Ida from HeySummit shares her key lessons for a successful virtual event. HeySummit takes the heavy lifting out of running and analyzing your virtual events of every size and shape.


Ida has a passion for politics, writing and experimenting with brownie recipes. She hopes to launch a summit of her own someday but is unsure which one of her passions to base it on. Ooh… maybe all three?

There’s plenty of talk about making the pivot to virtual summits, with Event Organizers singing praises of ‘the new normal’. But it’s just as important to recognize that online summits have their limitations – this way, organizers can be realistic about what can and cannot be achieved and manage expectations of attendees and speakers alike.

1. Lack of engagement

At a physical conference, it’s pretty easy to tell if you’ve managed to captivate your audience. And if not, you can always adjust by upping the engagement – whether that’s by breaking into a Q&A or taking a quick stretch break. With online summits, it’s not easy to take the temperature of the room, so the best way to ensure you don’t end up with a disengaged audience is to take proactive steps to prevent it!

Gone are the days where event hosting platforms simply connected speakers to audiences. There are tons of methods, both baked-in and as integrations, you as an Event Organizer can use to your advantage, including:

  • Live chat
  • Breakout rooms for smaller group discussions
  • Attendee polls
  • Contests
  • Games – from scavenger hunts to trivia, let your creative flag fly!

Many Event Organizers also focus on creating hype around the virtual event by being active on social media – sharing out speaker profiles, answering attendees’ questions, and launching giveaways and offers. If you’re looking to build an engaged community and garner buzz even before your summit launches, discover some of HeySummit’s best tips here.

2. Convincing attendees of your added-value

‘Zoom fatigue’ may as well be the buzzword of 2020. You can indeed reach a wider audience than ever before with a virtual summit. But getting people to log on to a new online platform and watch a screen for a couple of hours outside their mandatory client meetings and team standups is a tall order.

Stay ahead of the curve by offering added value to your event. Convince people that yours isn’t just another run-of-the-mill series of talks they can find on YouTube. How?

For example, consider:

  • Spreading out the talks into several days, rather than have them back-to-back.
  • Limit talk durations – the average British adult has an attention span of 14 minutes.
  • Incorporate audience participation. For pre-recorded talks, you can invite the speaker to join in the live chat, or Disqus/ Facebook chat.
  • Use different talk formats – panel sessions, Q&As,
  • Experiment with non-formal sessions, like drop-in sessions for sharing, brainstorming, or networking, a pub quiz with prizes, or even a musical/ dance performance in between talks!

The bottom line: make your event’s value clear. Convince your attendees that your summit is not one to be missed. Start by thinking: what does my event offer that others in my space don’t?

3. Trying to create a replica of your offline summit

Some aspects of an offline event just don’t translate online. From sponsor/ exhibitor booths to event swag, to networking over lunch – these aren’t experiences that can be copied over. But don’t be disheartened – instead of shelving all your plans, you can find new strategies that work with these aspects. Strategies like:

  • Networking via breakout rooms
  • Offering event merchandise for purchase (or free with the purchase of a particular ticket-type), or as prizes for participating in contests
  • Allocating talks to sponsors

Make the switch successfully by keeping it simple – there are obvious limitations to not having your audience in the same room as you, but there are just as many new opportunities. Leverage these – you can stretch the event over a longer duration since people don’t have to remain in one place; cater to more attendees since space is not an issue; repurpose/ upsell your content so attendees can watch their favourite talks on demand, and so much more.

4. Incorrect ticket tiers and pricing

With virtual summits, you’re likely saving money as an event organizer. There’s no need for venue rental, accommodation bookings, catering, etc. These savings can be passed on to your attendees! While we’re by no means suggesting tickets should be cheaper than physical conferences, ticket prices and tiers are another part of your event that can’t just be copied over from its offline iteration.

To determine a fair price, we suggest conducting market research on your target audience, for example by comparing similar events in your space or gathering feedback. Ticket tiers are also important, and determining factors include:

  • Is your event likely to attract an entire department or organization? Maybe you should offer discounts for ticket bundles.
  • Will you offer additional value, such as exclusive media files or e-books?
  • How long will your event be live? Do you want your attendees to be able to rewatch the talks after they’ve gone ‘live’?

5. No interest from sponsors

A common complaint among Event Organizers is getting sponsor buy-in with virtual summits. In a traditional conference, you’d have sponsor booths, which attendees would visit in between talks. While online events are never going to recreate the same experience, you can offer your sponsors incentives such as:

  • Free session to present their product/ service during your event
  • Opportunity to book 1-1 networking sessions with interested attendees
  • Brand recognition and placement on your website, via social media, on event merchandise

Still stumped? HeySummit’s got you covered – learn how to engage your sponsors here. So go forth, reinvent the wheel a little and tailor your sponsorship opportunities to your online summit!

6. Technical difficulties

While tech can fail at any sort of conference, having multiple devices/ network connections/ level of tech-skills involved in a virtual conference certainly doesn’t do anyone any favors. You can’t control the set-up of your speakers and attendees, but you can control your set-up. To minimize disruptions to your event, make sure you, as the Event Organizer, know your tech stack. Familiarize yourself with your platforms. Create and run test events before launch. Go the extra mile and pre-empt issues faced by your speakers/ attendees – you can create videos or documents on accessing talks and chat rooms, or assemble a team to help answer questions and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. The worst thing you can do? Leave people in the lurch. The virtual event is often chided for not having the ‘personal touch’ of a regular event, but you can change that by investing a little TLC into ensuring that speakers/ attendees feel supported if they encounter technical difficulties.

Need more help managing your speakers or attendees? Check out some handy guides here:

HeySummit’s Knowledge Base is chock-full of tutorials and docs to help you as you build your event – have a browse!


By Ida Lassesen, HeySummit