What is a Virtual Summit? Your Ultimate Guide to Virtual Events

what is a virtual summit

The idea of people meeting or gathering to discuss or explore a common objective has been around for a very long time. This is something businesses do, and I am sure it is something you have done as well.

It might be as simple as meeting your friends for a party, a family meeting or a professional meeting with your peers.

In most of these meetings, you might have done it in-person or face-to-face where you physically meet the person or the people. However, there is a new way of meeting and having large gathering and that is virtual summit or virtual conferences.

This has gained prominence in recent months, given the restrictions and protocols put in place to limit physical meetings and large gathering. So, you might be wondering, what is a virtual summit and how does it work?

What is a virtual summit? A virtual summit is an online based event, which provides a platform for collaborative sharing of content with an audience all through the internet. Speakers get a chance to be interviewed by the host and they can also make their presentations directly to the virtual summit attendees. Virtual summit is great tool for lead generation for a business and brings more leads to the top of the funnel. It is a powerful marketing approach for businesses.

This seems to be the new way of doing things and it might be with us for a long time. It is therefore important that you understand what virtual summits are about, how you can host one, and the benefits that they provide to you or your business organization.

Let us start here.

Origin and History of Virtual Summit

The idea of virtual events can be traced back to 1993.

This was when Alan Saperstein and Randy Selman made an investment presentation in New York City. They are the ones who first brought or described the idea of a ‘virtual trade show’ and which they presented as “convention view”.

Their company was videotaping trade show exhibitors booths and then attaching the videos to HTML floor maps. Although ConventionView was met with some early success the company closed it down returning to the market with a multimedia virtual tradeshow platform called MarketPlace365 in November 2010.

Virtual  events became popular during and after the economic recession in the United States in late 2000s. This was because they provided a cost-effective way to hold or bring huge participants to an event.

Virtual environments are becoming an increasingly important part of the marketing mix. For marketers, virtual events can provide a rich source of marketing data, because the activities of each participant can be tracked and evaluated.

It is something makes a lot of sense as I witnessed when we hosted the oil and gas virtual summit. The potential to reach a wider audience and get insights from across the world is very high and it proved very helpful.

A virtual engagement index is a variable to measure interaction quantity and quality of participants. This is a very useful tool for sales people who would then know the quality of the lead they are pursuing, however not all providers offer this feature yet.

what is a virtual event or summit
A Panel Session during the Oil and Gas Virtual Summit

Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Events

Advantages of a Virtual Events

More Attendees/Participants

The increase use of virtual events has made it easier for more people to attend the events. This is driven by the fact that one can join a virtual summit from anywhere in the world and at any time as long as they have internet connection.

This has provided an opportunity to people who otherwise would not have attended the event were it a physical event, due to various reasons including travel costs.

Reduced Costs and Expenses

A virtual events provides huge savings on costs and expenses that would normally be associated with an event. This is because you are able to strip down an event to its basic components. It has been recorded that you can reduce costs by over 75%.

Access to More Information

Virtual summits provide the organizers or the event planners with an opportunity to gather more data from the attendees. This is very helpful especially to marketing teams which can use information gathered to get insights into the audience.

Disadvantages of a Virtual Summit

Different Time-Zones

The fact that one can attend the event from anywhere in the world presents a scheduling challenge. Different people, in different time-zones makes it hard to align everyone and ensure all attendees are at the event at the same time. This is a big problem to the organizer of the virtual summit.

Less Networking

Lack of face-to-face interaction has hindered networking as you would know it. It is very difficult to have real and meaningful networking over the internet.

Humans are social and there is a still huge number of people who feel lack of touch and closeness to the person they are networking with.


The rise of the working-from-home culture provides the best environment for distractions when it comes to virtual summits. This can be from devices such as phones and also from other people in your house.

The possibility to mute sound or video in some platforms like zoom means one can easily be doing something else while pretending to be attending your virtual event.

Examples of virtual summit

One great example of virtual event is the Oil and Gas Virtual Summit.

When I created this virtual event, my main objective was to bring the oil and gas investors together to address the challenges facing the sector during a crisis. It was also an objective to position myself as a leader in the industry.

It was something that worked as I was able to bring together respected leaders and brands, from across the world to be part of the virtual summit. They included BP, ExxonMobil, Wood Mackenzie, Schlumberger and leaders from Houston in the United States, among others.

Here is an example of a presentation form the Oil and Gas Virtual Summit, on how to build business relationships.

What is the Purpose of a Virtual Summit?

This is a very good question and it starts with you.

You will need to be clear on what you want to achieve with your virtual summit. There are several reasons why to host a virtual event and they include;

  1. Generate business leads
  2. Position your brand or yourself as an authority.
  3. Grow your network
  4. To create a new product.

The purpose of your virtual summit answer the ‘why host a virtual summit’ question.

How to start or host a virtual summit

It is important to understand that a virtual summit can assist in increasing brand awareness, generating new leads and also increasing your revenues.

That is why it is important for you to learn how to host a virtual summit, especially in these days of increased online interaction and reduced global travel.

Hosting a virtual event is simple in theory, but very tough in reality. This is something I learned the hard way when I hosted the oil and gas virtual summit.

Moving or rather pivoting from in-person events to a virtual event is not a walk in the park. However, it is doable and you can be able to achieve great success with a virtual summit.

Here is how to how to host a virtual summit;

  1. Plan and set summit goal.
  2. Set up your website
  3. Choose the technology and platform to use
  4. Undertake your speaker’s outreach
  5. Create speaker and attendee engagement plan
  6. Have a virtual event monetization plan
  7. Market and Promote Your Event
  8. Manage your live event
  9. Event Wrap-up
  10. Post Virtual Summit Report

The above plan of action will truly help you in running a smooth virtual summit.

How does a virtual summit or conference work

You can use different approaches on how to host a virtual event. Form my experience in hosting the oil and gas virtual summit, you will find that a virtual event will have a host, in this case you or someone you delegate to, speakers and participants.

The attendees will sign up with their name and email address for them to get access to the summit content. A virtual summit can be free or paid-up, and you can also partner with other organizations who become your event sponsors.

Event sponsorship is another way for you to generate some revenue from your virtual event.

For example, the oil and gas virtual summit had over 40 speakers and the summit charged $125 for attendees for the duration of the 5-day summit, after which the it becomes paid-for-content.

You can present your virtual event into formats;

Interview Format – where host asks the speakers questions and they answer. Normally, you will need to send the questions to the speakers in advance so that the can prepare and have the best answers for your audience.

Presentation Format – where the speakers makes a presentation to the audience. He or she can speak directly to the audience or can have power point presentation ready.

What makes a virtual Events successful?

There are many ways that you can ensure you make your virtual summit or event successful. The following are the steps you need to fulfil to succeed in your virtual event.

  • Establish the goal of your event
  • Have a theme and general topic of the summit
  • Decide whether you will have a live or pre-recorded virtual event
  • Leverage on the technology tools to use
  • List your prospective speakers
  • Build a website or event landing page.
  • Create an event promotion plan
  • Host the event and follow up

It is critical to ensure that the topic of your event is aligned to your target audience. This will help you to provide the greatest value to your virtual summit attendees

Your Virtual Summit Checklist

To host a virtual event successfully, you will need to ensure that all items, all steps in the process are taken care of. Here is a checklist you need;

  • Outline event plan
  • Secure Speakers
  • Plan pre-event, during event and post-event promotion.
  • Event Launch
  • Make event offers to potential attendees

You will need to allocate enough time to accomplish all these steps. I would recommend you consider allocating 60 to 90 days from start day to the day you launch your virtual summit.

Some Virtual Event Ideas

If you want to host a virtual event, then you should know in advance that this is a challenging project. Therefore, you should work hard to acquire the skills of hosting a virtual summit successfully.

Here are nine (nine) ideas that can help you in a being a host of a virtual summit event;

  1. Virtual Christmas Party
  2. Virtual Birthday Party
  3. An online drink-up
  4. High Networking
  5. Exclusive Virtual Experiences
  6. Virtual Exhibitions
  7. Brand Presentation
  8. Product Launches
  9. Product or Services Demonstration