How NOT to Treat Your Virtual Summit Speakers featuring Desola Davis

We spend a lot of time talking about what to do in different areas of your summit, but a recent summit I was a part of, along with my friend Desola Davis, sparked the need to look at things from a different angle.

We know that, as a host, you never want to treat your speakers poorly. But it can be tough to know what actions will encourage your speakers to participate and share about the event and what will push them away.

Today, we'll chat about how not to treat your summit speakers and walk through a specific (and extreme) example of what this can look like.

The basics of a good speaker experience

A good speaker experience feels like a collaboration. A summit should be all about the audience and what they are going to gain from the summit and both the host and speakers work together to make that happen.

As the host, it's your job to give your speakers that direction on where they fit into that and how they can add value to and connect with the audience. 

Because of this, your speakers should be chosen because they align with your values and goals, not because of specific criteria they have with email lists or other metrics.

In addition to having a solid way to connect with the goal of the event and the audience, the speakers should be able to connect and collaborate with each other. 

Overall, make your speakers feel like a valued member of the team - not just an email list that you want to get in front of.

Why speakers may go the extra mile for hosts

Regardless of how great the experience is you make, not everyone will go above and beyond to support the event, engage, and share. But some will!

In general, speakers will go the extra mile because of the relationship they have with the host. 

It's not about how many reminder emails get sent out, how harshly or nicely you ask them to promote (although being nice definitely helps), or any promotion rewards you set up. It's about the relationship they have with you and the level that they believe in the event.

How NOT to treat summit speakers

Now that we've done a little of the "how to", let's cover how not to treat your speakers and cover a specific situation as an example.

While I focus on being genuine and building relationships, other summit hosts tend to do more of the "bro marketing" strategy where it's all about pressure and looking as cool as possible.

This was the type of host running the summit we're talking about here. We've never vibed very well, and looking back, it should have been a big red flag for me. However, I was so focused on how perfect the audience was that I ignored that warning sign. Like Desola pointed out in the full episode, when you don't align in values with the summit host, the filter in which you are presented isn't in alignment with the value that you provide. Which isn't a good situation for anyone.

Issue #1: Promising leads

The first thing in this summit that caught our attention was that there were different tiers of speaking, based on how many leads you PROMISED to send to the summit.

For example, I chose the 2nd lowest tier, which promised to send 150 registrations to the summit, and in exchange, they offered me a button for my call-to-action on their presentation page.

Why is this a problem? Well, no one was being paid to speak. Why should we have to promise to bring in a certain number of leads if we aren't making money from the event? A call-to-action should be a standard "gift" offered to ANYONE who takes the time to create a valuable presentation for your summit.

If an event requires you to send a specific number of leads, run

The leads you'd be sending are people you spend a lot of time nurturing, developing relationships with, and aligning values with. 

It's not great to develop relationships with your audience and community, and then promise to farm them off to someone. 

This is another red flag that I definitely wish I would have paid more attention to. But, at the time, since this host was someone who teaches about summits, I just assumed it was an okay thing to do...nope.

Issue #2: Over 100 speakers

The next thing that caught my attention was when I heard how many speakers this host was having for their event. Unfortunately, I didn't find out until I was on my interview call with them, but they had over 100 speakers.

Why is this a problem?

One benefit of a virtual summit is that you're featured in front of your target audience. When you're crammed in alongside over 100 other "experts", no one except the host gets featured. Which is exactly what happened.

Speakers weren't even featured on the registration page! It was all about the host. There was even a graphic of the host dressed up in a superhero costume surrounded by the heads of some of the speakers. Grosssss!

Remember, YOU are not the hero of your event. Your attendees and your speakers are the ones that matter.

Issue #3: The threatening email

The super fun part came a couple of weeks before this summit started, after I'd created my presentation, was ready to promote, and things were in order.

To set the stage a bit, I was in the middle of my own summit and program launch at this time. The host knew about it, as I let them know right when they pitched me that I had my own event going on 2 weeks before theirs and they were originally a speaker in my event (and had to be removed due to not providing the information we needed).

Right in the middle of my summit, I received an email from this host's team saying that if I didn't participate in a promotion contest 3 business days later, I would be removed from the summit. This was the first time I had heard about this specific promotion requirement. 

Email #1:

Email #2:

How gross is that?!

If this host would have had real relationships with speakers, other than fake friendships for the purpose of personal benefit, emails like this wouldn't have been sent out.

Based on how purely disrespectful and gross this was, I immediately responded and let the host know that I was out of the event. I let them know that it would have been nice to know that extensive promoting on a very specific day was a requirement from the beginning and that was that.

If you've thought of doing something like this to your speakers...DON'T. Play the long game!  If you want to work with someone, don't do things to destroy the relationship because you feel the pressure of an event that you want to perform well.

We can't imagine how many relationships and future collaboration opportunities were ruined based on this single action. 

Issue #4: Putting my name on blast

My hope was that once I was out of the event that I could just be out and not have to really think about it again.

But then I started getting messages and emails from friends I had in the speaker Facebook group for this event because my name was being put on blast to the rest of the speakers for “being removed due to no promotion”.

Here's a screenshot one friend sent. 

Anytime this host posted about promotions or leaderboards, there were my name and brand along with others who had been "removed".  It was like they were putting a scarlet letter on my name.

Seriously, how gross is that? 

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not at all concerned with what other speakers now think of me because of it or anything like that. But it is such a classless act to do something wrong yourself, have someone remove themselves from your event because of it, and then attempt to position them as the bad guy. 

Honestly, this backfired for the host more than anything else. For example, Desola pulled out of the event the second she saw it was happening. Anyone who actually knows me looked at the host negatively, not me.

Also looking back up at that screenshot, note the crazy amount of pressure being put on people who were already promoting! Not to mention the fact that some of these people didn't agree to promote in the first place. Friends told me they were receiving multiple messages on all social media platforms, all kinds of emails, being tagged in this Facebook group, and even getting phone calls. Too much!

Issue #5: No apology

After the messages from friends subsided I was expecting to not have to think about the event again...wrong.

The host had the nerve to have their assistant reach out two weeks after I backed out, after my name had been on blast in their group, and never addressed the situation or apologized.

Instead, their email says the host has "decided" they’d keep me in the summit and to please send one promo email. 

HARD PASS!

They positioned this in a way as if I should have felt honored to be "let back in", but there was no way I was putting my audience in front of that summit host. That’s the last person I want my audience to learn from so it was an easy and fairly entertaining "no" from me...again.

And as an aside, if you need to apologize for behavior during a summit, do not send your assistant to do that. You need to get on a phone call, or at a minimum send a video to them, addressing what you did wrong and how you want to move forward. 

You create the relationship you want with your speakers, and how they add value to your event. They're not just there to bring in numbers. In the end, this is still about your attendees and speakers and the journey they go on together. 

Overview of how all this is harmful

Now, we've talked about these issues from our own personal experiences, but heard from literally everyone we knew who spoke at this event how disgusted they were by these tactics. Several others pulled out, while others stayed in and have decided to never speak for or collaborate with this host again.

Overall, there were a ton of ways that these actions were harmful:

  • There are annoyed and angry speakers, which is awful for summit vibes.
  • It ruined future collaborations with all kinds of speakers. This means that next time, this host will get to start with a totally new speaker list and have to watch out for people who heard about how terrible the experience was. 
  • There were so many first-time speakers learning from this event, and now they may think that this was the right way to do things.
  • The host lost the opportunity for a much larger event than they ended up having.

Overall, it affects everyone, whether you are the host, speaker, or attendee. 

Other things to NOT do to your speakers

To add to this, Desola polled experienced speakers to learn about situations they dealt with in summits. A few situations that stood out that you should avoid as a host include:

  • A speaker got a message from the host in ALL CAPS about promotion. How does that incentivize anyone to now put you in front of their audience? If you treat your speakers like this, they won't trust you with their audience.
  • Demanding to know email list size. When you demand to know your speaker's list size and then tell them whether they're in your summit or not, it does not start things off on the right foot or set your event up for any type of success. List size doesn't determine someone's value to your audience.
  • Not being transparent about promotion requirements is a problem. Several speakers brought up that they weren't told anything about promotional requirements before agreeing to be part of an event. If you expect your speakers to share, make it clear up front, and do it the right way.
  • Lack of diversity. Other speakers experienced being invited to speak at an event, looking around, and realizing there was a lack of diversity in the speaker lineup. So many hosts say that they pitched a few people of color and couldn't get any so at least they tried. But that is totally missing the mark. You're getting "no" as the answer from people who don't look like you because they don't know or trust you. Start with building real relationships with people of all backgrounds, then build your summit based on the value they can add to your event, not on their diversity that you are trying to check off a box. When you have the relationships, to begin with, it's only natural to create a diverse and inclusive event.

The Takeaway

Your goal is to host an incredible event and you have great intensions behind pulling people together to get transformations for your attendees. 

If you do the work, build the relationships, and show up as an authentic and genuine person, you’re going to get results that are way beyond whatever your goals are.

Don’t think of your summit like this one event where you sell all-access passes and maybe launch a thing on the other side of it. Think of it as a jump-off point. 

How do you want people to remember you?  How do you want people to see you when you show up to the world? 

Show up like THAT. 

About Desola Davis

Desola Davis is a Business Growth Strategist who helps digital entrepreneurs use their secret sauce to serve their favorite customers and generate revenue. She has a knack for turning big project ideas into small, actionable steps--a talent that helped her company save over $1M in her corporate experience. She's worked with 7-figure entrepreneurs on strategies to boost client attraction, conversion, and satisfaction. After working with Desola, clients have clarity, focus, and confidence in attracting the right customers to their business and being seen as the right choice for solving their clients' problems. 

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