What Surprised Us Most About Hosting a Virtual Conference

behind the scenes Oct 11, 2022

Join Elli and me this week as we break this down and walk through each piece of what surprised us the most of putting on our first paid virtual event.

When I decided to host a paid conference, I knew it was going to be different than hosting a free summit, but I didn’t know how different it would be until getting into the weeds of the planning process.

Next week, I’m going to do a deep dive into all the differences between these two types of events, so keep an eye out for that in Episode 195. But this week, I wanted to talk about one of the areas that surprised my team and me the most, which was what went into promoting this event.

My marketing co-lead and client success coach Elli is joining me this week to talk about the differences between promoting a free vs paid event from a marketing and copywriting perspective.

Elli writes most of our copy for Summit in a Box®, and she also took the lead on marketing the conference we hosted back in August. Both of us expected that there would be differences in promoting a paid event from the beginning, but we had no idea just how different it would be.

In this episode, we dove into all the details of what surprised us about hosting a paid conference including:

  • What went into writing copy to promote the conference, and how that differed from a free summit.
  • Why we needed to use a different messaging strategy in order to speak to the right audience for this event.
  • How much we relied on our speakers vs our own promotion to fill up the conference.
  • The non-negotiable pieces you must have in place in order to make a paid conference work for your business.

Listen to the episode

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Download the episode transcript here.

Episode at a glance:

[1:10] We knew that there were differences between summits and conferences going in, but we had no idea just how different it would be to market and promote a paid event.

Free summits and paid conferences are not interchangeable, at least the way we run them. They are both online events, but that’s where the similarities end.

[2:13] We have our templates and processes for hosting a summit that we used as a starting point for planning for our conference, but in many ways, we were starting from scratch with all of the marketing and promotional material.

[3:01] Krista developed the initial positioning for the conference, including the name and general concept, and from there Elli developed the event messaging and wrote the sales page and promotional copy.

I went in thinking that writing the conference sales page would be similar to writing a summit registration page, but the stakes are a lot higher when asking people to pay for something rather than sign up for free.

[3:55] Elli has always said that summit registration pages should be treated like a sales page in order to see the high conversion rates that we aim for because attendees are paying with their time and need to feel confident that they’ll experience a transformation in exchange for that time. When you charge for a ticket, the barrier to entry is higher, so the standard for the registration page needs to be higher too.

[4:49] Writing the sales page and developing the messaging for a conference with a $37 price tag was in many ways more similar to creating these things for our high-ticket Launch with a Summit Accelerator™ program than a free summit.

I’ve seen people say they want to take a free summit and just add a price tag to it, but when you do that, it just destroys everything about both strategies.

[5:30] We positioned the conference differently than we would a summit. Our goal was to attract people who were at a more elevated level, rather than trying to appeal to people at all different stages of the customer journey like we would with a summit.

[6:35] Speaking to this elevated audience required a different type of messaging, which made it tricky to pinpoint and communicate a clear transformation people would walk away from the conference with.

It’s so important to be clear and specific about the tangible outcome people can expect to walk away with after attending an event. With this conference, the transformation was more aspirational in nature. We wanted people to walk away feeling inspired and excited about what hosting a summit could do for their businesses.

[10:44] One of our biggest takeaways from promoting this event was that paid conferences are not for list building. At one point in promotion, only 21 out of the 238 conference tickets sold came from people who were new to our list. In the end, we ended up with 50-70 new leads, but the majority of our ticket sales came from our existing audience.

[11:33] Because of the nature of this event, our goals, and the way we structured the sessions, it was a lot harder for our speakers to bring people in for several reasons that we’ll get into next week in Episode 195. That put the pressure on us to bring in virtually all of our ticket sales.

[12:24] The biggest differences between promoting a free summit and a paid conference: many of the “nice to haves” when hosting a summit (like a proven program with happy clients who are willing to speak at your event and a large and engaged audience) are “non-negotiables” for a conference.

When you host a summit, you can start from scratch with no email list, no following, no offer to sell, and if it’s executed well, it can still be incredibly successful. Having those things just makes your summit even bigger, better, and more successful. But with a paid conference, it doesn’t matter how well you execute your plan, if you don’t have those pieces in place, you’re going to struggle to succeed.

[14:19] If you're looking to build your foundation to grow your audience and increase your visibility in order to generate more revenue, either through launching a signature offer or just making sales from an all-access pass, a free summit is what you're looking for right now.

About Elli

Elli Runkles is a copywriter and messaging strategist who’s been writing empathy-filled conversion copy for 6 and 7-figure personal brands since 2018. In 2022, she joined the Summit in a Box team as Marketing Co-Lead and Client Success Coach in the Launch with a Summit Accelerator where she provides strategic insights, copy revisions, and coaching to help our clients host wildly successful, high-converting virtual summits. Elli is a digital nomad who’s lived abroad for over a decade, currently residing in Portugal.


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Join Elli and me this week as we break this down and walk through each piece of what surprised us the most of putting on our first paid virtual event.Join Elli and me this week as we break this down and walk through each piece of what surprised us the most of putting on our first paid virtual event.

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