My Top Virtual Summit Fails

This week, I'm sharing my top 6 virtual summit fails. It includes topics related to pitching big-name speakers, sponsorships, launching a new offer, and more.

Today we’re kicking off a short series of episodes where I’m sharing the not-so-pretty parts of my summit hosting journey.

It's easy for me to show up each week and share the big wins and strategies that I know work, but it’s not often that I peel back the curtain and share the real side of things that didn’t go so well.

And I've got a long list!  As someone who teaches summits, I take it upon myself to do a lot of experimenting. I want to stay at the forefront of trends and strategies so I can teach our students and clients those things. A lot of the time that means trying something totally new… and as you know, new things don’t always work how we expect them to.

I’m going to share some of those things with you today, and I'm excited to give you an honest look at some of my top virtual summit fails.

So let’s dive in!

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My Top Virtual Summit Fails

There are a lot of little fails in my summit history, from tech that decided not to work, responses to customer service emails I probably shouldn’t have sent, to things that just didn’t go according to plan. But here I’m going to focus on bigger-picture strategies, decisions, and things I tried for the sake of improving numbers that just didn’t quite pan out the way I expected.

Fail #1: Summit #2

My first, and most notable fail, was the second summit I ever hosted. You may have heard me talk about The Journey of Summit in a Box, but I don't mention this summit much because it did not go well for me. It was hard for me because, at the same time that I was hosting that summit, I was also launching Summit in a Box.

Can you imagine the imposter syndrome?! I just hosted an event that didn't go well. Who am I to be teaching this?

My first summit went better than I could have expected, and I wanted to repeat that again as soon as possible. But, I didn't want to pitch a bunch of new speakers, so I brought on only 4 new ones. After that, I structured it as an "implementation week" with one speaker's prerecorded session in the morning and then one co-working session in the afternoon. The idea was they were going to take all this action in their business during this week.

Did it grow my list, bring in some revenue, and create awareness for me and my brand? Technically, yes. But it did not meet my expectations, and looking back, I can see why it didn't work and what went wrong. The results just weren't comparable to a full-blown summit.

Fail #2: Launching a new service through a summit

If you've been around a while, you've probably heard me talk about launching through summits and why your offer needs to be proven before launching with a summit.

I say this because I tried to launch an unproven offer, and it didn't work like I thought it would. It wasn't devastating for me, because my summit was still a success, but the launch didn't go well. Not a single person bought my offer, even with thousands of summit registrations. 

That's a big part of why I don't recommend launching a first-time summit and a brand-new offer at the same time. It's always good to test before you launch it with a summit.

Fail #3: Reaching out to big companies as sponsors

I finally decided to pursue sponsors for the biggest summit that I've ever hosted: 6500 attendees and $121k in sales! As someone who teaches summits, I always feel pressure to make my events big, special, and amazing because of everyone watching me. My summits should be the gold standard for summits, right? 

Well, I had never had sponsors prior to this summit, but I felt like I probably should so I could uplevel my event and be able to teach it back to my students. 

So, I reached out to some pretty big-name tech companies, who I still think should have said yes, but I wasn't able to land a single one of them as sponsors.

I had one company say they wouldn't sponsor because I didn't actually use their software, even though I had survey results saying my students did. They offered me $100 towards my highest tier of sponsorship. 😅

Another company got on a call with me and was all interested and excited. I sent them the price and they were shocked! They didn't want to pay for it. 

That was definitely a failure and luckily, I've learned a lot about sponsorships since then.

I've learned strategies that work better for me, both by reaching out to bigger companies when I produced a summit for another company, and also a strategy called Aligned Sponsorships that I teach in the Launch with a Summit Accelerator program. 

This Aligned Sponsorship approach works much better and now I've gone from zero sponsors to $12,000 in sponsorships for one event. 

Fail #4: Having companies I'm an affiliate for as sponsors

In one of my more recent summits, I didn't want to go through a fancy pitch deck or get on a call to pitch sponsors. So I decided to try keeping it simple and easy for them to say yes without all o that. Instead of having them pay me a sponsorship fee, I used affiliate links when I talked about them.

It was a total fail!

I don't think I made a single affiliate sale by doing that. I think part of it was because they hadn't paid me and I didn't have a fire lit under me like I would have with a typical sponsorship. I didn't promote them like I usually would have. 

I do think I'd do it again with companies that are more aligned with me and that I'm willing to go all-out for. I also think it's okay to do if it's something like a software platform that your attendees should really know about, but only if you're going to be really strategic about it. Otherwise, stick to a more traditional sponsorship approach.

Fail #5: Expecting big-name speakers to promote

I've probably already shared about this when I talked about Preparing to Pitch Speakers and again when I shared The Results Of My March 2022 Summit, but setting clear requirements and expecting big names to promote because of relationships and my status didn't go the way I hoped.

This was a summit I hosted for Summit in a Box which is an established company with loyal fans and followers. If I'm going to host a summit, I know I'm going to get my speaker's results, so I wanted them to get me results as well. 

I was reaching out to people who were established, people who I would have told my clients and students not to expect much promotion from. But, I thought if I was more direct with my promotion requirements, and told them they had to promote at least once, it'd work. 

It didn't. 

Very few sent a solo email, but a few reposted when I tagged them on social media. Part of me expected it because it's what I tell my students to expect, but I was hoping that since I had the connections already and had clearly set the expectations it'd work. 

Another lesson on why it won't work, and now I get to use that experience to tell my students why it won't work. 

Fail #6: Too many repeat speakers

This fail happened the year after I'd hosted my biggest summit ever and earned $121k in revenue, so I had some big goals! One of those goals was to bring back some repeat speakers who brought in a lot of affiliate income... one speaker earned $15k in affiliate sales! I wanted them back and did the same thing with other speakers who had high affiliate incomes.

Of course, I went and pitched new speakers too, but ended up with about 50% repeat speakers. I've learned that they just don't promote as hard the second time as they do the first time. They just aren't as invested, and we saw that in the results. We brought in about half of the previous summit's revenue.

Also, a few others in that industry decided to host summits in the month before my summit, which was smart on their part, but it affected my results. I could see the speakers weren't as excited and didn't promote as hard as they did the first time. 

Now, I recommend no more than 25% of repeat speakers. 

Learn from my mistakes

I learned from my mistakes, and am constantly trying new things, experimenting, and bringing the experiences back to my clients and students so I can help them host great summits. I hope you're able to take away some important pieces that might apply to where you're at with hosting a summit!



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This week, I'm sharing my top 6 virtual summit fails. It includes topics related to pitching big-name speakers, sponsorships, launching a new offer, and more.This week, I'm sharing my top 6 virtual summit fails. It includes topics related to pitching big-name speakers, sponsorships, launching a new offer, and more.

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