to make it a huge win for everyone involved- your speakers, attendees, and your marketing counterparts.
- Speakers: Speakers will benefit from the visibility and traffic that is driven to their site from the conference. You can drive people to their websites by notifying them of special offers and giveaways from the speakers in addition to presenting their expertise, as a way to grow their email list. Forging other strategic partnerships that will enhance their standing and credibility is also a great strategy. For my second conference, all my speakers welcomed the summit's brand association with UNESCO.
- Attendees: Make sure your attendees take back an insane amount of value from your conference. Take time to prepare for your sessions and steer the sessions with your speakers in a way that will be useful to the audience. Your own offering can be bundled with other bonus content that can be applied by using the principles shared on your summit.
- Affiliates: For the final part, most offerings are trusted through word of mouth. A virtual conference should leverage your relationships with other authorities in your area and form new relationships with influencers for affiliate partnerships. Most influencers are willing to share it with their audience provided your content is of high value and easy to share - which brings us to the next point.
4. Make your conference easy to share:
Your content might pack great value, but if it is not easy to share you can lose a lot of steam with your marketing effort. If you are leaning in heavily on your speakers and affiliates to share it, it’s best to create a marketing packet with ready-made social media images, swipe files and templates for each of them to share without much ado.
5. Have a feedback or synthesis session
One of the easiest ways to keep up interest and engagement is to challenge attendees to apply some of the recommendations to their own situations, reflect on and share their own experiences. One of the mistakes I made after my first conference was to wait to collect feedback from the attendees. It’s best to collect it immediately after the event while the experience is still fresh in their minds.
6. Offer continuing value
Your conference would have generated a lot of ideas and avenues for your attendees, and this is a great start to nurturing a long-term relationship with your conference participants. A follow-up webinar or a product that aligns with the conference theme can be used as an upsell to this event.
If you are willing to invest in the strategic planning and execution of virtual conferences, you might discover them to be the most agile and scalable medium for success in a crowded market.
About the author
Devishobha Chandramouli is the founder of Kidskintha, a platform focused on the emotional health of parents and children in the millennial age. She has written for HuffPost, Entrepreneur, LifeHack, Parent.Co and several other publications. Devishobha is host of the 2020 Special Kids International Summit, a free virtual conference to take place from April 7-11. The event will feature 30+ experts in all aspects of special education.