Hosting a virtual conference is an incredibly effective way to build an audience around a topic while simultaneously growing your email list, building authority, and generating revenue.
Unlike a traditional conference, an online conference holds an attractive advantage for both the host and attendees in that the overhead costs are much lower while still offering comparable value.
This means that more people are able to attend, hear your message and take action on what they learn at the conference. If you are considering to run a virtual conference but aren’t quite sure where to begin, especially when it comes to the tech side of things, you’ve come to the right place.
I have worked behind the scenes on 100’s of successful online conferences and over the years I’ve learned what works — and what doesn’t.
Today, I’m going to share the 10 lessons that I’ve learned from hosting virtual conferences, with examples to show you exactly what I mean.
This will help you to piece together your own roadmap and avoid costly mistakes if you are about to embark on the journey to create a wildly successful virtual conference.
But before we dive into the big lessons learned, let’s go back to basics so that we’re clear on the foundations first.
Note: This in-depth guide to hosting virtual conferences is several thousand words long, so you can check the table of contents below to jump to the section you’d like to dive in to more.
What Is A Virtual Conference?
A virtual conference is an interactive online event that brings together a group of people with similar interests or expertise so that they can learn from one another. Similar to live conferences, they are very engaging but occur entirely online rather than in a physical location.
Many virtual conferences (or, as I like to call them, virtual summits) involve a series of sessions with several thought leaders in the field, which attendees and watch and participate in.
There are various different models that you can follow according to what your goals for the virtual conference are but here’s what I’ve found to work particularly well. You can offer a limited-time (e.g. 24-48 hours) free viewing period to anyone who registers for the conference with their name and email address. Every attendee is then presented with an option to upgrade and receive lifetime access to all the conference session recordings when they purchase the All-Access Pass.
This is very effective because of three important aspects of the model:
- It attracts natural attention and people want to share it with others because it’s an insane amount of value.
- It builds your email list and audience very quickly when thousands of people sign up to view the expert sessions.
- It generates revenue for your business via All-Access Pass sales whilst you build an audience and email list (most other similar strategies cost you money but this way you end out in front!)
Sometime a virtual conference can be confused with a webinar but it is so much more than that.
It’s not just one interview with one expert but an entire event of quality content from many top experts in the field. For example, there might be 4-5 speakers per day for 3-7 days (really, it’s completely up to the conference host!)
Benefits Of Hosting A Virtual Conference
Here are the top reasons why you should host your own virtual conference:
1. Build A Large, Engaged Email List FAST:
None of the traditional list building methods (like blogging, podcasting, social media, publicity or paid advertising) even come close to the speed and reliability of building a highly engaged email list of hosting a virtual conference.
2. Raise Your Visibility:
A conference puts your business on the map as you reach thousands of new people so that you can share your message with more people.
3. Build Rewarding Relationships With Influencers:
It’s the PEOPLE who make a true difference to your success and hosting a virtual summit forces you to throw yourself in with the best in your niche.
4. Become An Authority:
When you interview and are seen alongside the top players in your industry, people start to see you on an equal playing field with them and YOU become seen as an expert by association with them.
5. Get Raving Fans and Lifelong Customers:
Releasing the conference content for free (for a limited time) allows your audience to benefit from what your speakers have to share while building your reputation for providing massive value to your followers.
6. Multiply Your Income:
A virtual conference can provide you with multiple different revenue streams, some that come even before you launch and allow you to get started (like conference sponsors).
7. Virtual Summit Business Model:
Hosting a virtual conference isn’t just a tactic. It’s an incredibly valuable marketing strategy that can become your entire business model.
Who Do Virtual Conferences Work For?
Hosting a virtual conference can completely revolutionize your business and lifestyle, no matter where you are at right now.
I’ve seen people start their business from scratch with a virtual conference, giving them a solid platform to share their message right from the beginning.
Virtual conferences can work successfully for:
- Professional service providers like insurance agents, lawyers and realtors to bring in more clients.
- Service businesses to get out of the “time for money” equation.
- Info products / software businesses as a way to provide an excellent user experience.
- Physical product creators as a way to create community.
- Coaches, consultants and authors as a way to create an additional revenue stream, establish yourself as a leader, and create an audience of loyal fans.
Regardless of whether you’re in the early stages of building your business or you’re looking to grow and scale your further, virtual conferences can help you exponentially grow your audience, influence and revenue faster than you ever could imagine.
Examples Of Real People Hosting Virtual Conferences
I’ve worked behind the scenes to help my students and clients to host virtual conferences that have generated 100,000’s of email subscribers and earned millions of dollars in just the past year alone.
My Virtual Summit Mastery students have shown over and over again that virtual conferences can work in any niche you can imagine. Whether the topic is calligraphy, gardening, health & fitness, marketing or music, virtual events can be extremely profitable.
If there is an audience for it, it’s possible to host a successful virtual conference on the topic!
Here are what some of them have to say after working with me to host a virtual conference:
10 Lessons Learned From Hosting 100’s of Successful Virtual Conferences
Now it’s time to get into the most exciting part of this entire post – the top 10 lessons that I’ve learned from hosting and being involved in execution of 100’s of successful virtual conferences.
Here’s where you get the best tips, without all the hard work and failures that it took to learn them.
Let’s jump right in!
Lesson #1: It can work in ANY niche!
Can you guess one the biggest sticking points that I hear from people ALL the time?
“Virtual conferences won’t work in my market”
But let me tell you, a virtual conference can work in practically EVERY market.
I know this because I’ve seen them work in the most obscure niches: health & fitness, playing the guitar, adoption, vertical farming, personal development, traveling, trading, insurance, real-estate, tennis, pharmacy, diabetes, and even in small niches, like scrapbooking and calligraphy… you name it, there’s a virtual conference on it.
The one rule of thumb is that if there’s an audience for it, a virtual conference can be very effective. (That means it can work for almost anything that people have an interest in!)
If there aren’t any other virtual conferences in your niche yet this is a GOOD thing because create the first one will give you instant visibility.
A great example of this is VSM Graduate, Diana Rowan.
She knew there was an audience of harpist that were hungry to learn and that it was hard for them to travel with their instruments.
There wasn’t any other online event available for Harpists so it was incredibly easy for Diana to set herself apart by creating the first online conference for harpists.
As you can see, her first virtual event was a huge success with over 2,000 registrations and 460 all-access pass sales. Even in a non-traditional field, a virtual conference can be incredibly effective.
You can watch Diana’s video case study here:
Lesson #2: Narrow your topic for magnified success
If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again. Frankly, it’s the #1 mistake that people make when hosting a virtual conference.
Narrowing down your niche and defining a specific topic that will truly help people, even if it’s a small group of people, is essential for success.
One of my VSM graduates, Steph understood that she needed to narrow down her topic if you was going to stand out with her virtual conference in the crowded health space. In fact, she was worried about whether it would work at all.
Check out this post from before she hosted her online conference, voicing her doubts about the topic:
So what did she do?
She honed in on a specific target audience and created the perfect virtual conference to suit their needs so that it naturally stood out from the rest — for the people she wanted to attract.
The Women’s Strength Summit that she hosted was a huge success for this reason. Check out her video case study here:
Lesson #3: You can make virtual conferences a huge win for speakers
When executed properly, virtual conferences can be a massive win for everyone involved: the host, the attendees AND the speakers.
As the host, you should make it a priority to make it a big win for speakers in any way that you can because this will help you to build stronger relationship with them and position yourself for greater success after your summit.
One of my VSM graduates, Caitlin Pyle, made it one of her goals to make it a real win for the speakers at the Work-At-Home School virtual conference. She wanted to help them to grow their email lists, while growing her own at the same time.
And she definitely succeeded!
Here’s what a few of her speakers had to say about it:
In the end, it was their success that made her success with the virtual conference so great. There were over 60,00 registrations for the virtual conference and made multiple six figures in revenue in just a couple of weeks.
Check out her full video case study here:
Also, make sure to thank your speakers and keep the relationship going after your conference. You connections to other people in your niche are incredibly valuable.
One VSM Graduate reached out to some A-list speakers to get thoughtful gifts that she knew they would like.
Lesson #4: What got you here, won’t get you there
There a many different ways that you can go about reaching the goals for your business but, as many people have found out, doing the same thing over and over again can get stale quickly.
Even if you’ve experience some success with other methods before, sometimes you need to try a new technique to really reach new heights.
In the words of VSM graduate, Jon Schumacher:
“What got me here, won’t get me there.”
He had been running webinars online for a while and, as a result, had build up a small email list with a few thousand subscribers. They’d been successful but he was ready to level up and go further. He knew that he needed to doing something different.
That’s when he decided to host an online conference for people who wanted to learn how to run effective webinars. He brought together 25 experts for the Webinar Mastery Summit to generate 7000 new email subscribers and over $25K in revenue directly from the summit with All-Access Pass sales.
But most importantly, his new and engaged email list was the perfect audience to market his group coaching program on the backend and he generated multiple 6-figures in revenue over the next 12 months as a result of the summit.
Check out the video case study with Jon here:
Lesson #5: Leverage affiliate partnerships to multiply your success
When I hosted the List Building School virtual conference, I brought on over 60 speakers and 100 promotional partners. It was a pretty effective affiliate launch, with most partners actively promoting and over 80 who made at least one sale.
The reason that I had such a successful affiliate promotion was the way that we laid out the partner program. Every step of the way, we made sure our communication was clear and made it as EASY as possible for them to promote.
You can do this by providing:
- Promotion calendar
- List of important dates
- Suggested mailing times
- Swipe copy
- Social media graphics
You need to follow up and communicate with your speakers and affiliate partners as often as you can without being pushy.
Find a reason to reach out to them and get them excited to share the summit with their audience, for example when you announce a new speaker, or about how many opt-ins and sales they helped you generate so far.
This can literally make or break your summit, so make sure you focus on making all aspects of your summit as professional as possible, and treat your summit as a “product launch”.
“We followed Navid’s proven VSM method. One of the things was a promotional strategy we used, and we made it REALLY easy for our partners to share the summit. In Navid’s system you create individual speaker images for every speaker and give them pre-written emails they can just swipe and update and send to their lists. They loved that! It got us lots of shares, emails, and it created reciprocity, like Chandler created this for me, I’ve got to at least share it on Facebook and Twitter. It was extra time and work but that helped a ton!”Chandler Bolt
Chandler Bolt scaled his business a lot by hosting virtual conferences, going from stagnant growth to $700K+ in revenue and over 60K subscribers after his first two conferences.
Check out this case study with Chandler to see exactly how:
Lesson #6: Look for unexpected benefits (they might surprise you!)
There are lots of hidden benefits to hosting a virtual conference that you might not think about right away.
Of course, there are the obvious ways that you can gain by building an audience, influence and revenue. But if you look for them and position yourself in the right way, other unexpected opportunities might come your way as well.
For example, you could:
- Be invited to speak at live events
- Get a job offer in your field
- Form partnerships with other influencers
One of my favorite examples of unexpected benefits from a virtual conference is Eric Z Yang, who hosted the Airbnb Mastery Summit. Shortly after his summit ended he was approached by Netflix about doing a series for Airbnb hosts.
Totally unexpected and undoubtedly awesome!
He has now hosted multiple virtual conferences and has learned lots along the way as he build his email list to over 15,000 subscribers and a 6-figure business.
You can watch Eric Yang’s Case Study here:
Lesson #7: Focus on the high ROI activities
When you start to work out the launch plan for your virtual conference so that you can make the event a huge success, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the possibilities.
Here are a few places you could promote your virtual conference:
- Facebook Ads
- Google Adwords
- Guest posts
- Guest podcasts
But remember you DON’T have to be everywhere. In fact, it’s better share your message really well in a few strategic place where your target audience will actually take notice.
This is where it is important to focus on the highest ROI activities by using the 80-20 rule. This rule implies that the majority of your results (80% or more) will come from just a few of the things you do (20% or less!)
If you know this, you can strategically allocate your time to cut the 80% of things that don’t make much different and leverate the 20% of things that move the needle the most.
The trick is to know which activities will be most beneficial for YOUR audience and topic. It won’t be the same for everyone, so you need to know your conference well.
For many virtual conferences, paid advertising and affiliate partnerships will be the biggest traffic drivers.
But not all!
Take VSM Graduate, Jared Decamp, for example. He knew that his target audience for the Learn Microsoft OneNote Conference was much more likely to hang out on Twitter than other social networks. So he focused is marketing efforts on Twitter where his audience was.
This wouldn’t be an obvious source of traffic for most other topics but it was very effective for Jared because he knew his audience and where he would get the best response.
Lesson #8: Getting sponsors on board can multiply your success
There are many ways of going about sponsorship for your summit – sometimes you might prefer exposure than monetary compensation – so you need to define what your goals are and what you can offer your potential sponsors.
It’s possible to get $1,000’s on the lower end to multiple 5-figures or even 6-figures on high end if you have something of value to offer sponsors for your virtual conference.
Additionally, sponsorships can also give credibility and social proof because attendees see that companies they recognize trust you.
Here’s how you can get sponsors for your virtual conference:
- Start by think about the live conferences that your attendees go to. Who exhibits at these events? These companies are the potential sponsors for your online summit.
- Reach out and tell them about your virtual conference. Give them the details they need to understand how the sponsorship could benefit them.
- Present your offer to them, positioning it in a similar way as you would for a live conference. Think about how much they would pay for exposure at live events, and compare that to a virtual conference, particularly in terms of impact and reach.
- Create tiers that match the different needs of your sponsors (e.g. from $1,000 to $10,000) and work out what you will include for each level — logo, links in newsletter, infomercial, landing page.
- Create an exclusive link so that sponsors can track the success of the campaign and how much traffic you are sending them. You can also become an affiliate and use that link, and may also be able to negotiate a higher commission.
These tips come directly from the experience of one of my VSM graduate, Shirvan Sarna, who has been super successful at getting sponsors (and getting paid well for it).
She hosted a virtual conference on a health condition called SIBO, the SIBO SOS Summit. Her first summit got over 25,000 email subscribers and made 1500 all-access pass sales. She has since hosted 2 more summits on the same topic to grow her email list to almost 100,000 people.
Check out her full case study video here.
Lesson #9: Plan your post virtual conference growth before you launch
A virtual conference is an incredibly powerful tool to propel your business forward. To make the most of the momentum that you will build up as you run the conference, it’s worthwhile to plan your post-conference growth before you actually get to that stage.
This way, you can orchestrate the entire process by reaching out to the right speakers and promoting to the right people who will be the best fit for your backend offer.
A nice example of planning out your business growth after your virtual summit is VSM graduate Jesse Krieger.
His end goal was to find prospects for his high-end training program Author To Entrepreneur Experience. With this in mind, he hosted a virtual conference called the the Bestseller Online Summit to attract an audience who would be interested in his higher end program.
The conference brought in 15,000 new people, some of whom became paid customers of either the All-Access Pass of the high-end training program.
You can check out Jesse’s video case study here:
Another great example is Brian Appleton, who is the host of the Insurance Agent Summit and Virtual Advisor Summit. He went from zero to a 6-figure online business in just a short few months after hosting his first summit.
During my conversation after his first summit Brian said:
I’m just blown away by what this summit has created for me, what it has created for my future and for my family. My summit got 3,500 sign ups, 465 sales, $70k in revenue, $20k in sponsorship and I have a $2k a month recurring revenue product.Brian Appleton
Lesson #10: Everyone who does the work is capable of success
If you’re looking for a way out, there are hundreds of excuses that you can come up with for why it won’t work.
But I’d like you to know something important:
For example, I lot of people ask me whether it’s possible for non-native English speakers to host a virtual summit.
The answer? A resounding YES… if you do the work!
We’ve had numerous non-native English speakers create virtual conferences for audiences all over the world.
For example, VSM Graduate Sami hosted a health summit entirely in Finnish and here’s how it went down:
Sometimes, being a non-native English speaker can even work in your favor because it makes you stand out!
And this is true for whatever it is stopping you from taking action. No matter what it is that is holding you back, 99% of the time you’re just not prepared to put your head down and do the work.
But if you do, success will come your way.
Best Virtual Conference Platforms and Software
If you are about to host your first virtual conference, you might be overwhelmed by all the different options available to create it. Luckily for you, I’ve already tried and tested many of the options out there and know what works and what doesn’t.
Here are my recommendations for the best tools and software to host your virtual conference.
A self-hosted Wordpress site is your best bet if you want full control and for this you’ll need a website host such as Bluehost (budget) or WPEngine (more reliable for bigger virtual conferences).
You can use the VSM Website Template to create all the pages, and then all you’ll need is the Thrive Architect page builder to customize the templates.
It’s usually best to set up your paid access area on a separate domain. Both Teachable and Thinkific are great options for this because they are easy to set up and you can do almost everything yourself – if you click on those links you can get a free trial to see which one you like best!
Finally, you’ll need a shopping cart to accept payments and for this I recommend ThriveCart. It’s hands down my favorite cart because it has high quality functions but is also incredibly easy to use (it only takes about 10 minutes to create a new product!) You can read my in-depth ThriveCart review here.
Email Automation Tools
Next, you’ll need a good email marketing service provider to contact your virtual conference attendees throughout the whole process (before, during and after your conference.)
Both ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign are good option. I’ve used both and have found them both easy and intuitive to use but with powerful functionality – if you click on those links you can get a free trial to see which one you like best!
A great way to save time and frustration when setting up the email automations is to use the VSM email automation templates. These make it easy to import everything you need with a few clicks so that you can just tweak the details.
Recording Studio Gear
You’ll need some equipment to set up a professional-looking recording studio at home. In my premium VSM program there are 3 levels of recommendations, depending on where you are at in your business. But even if you’re just starting out, you should get a decent microphone, camera and lighting because it will increase quality of you sessions a lot.
At a minimum, I’d recommend:
- Microphone: Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XRL Microphone
- Camera: Logitech C922x HD Webcam (or similar HD webcam from Logitech)
- Lighting: Dimmable LED Desk Lamp (or similar like a Ring Light)
You’ll also need a way to record the virtual conference sessions. Skype with ECamm Call Recorder or Zoom can both work well for this (I use both from time to time.)
What Is The Best Virtual Conference Training Program Available?
If you’d like more training and resources on how to host your own successful virtual conference to build, grow and scale your business, Virtual Summit Mastery™ is your answer.
Virtual Summit Mastery™ is a seven-module implementation training program that will lead you step-by-step through creating and promoting your first (or next) profitable virtual conference.
The VSM Method was developed through thousands of hours and years of research and testing with 100’s of virtual conference (or as I like to call them, summits).
Regardless of whether you’re in the early stages of building your business, or you’re established and ready to scale, Virtual Summit Mastery will help you to achieve your business and lifestyle goals by hosting successful virtual conferences.
The implementation program has been designed to help you exponentially grow your audience, influence and revenue faster than anything else as proven by 100’s of successful VSM students all over the world.
In fact, my VSM students and I have generated hundreds of thousands of email subscribers and millions of dollars of revenue from their virtual summits in just the past year alone.
For more powerful tips and strategies on how to host world-class virtual conferences for your business, read my ultimate guide on how to create a wildly successful virtual summit here.
Your Next Steps: How Will You Host Your Virtual Conference?
There’s no doubt that hosting a virtual conference can help to set yourself apart in your industry multiply your success.
The power of the virtual conference model in unparalleled when you go all in and focus on delivering the best to your audience.
It has been proven time and time again by so many people in a wide variety of markets (and their niche is most likely more “weird” or “obscure” than yours).
The question is HOW to do it.
I’d like to present the Virtual Summit Mastery Method as the solution to any questions that you might have about hosting your own online conference.
If you follow this proven method, it will exponentially help you grow your email list, influence and revenue FAST.
Just like the case studies you read about in this post, YOU could be the next success story to be featured…. IF you commit to hosting your first virtual conference now.
It can literally transform your business and life… just like it did for me and 100’s of VSM students around the world.
Find out more information about Virtual Summit Mastery™ here.
Once you’ve downloaded the cheat sheet PDF above, take a second and leave a comment.
What was your #1 takeaway from these virtual conference tips and strategies? And how will you put it into action?
I’d love to know in the comments below what you thought of this post and tips I shared.
Want to learn more?
Great stuff Navid. As usual you have over delivered on quality. Thanks for the time you have put into this post.
Thanks Mark, glad you enjoyed the post! Looking forward to your first summit soon as well 🙂
Hey Navid, first off – love the post! You captured pretty much all aspects of a virtual conference. Coming from a company which hosts virtual conferences for a living, I think certain aspects like costs and effects on the environment are massive drivers as well to adopting the virtual conference method over in-person events.
Hi Navid, I truly thank you for your information! I was wondering if you know of anyone in the Chicagoland area that could help with doing a virtual conference?
Hi Lauri! You don’t necessarily need someone local to help you… that’s not needed, as everything is done online. If you sign up to my list and download the cheat sheet PDF, we provide a lot of valuable resources. We also have a premium program called Virtual Summit Mastery if you want to go more in-depth, including done-for-you resources and templates.
Thank you for sharing some super valuable tips! It will definitely help us for our upcoming online event HR.