How to Bring Your In-Person Conference Online

Uncategorized Mar 14, 2020

Things have gotten crazy fast, right? Within the last few days, I've received emails from several in-person event hosts saying that they are unsure of whether their event will happen or making the decision to cancel.

That's a hard decision to make, and I know a lot of you are in that position. So in this post we'll talk about what you can do to take your in-person conference or event and bring it online.

This post will cover the basics, but I want you to ask any questions you have. I will continue to update this post as questions come in to make it the resource you need it to be. Remember, my specialty is online events, not offline, so I won't be able to anticipate all the questions you'll have. However, I will be here to answer them for you as best I can!

In this post and video, we'll cover:

  • Why you don't need to panic
  • How much time to give yourself to transition your event online
  • Whether you should cancel completely
  • What to do with your speakers
  • What to do with ticket holders
  • How to make your online version just as awesome as the offline version would have been
  • Online hosting and tech options
  • Free and paid resources I have to make the process easy

And like I said, let me know what other questions you have in a comment on this post, in the Summit Host Hangout Facebook group, or by emailing me at [email protected].

Since writing this post, I also did a 50-minute Facebook live with speaking strategist, Jessica Rasdall, where we discussed turning in-person events into virtual events.

Do. Not. Panic. You can do it!

First things first...don't panic. Like, this stinks. It really does for so many reasons, but especially if you've been working your tail off for months trying to plan this event, and now you can't do it anymore.

I want to say PROPS to you for looking out for your community and being willing to make that hard decision. But I know it's still hard. So, with that being said, don't panic. I got you. I've got all kinds of resources to make this easy, and I'm here to answer whatever questions you have.

Okay? Okay.

How much time you need to bring your in-person event online

Let's touch on your event's timing.

Most importantly, give yourself some time. Like, if you had an event coming up in March or April, I wouldn't necessarily recommend going hard and still trying to hit that date because that is going to be really stressful for you. N

ow, generally, when I'm teaching people to host virtual events, I recommend that they take 90 days minimum to do it, which you can see in my free Virtual Summit Prep Timeline.

But since you have likely put in a ton of the work already...

you've already been doing marketing,

you have your speakers lined up,

you know what they're going to talk about,

you know what your strategy is,

you can do this faster than 90 days!

I do want you to know that, but I don't want you to rush and make this something stressful because it can be fun and it can be incredible. 

Everyone's timeline is going to be different based on how far along you were in planning your in-person event. But just give yourself that freedom. Give yourself time to map out what it's going to look like and don't force things. Use the Virtual Summit Prep Timeline to see what a 90 or 120 day timeline would look like and make adjustments from there.

Should I cancel my in-person event completely?

I do not think that canceling altogether is the route to take. Right now, people need us. People need us to be talking about something other than the pandemic. And they still need our resources now more than ever. So I don't think canceling is the best option in most cases.

With that being said, let's talk about what to do with your speakers and then your attendees.

What to do with your speakers

As far as speakers go, you've done the hard work. You've got speakers signed on already. Keep those people!

They are going to be in the same boat where they're like, "Oh, I had all these opportunities lined up and now I don't. What do I do?" You still can give them that opportunity!

I would give them the option to do their prepared talk rather than forcing everybody to do interviews. A lot of people who teach summits say that you're "supposed" to do interviews.

In reality, I tend to find more value in summits where speakers can give their own presentation. However, presentation guidelines are a good thing so you don't end up with people just giving webinars, pitching, and not actually providing value.

But give them the option to do their prepared talk rather than force interviews. 

Then, you have a really great opportunity here: you get to invite new speakers! Maybe your in-person event had 15 speakers. Why not make it 25 now?

Maybe someone who had to turn you down because of travel, but would have been a great speaker, can now participate since you're moving things online. Take that opportunity!

This is an opportunity for you: an opportunity to provide even more value to your attendees. And I want you to look at it like that and make the most of it.

What to do with ticket holders

This is where my knowledge and lack of in-person event experience gets a little muddy. I don't know what you planned for your event, I don't know what the cash flow looks like.

But as someone who paid several hundred dollars for an event that may be moving online, my suggestion is to refund ticket holders as your first step. I know, it stinks.

However, that doesn't mean you're not going to make money! Come on into my Facebook group and you'll hear about people making big money through virtual events. I've got one going on currently that is skyrocketing during this crazy time, and you can do the same thing.

The way I would recommend you set up your online event is that you have free entry. This gives you the opportunity to expand to so many people who need what your event was going to cover.

From there, you'll have paid upgrade options.

Of course, based on what you were going to do for your in person event and how it was planned, maybe that's not what you do. That's okay. Do what feels best to you.

As for what to include in your paid upgrade options, there are no hard and fast rules. However, consider how you can create a virtual event as similar to your in-person event as possible.

Here are some ideas of what to include:

  • Ongoing access to presentations - Rather than having access expire after 24 hours, people who purchase the upgrade get ongoing access, whether it's a year or "lifetime"
  • A bonus day of presentations - Maybe people who signed up for the free version get the presentations that you do Monday through Thursday, and you open up Friday for people who pay for the upgrade. Or maybe you have your last session of the day filled with featured speakers, and only people with the paid options get access to those.
  • Q&A panels - This is an option that would make your online event feel like an in-person one, while adding a ton of extra value.
  • Bonus contributions from speakers - I have all kinds of resources and training on this. But for the summit I have going on right now, I have over $3000 in bonuses from my speakers that people get when they purchase this upgrade option. My upgrades usually have an 16-19% conversion rate because of this.
  • Co-working and networking sessions - These are additions that will let people get more connected, but also make people who have that free option want to upgrade to the paid.

So, that's my recommendation for what to do with ticket holders. Give the refunds, have a free entry (which opens you up for so much more visibility and growth right off the bat), and then have an upgrade option to get those sales coming in.

From there, you'll still be set up to make whatever pitch you had originally planned to at your in-person event. And heck yes - still do it! 

How to make your online event as fun and engaging as it would have been in-person

Next, I want to talk about how to make your online event just as awesome as it would have been in-person. We've touched on a couple of these things already, but I want to break them down a little bit more.

I want you to reflect on what you had planned to do at your in-person event and how you can do something similar online. 

For example, here are some interactive options:

  • Co-working sessions - During my events, I set aside an hour per day where people jump on Zoom, mute ourselves, and work. At the beginning of the call, we share what we're going to work on related to that day's presentations and I let everybody work for 50 minutes. Then, we come back in and regroup afterwards. Attendees love it and it's a great way to ensure people are making progress, get them connected, and make it feel a little more like it's in-person.
  • Networking sessions - Networking sessions are a chance for attendees to connect and interact. Zoom has a feature called Breakout Rooms. You get everyone on a Zoom call and click a button to break them up into groups of however many you want. I recommend 4-5. Then, they can network and get to know each other, just like they would between sessions at an in person event. You can let them chat for 15-20 minutes and then switch the rooms up so they can meet more new faces. You can even provide a PDF with conversation prompts to help conversation flow more smoothly. 
  • Breakout sessions - Breakout sessions are another option to consider in the free or paid version of your event. You can either have speakers go live in your Facebook group for shorter trainings or you can use a tool like Remo, let speakers lead a "room", and attendees can decide which room to join.
  • Q&A panels - At your in-person event, you were probably going to have a group of the experts come on stage and let the audience ask questions. You can still do that. Again, this can be done with Zoom or Remo.
  • Community - This is a big one. I'd recommend making a free Facebook community a part of your free version of the event. If you hate Facebook, maybe think about Slack, or another online community option, but you need a way for people to talk to you, talk to each other, and have that interaction. Summits without communities are just plain boring. So have a community, keep it active, ask questions, and get people talking.
  • Show up - Show your face in your community. Just because your event is online doesn't mean that people shouldn't know who you are. Have your face (via video!) on the registration page, upsell page, do live trainings in your Facebook group, and more. Show up everywhere you can throughout your summit, just like you would if it was an in person event. And that's going to just make it even more fun for people and more engaging.
  • Food / treats / drinks - If you were going to provide meals at your in person event, even this is something you can tweak and bring to your online event. Get one of those Starbucks codes where people can use to get a free drink. Load it up and let people go get a free Starbucks drink as part of your event. How awesome would that be?

As you can see, there are so many options. Take some time to consider how you can translate anything and everything you had planned for your in-person event online to get a similar effect.

Tech and hosting for virtual events

Tech is probably your biggest holdup for this, right? After the initial panic it's like, "Okay, I'm going to do this, but how?"

My biggest recommendation, since you probably want to get this up and running pretty quickly, is to use your current tech stack, which I talked about on this podcast interview with Jaime Slutzky.

You can make a summit work on any platform, WordPress, Squarespace, Kajabi, etc. You can integrate with Podia or Teachable. Thrivecart is amazing if that's what you're already using.

You don't need to totally reinvent the wheel.

I love WordPress. That is what I recommend because you can do anything and everything you want to, but it's not a simple thing to set up. 

If you need something really simple, you're not concerned with limitations, and you don't want to use your current tech stack, Virtual Summit Software is what I recommend. It's made for summits and to be easy to set up. 

Virtual Summit Hosting Resources

I have all kinds of resources to help you make this transition easier. 

Free summit-hosting resources:

  • Summit Host Hangout Podcast - Short, actionable episodes on how to host a profitable summit. Each also has transcribed blog posts if you'd prefer to read.
  • Summit Host Hangout Facebook group - This is a free community for virtual summit hosts. Come in, ask questions, get connected with other people who are hosting online events, whether or not it started offline. I'm in there answering questions and there are a lot of incredible people with some great summit knowledge in there, ready to answer your questions as well.
  • Virtual Summit Prep Timeline - You set the date you want your summit to start and it will calculate due dates of big-picture tasks for you. If you are translating an offline version online, you'd likely be able to shorten the timeline a bit.

Paid summit-hosting resources: 

  • Our signature Summit in a Box® Accelerator program, which you can learn more about here.
  • Summit Host Process Map - The exact process mapped out in Asana/Trello, including 300+ tasks that go into hosting a summit. This will give you the process so you don't need to guess or worry about forgetting something. So while the Vault gives you the resources to make each step easy, the Process Map tells you what those steps are.
  • Promotion Bundle - If you just need help with summit promotion, you can get my marketing plan, promotional copy, graphic templates, and special bonuses with this low-priced offer. There is an optional upgrade during checkout to also get a registration page template.
  • Additional resources - If you run into something else you need, email us at [email protected] and we'll do what we can to help

For additional resource recommendations, check out our full resources page here.

I can't wait to see the online event you create!


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Free: Virtual Summit Prep Timeline

Learn how much time to set aside for planning and launching your profitable, stress-free online summit and use my calculator to set the due dates for you.