Virtual summits have gotten a bad rap for good reason, and I can say that having been on both sides of the fence. In my observation, however, summits mostly tend to be viewed in a negative light by people who don’t have a business model that benefits from summit participation. These might be experts who do not understand why they are not being offered a Speaker’s fee, do not understand the difference between the way podcasts and summits work (and their impact on revenue), people who have never hosted a summit themselves, and / or who are not actively building and monetizing their email lists. It’s easy to criticize what you don’t understand.
However, because of certain tendencies in the industry, even influencers who have summit- aligned businesses have gotten turned off. Many summits are run in a host-centric way, offering little visibility to Speakers, and a disappointingly low number of free gift optins for all their promotional efforts. Brand new, stressed out virtual summit hosts going through the same list-building mastermind program find themselves so overwhelmed by the technicalities of a launch that they do not take care of every speaker in the best way. I’ve been there.
Most virtual summits lack diversity, with guest expert line-ups leaning towards the young, white, able-bodied and physically attractive. The same white influencers show up again and again in different virtual summits, which only serves to perpetuate the white supremacy in the Internet marketing industry.
There aren’t a lot of successful summit hosts who are people of color, for many reasons that I will get into. However, it so happens that my 4th virtual summit mentor, is a 7-figure entrepreneur, run several multiple 6-figure launches, and is of Persian descent. So we are out there AND there is a way to do things “right”. Setting diversity piece aside, which is a different, but very important issue, allow me to present both points of view as to “who benefits” from a summit. As well as suggest how we can redesign summits so that they are diverse, inclusive, and mutually beneficial.
And over time, as I’ve pursue virtual summit mastery, battle-tested software platforms and redesigned and rebuilt virtual summit websites 6 times, I can say with confidence that:
- It is entirely possible to produce a virtual summit that is a win-win for all involved
- It is entirely possible increase the diversity of your summits, even in industries dominated by one demographic
Who Might Not Benefit From a Virtual Summit
Virtual summits are not for everyone. If you do not have a business model where you are actively building and monetizing your email list, you may not receive immediate, direct financial benefit from Speaking. More people will discover you, but brand awareness is an intangible benefit. If you are anti-capitalistic, the promotional nature of virtual summits may turn you off. If are turned off by numbers, data, and performance statistics, you may also find virtual summits to be a turnoff.
Who Truly Benefits from a Virtual Summit
If you set the summit funnel up right, both the Speakers and the host benefit so that Speakers desire and proactively summit speaking opportunities. In order for both parties to mutually benefit from a virtual summit, it’s important to understand both view points.
The Summit Speaker Point of View
- You invited me to be a Speaker, why is my participation contingent on me emailing my list?
- This event is meant to grow your own email list, why should I promote your business?
- The last summit I participated in didn’t do anything for me. I don’t see the point of this. What’s the benefit to me?
- The wisdom and expertise I bring to the table should qualify me for this event, without me having to promote anything. It’s the host’s job to fill the event.
- The list size requirement is alienating. My people aren’t a number, and my value isn’t defined by the size of my list.
The Summit Host Point of View
- I am producing an event that benefits our industry, bringing together thought leaders to discuss an important topic
- I am taking a financial risk to produce an event that gives publicity to all the speakers, that may not even be profitable, due to the unpredictable nature of launches
- I am investing 3+ months of my, and my team’s time, to produce a free event for the community, with every speaker interview consuming 5 hours of labor as well as hard production costs each
- I am creating opportunities for each speaker to get their brand in front of new audiences, which can result in direct revenue from backend sales as well as high-end clients.
- Maximum visibility for everyone depends on everyone’s promotion. If nobody promoted, then nobody gets seen. If some people promote and others don’t, that’s not fair for the group.
How Speakers Can Get the Most Out of Speaking on a Summit
If you are actively building an email list, and making offers to that list, there are many ways you can optimize your virtual summit speaking opportunity, even if it is a pitch-free event. I run my summits as no-sales events, that is, I do not want every Speaker I have in my series “speaking to sell” in their interview. That turns the event into a pitch-fest, which is a sucky experience for the attendees.
That being said, there is an opportunity for the Speaker to offer a free gift during their talk- usually a digital download of some kind. This is the list building opportunity to the Speaker. This free gift is typically placed on their interview page. What happens after the free gift, I leave that up to the Speaker. I encourage my Speakers to set up a sales funnel on the back end of the free gift. That way, people can get free info from them about their topic, and if the backend offer resonates, connect with that Speaker in a deeper way. I cannot serve everyone, and solve every problem. If my audience connects with a Speaker who can help them alleviate their struggles, that’s fantastic! Here are things you can do to get the most out of your free gift offer:
- Offer a free gift download that redirects to a webinar, that sells a product
- Offer a free gift download, that redirects to a discovery session booking page
- Offer a free gift download, that redirects to a sales page
- Talking in general terms about the kinds of retreats you offer (we don’t want to date the interview, because we want all content to be evergreen), and then mentioning a discount code for future retreats just for our audience
Does all of this take some preparation work before you are ready to rock a virtual summit?
Yes. Is it worth it?
Let me give you an example from my life. I once spoke on someone’s summit for 30 minutes. I sent 2 emails promoting the event. I had a discovery session call on the backend of the free gift. I enrolled a new client for $8K. I was able to transform that client’s life, help her leave her day job, and that client went on to make 6-figures in her business. So yeah, that was worth it to me, and to her!
How Hosts Can Create an Event that’s Truly a Benefit to the Community
It’s up to us as virtual summit hosts to truly consider what it takes to curate an online conversation that has the power to raise awareness of important issues, and even change culture. By producing such an event, we have the power to send ripples through society that carry the voices and perspectives of those we include in the event.
Here are some ways you can do this:
- Host live panel conversations about hot-button issues. This can be a powerful way to create lively debate about controversial issues, and invite the participation of your audience.
- Host live workshops with QA. You can add additional value by adding workshops to your event, so your summit isn’t just 30+ talking heads, but also a free mini-course that offers tangible outcomes for participants.
- Choose diversity over list size. Curating diverse perspectives and voices leads to a much better summit experience for your audience, even if it means you take a hit on cross-promotional reach. Because of of the history of colonialism, slavery, genocide and systemic discrimination, many luminaries, experts, leaders and activists of color do not have large email lists. But they still have powerful wisdom, experience and guidance to share and you, as a host, can choose to elevate their stories. I can tell you from experience, the more unique your event is, the more Upgrade sales you will make, and that’s much better anyways.
- Don’t be a “Telesummit Guru”. Nobody has all the answers. It’s so much more authentic and interesting to for your audience, as well as for your speakers, if you approach the summit theme with curiosity, humility, and a sincere desire to learn.
How Hosts Can Create a Positive, Relationship Building Experience for Speakers
Most summits are host-centric and do not offer worthwhile benefits to Speakers, making them feel used, while they promote the host’s own business launch. This sentiment is eloquently summed up by this Open Letter to Anyone Running Virtual Summits by JAC McNeil.
Another factor that contributes to this sentiment is that many new hosts discover what a butt-load of work producing a summit actually is, and do not continue hosting summits or doing any other kind of Internet marketing launch, eliminating any opportunity to “return the favor.” I know a great number of people who simply decide, after their first virtual summit experience, that online marketing is just not for them. I get it.
That being said, if you are view online marketing and Internet business to be a long-game endeavor, here are some tips to make virtual summits can actually a mutually empowering alliance building endeavor.
1. Cultivate Long-Term Relationships with Speakers
A big turnoff of summits is that the Speaker-host relationship often feels transactional. This is because many hosts contact influencers they’ve had no prior relationship with out of the blue, expecting the Speakers to commit to mailing their list, without any knowledge of who the host is. Using templated emails that reflect no understanding of who the Speaker actually is. It’s so much more powerful to build the relationships far in advance of any ask, giving first and foremost. Then nurturing the relationships after the event is over. Because of the overwhelming nature of launches, I understand that this can be challenging for newer hosts. But it’s important to not skimp on the social currency in favor of immediate hard currency.
2. Be the Best Interviewer You Can Be
Be completely, 100% present for every Speaker and show authentic interest. Ask questions that you know your audience is genuinely interested in finding out the answers to, and don’t be afraid to go “off script”. Dynamic conversations are really refreshing, especially if you are interviewing a Speaker who’s been on a lot of podcasts and gets asked the same questions over and over again.
3. Increase Tangible Wins For Your Virtual Summit Speakers
Many Speakers feel that what they get very little from a virtual summit in return for pounding their email lists. A lot of these issues can be actually addressed by how the host designs the summit, specifically the way the virtual summit “funnel” works. Unfortunately, many summit hosts are not at all dedicated to funnel mastery, nor are they even technical, so a lot can be botched in the summit technical design.
- Send all your summit traffic to one long schedule page. Summits have the most engagement at the beginning of the event, and email optins, click throughs and video views drop after day one. This means that Speakers on the last days of the event get the least visibility. So if your event schedule page is, say, divided into 4 pages, to reflect weeks 1-4 of a 1 month summit event, anyone on the week 4 calendar hardly gets seen at all. And this will directly impact how many subscribers their free gift offer attracts. By sending all your traffic to one page, you not only minimize the human error around sending people to individual schedule pages in your daily event emails, you ensure that everyone gets equal visibility.
- Offer to share sales commissions on the Upgrade sales and or / future program sales. A lot of summit hosts do not do this. I completely understand why. It’s a huge amount of work to produce a summit and a summit offers the opportunity for a Speaker to extend their brand to new audiences. From the perspective of many summit hosts, that’s the benefit they offer Speakers.
- Look for opportunities to ensure that Speakers receive more subscribers than they send. If a summit Speaker sends 100+ optins to your virtual summit, this is a win. There are ways in which you can set up your summit so that you send an equal or higher number of new subscribers to your Speaker in return. Speakers in my summit can expect to receive 200-400 optins if their free gift is placed on the schedule page. You can also include speaker free gift links in the daily emails.
- Actively refer leads to your summit Speakers. If you are doing a discovery session campaign on the backend of your summit, refer unqualified leads to your Summit speakers. They’ll appreciate it.
4. Avoid Obligation and Negative Motivation Tactics
I was once taught by, not one, but two, past coaches that I ought to maintain the right to remove any Speaker who commits to promoting, but does not promote or does send a certain number of optins. While I understand this is designed to discourage Speakers from intentionally joining summits and not promoting, or who intentionally mail a non-performing segment of their list, rather than their whole list, tracking URLs do break… and it’s impossible for hosts to really know what happened. More importantly, I think the “threat of removal if you don’t promote” creates a bad vibe and negative pressure around promotion.
This is not in alignment with the sacred, visionary business culture I wish to co-create. Instead I’ve chosen to implement a rewards-based model that allows Speakers to be directly in control of their own visibility, so that the number of optins and sales commissions that Speakers get is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how much promotional effort they make.
5. Dismantle List Size Privilege
List size is less important to us than enthusiasm. I never liked the fixation with Speakers that had big lists, because this means nothing if the list doesn’t convert, or the person doesn’t mail. It feels elitist and contributes to brilliant people feeling “unworthy” because their lists are small. I really resonated with Kate Swaboda’s critique of “Telesummit Gurus” around the alienation that cones with list size and marketing requirements, but I also don’t get a sense that has ever hosted a summit before.
In the world of virtual summits, there is a fixation on influencers with big lists, and yes, this can be alienating. People feel bad for not having “big enough lists”. Too much importance is given to those with huge lists. However, more often than not, I’ve noticed that the bigger lists didn’t necessarily perform as well as as the smaller lists in my summits. There are many reasons as to why:
- Some big-list Speakers don’t even mail. Even if they said they would. This happens even in the “spiritual” market.
- Some Speakers mail, but only a segment of their list. Often the worst performing segment.
- Some Speakers will only do a newsletter mention and social media. This is more of a thing with bigger influencers who love to be featured on summits, but will not promote them, even if they grew their audience through virtual summits themselves. Newsletter mentions hardly get any clicks or optins.
- Bigger lists tend to have lower conversion rates. This is also a thing. Bigger lists may not have been scrubbed, so they may be bloated with dead emails. They might be filled with Russian bot emails from being list-bombed, which lowers deliverability. The list may be fatigued from so many promotions.
In my cost-benefit analysis of the risk versus reward of producing a summit, I’ve learned that in order for a virtual summit to be worth the time, energy, and resources for us to produce, we need each Speaker to confidently attract 50 registrants who are genuinely interested in the topic.
So what does this look like? If a Speaker has an email list of 1000 engaged subscribers, 50 optins should be ease-fully achieved in 2 solo emails. I’ve also had a number of summit Speakers who had great wisdom to share, but no lists whatsoever, who were able to attract 50-100 attendees just by posting the event into different Facebook groups. Promotion is not required, it is a gift that we receive with gratitude, only if the Speaker feels a full-body ecstatic yes.
Everyone starts from the same foundation – an interview that airs to the public for 48 hours, with their free gift link on the page. Any additional exposure or rewards are benefits that are unlocked based on Speaker’s promotional efforts.
6. Put Some Skin in the Game With Paid Advertising
One way to remove any kind of anxiety or pressure around list sizes and promotion for you and your Speakers is to allocate marketing budget to Facebook ads. Of heard of some virtual summit hosts being so ballsy as to assure their Speakers that no promotion is needed at all, because they would full the event using paid traffic.
While I do see this as a powerful strategy, not just for driving traffic and event registrations, but also for building trust with your Speakers that you are serious about your summit, most summit hosts do not have the capacity to play this card.
Because running profitable Facebook ads is a learned skill set, that can easily take 6-12 months of learning, implementation, and testing. I’m a seasoned Internet marketer, and I can say that learning Facebook ads wasn’t easy, straightforward, or cheap. I’m far from being a master at it, and with my mental bandwidth maxed out running a virtual summit launch, I can barely get a campaign going in time to drive the leads I want for a satisfying cost per sale. It was also pretty expensive, and the cost of Facebook traffic keeps increasing.
However, if you are accomplished at running paid advertising campaigns, definitely do it!
7. Ignite a Movement & Co-Create an Awakened Community
One of the beautiful things that can happen is the co-creation of a movement and even an entire economy around these partnerships, so that all ships rise with the tide. One of the most inspiring expressions of this kind of culture-shifting community is The Shift Network, which hosts dozens of summits each year in a variety of spiritual niches, along with transformational program launches, featuring a diverse faculty of teachers.
Another amazing example is Ocean Robbin’s Food Revolution Summit, which has been a powerful force in educating the public about the benefits of maintaining an organic, plant-based diet, plus some of major global concerns about the widespread use of pesticides, declining food security, and impact of climate change. The quality of information is compelling and value-packed, and the whole production is highly professional.
Virtual summits can be lucrative endeavors for both summit Speakers and summit Hosts, but in my opinion, the real power of virtual summits is their ability to provide value to an large audience in one burst, raising awareness, transforming lives, and shifting culture, through the power of many voices, and many perspectives. That, to me, is priceless.