Online conferences aren't a brand-new concept; they're just more prominent now than they ever have been. And they're not something that will just “fade-out” post-pandemic either. Online summits (AKA conferences) offer unique connectivity and several advantages, even if you've never launched one or your community isn't massive.
Today, we'll be talking with Robert Gelb, CEO of HeySummit *. His platform makes it easier to run big events online. When should you run an online summit, why, how do you pick your topic — we're getting into all of it today. And in case you haven't heard, we're hosting our very own online summit with Team SPI: Audience Driven. So to that end, we're also tagging in our very own Matthew Gartland, SPI Media's COO, CFO, and head of innovation.
It's really incredible how many tools are out there to help folks host significant events. You don't need a huge following, you don't have to get up on stage — if you have a great idea, you can rally people around that idea and online summits are an incredible way to do precisely that.
* [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, we receive compensation if you purchase through this link]
Rob runs HeySummit, the event marketing platform for creators and independent entrepreneurs. Before leading HeySummit, he founded Kindaba, a privacy-conscious social network for families, and Bus 52, a non-profit documentary video series profiling inspiring people making a difference across America (run from a School Bus). He also helped start CodeYourFuture Scotland, a coding school for Refugees and asylum seekers. He's passionate about entrepreneurship that delivers social impact. You can reach him at [email protected] to talk impact, summits, startups, school buses, or anything Star Trek-related.
HeySummit.com [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, we receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
In This Episode:
- How online summits can create a phenomenal rallying point for a community
- The changing nature of audience-building
- The decentralization of social media and how it affects community-building
- Why creating online events around “spiky” subjects works really well
- Incredibly accurate Kermit the Frog impressions
- Mixing and matching formats and the value of novelty in online summits
- Online summits as customer research
- What cohort-based learning can teach us about running successful online summits
- Key advice for creators hoping to launch an online summit for the first time
The CX 007: The Unique Potential of Online Summits — a Roundtable feat. Rob Gelb
Tony Bacigalupo: Even before the pandemic forced basically everything to go online, organizers have been experimenting with the idea of doing online conferences. Today, we'll be talking with Robert Gelb, CEO of HeySummit, and he'll be talking to us about his platform, which makes it easier to run big events online. We'll get into some of the details of how and why you should do an online summit and when, and how to pick your topic, how to get people to show up. To help us with that, we're also going to be tagging in our very own Matthew Gartland, SPI Media's COO, CFO, and head of innovation. So let's get into the chat in this episode of HeySummit.com.
Hello folks, and welcome to HeySummit.com podcast. I'm hanging out with Jill Benbow.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, hey.
Tony: ‘Sup, ‘sup? We are going to be doing a little round table discussion today with Rob Gelb from HeySummit, who is our partner on the audience driven summit, which we'll be discussing in a little bit. We've also got our very own Matthew Gartland in the house with us as well. Part of team SPI and just really helping doing a great job running the show over here with us.
So what we're going to be talking about is this world of online summits, these peak level events that you can do online and how they contrast with kind of the typical event structure that you would see in an in-person event, some of the accessibility strengths and trade offs, why you might want to do it, what you might want to keep in mind before you do it, and all kinds of other fun things. So I'm excited to get into this conversation. What do you think, Jill?
Jillian: Yeah, it's amazing and I'm just so excited that the tools that are out there now that allow anybody to host a really significant event, if you want to, and you don't need to be the catch 22 of I want to speak at conferences, but I don't have a big enough following or my resume isn't right. You don't need to navigate that as much. It's not as old school as it used to be. Now, if you have an idea for an event, that's going to be interesting to people, you can make it happen.
Tony: Yeah, it's true. I mean, when you do in-person events, you get a lot of hard expenses that you have to deal with. You have venues and flights and all kinds of logistics that go into that, but doing an event online, obviously there's new complications that come with that, but in a lot of ways, it becomes a lot simpler and just more accessible really is ultimately what it is.
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. Not only just as an audience member, as a participant, but even as a speaker, if you weren't able to travel, maybe because you have young kids or because of your budget, or maybe it's just physically hard for you to do that and be on a stage or in an audience now you can do both from the comfort of your own home.
Tony: But doing it online also comes with its own quirks and challenges and foibles as we get into this conversation, and Matt and Rob have a ton of experience with this. We've been working together, producing the Audience Driven Summit and Rob, his company is an amazing platform for supporting people building these kinds of things. I've been able to work on that platform for a while and it just makes it easy of feel like I'm just running an entire conference on the internet. It's really cool. We'll learn a little bit more about that tool and his thinking behind the creation of HeySummit.
Jillian: Stick around to hear actual useful tips on how to have that super special virtual event that people actually want to go to.
Tony: Very cool. So here's our round table discussion with Rob Gelb from HeySummit and our very own Matthew Gartland here on HeySummit.com.
Jillian: Hey, everybody, welcome to this episode. We are so excited. We have two special guests alongside Tony and myself. One of which might just be our big boss, so we got to keep it honest today, Tony. Let's make sure we're extra profesh.
Tony: We're going to be on our best behavior. None of that usual misfit stuff that we do, the mischief we get into in our show.
Jillian: Absolutely. This is going to be the cleanest version of our show ever. Little does he know wa-ha-ha.
Matthew Gartland: I hope not.
Jillian: Matt's like, come on. I'm cool too.
Tony: All right. Extra mischief then.
Jillian: Yeah. So if you didn't know, our big boss that we're referring to is Matthew Gartland and he is the co-CEO of SPM Media. Matthew, Hello.
Matt: Hello. Hello. It's awesome to be back.
Jillian: I feel like I just saw you in a meeting an hour ago.
Matt: Seconds ago.
Jillian: It's good to see you. Good to see you again.
Matt: I live in the internet.
Jillian: Yep. Right. Same. Then our super special guest today is the creator, founder, he'll let us know of a little plat form known as HeySummit and it is an amazing virtual summit platform and we are using it and we will talk about that shortly, but more importantly let's introduce Rob Gelb. Welcome.
Rob Gelb: Hi, thanks very much. Yeah. Great to be here.
Jillian: We've got to give Rob extra props because Rob is joining us from wee old Scotland and so he lives in the future. It is evening time for Rob. So thank you for joining us.
Rob: Sun's still out.
Jillian: Excellent. Yeah, we keep telling Rob we need to have some sort of event in Edinburgh so we can all come visit him.
Rob: I think, well, you're big boss is here, right? So Matt, how about SPI offsite based in Edinburgh?
Matt: As some of you know, I have been and done Edinburgh and definitely want to do it again.
Rob: Hey, you heard it here.
Jillian: You got to do the whiskey tour.
Rob: Sounds like you're all coming to Edinburgh. That’s great.
Jillian: It's kind of one of the best places in the world. I'm down, let's go. But we'll get into Scotland and our love for it later, today we're going to talk virtual summits and Tony, I think you should, real quick, catch our listeners up to speed on a virtual summit you might be working on.
Tony: Yeah. Thanks, Jill. What a wonderful segue and nice set up. We are so excited to be producing Audience Driven Summit, which is going to be taking place October 12th and 13th and it is completely free to register. It's born of a couple of things. One is the fact that building an audience is one of the most critical building blocks to a business. You can't sell stuff if you don't have people to sell to. It's kind of one of the pillars that SPI is focusing on across its different properties, and then the other piece of it is this idea of being audience-driven, what that actually means. Building your business with the participation and support and input and guidance and constant feedback of your audience, of the people who are a part of what you're doing is integral to success. That's not something that a lot of us have kind of come up understanding and so part of what we're inviting the speakers in to talk to us about is how are you involving your audience, your followers, your customers, in the process of developing your following and your business.
So it's going to be very, very much here and now how are we building an audience going forward into 2022? I'm super stoked for it. We've got some incredible partners lined up, some incredible guests and Matt and Rob have been instrumental in that.
Jillian: Absolutely. I think a virtual summit is such an excellent way to connect and kind of have a deeper conversation with who may be your audience or friend of audience and I'm curious, Rob, if you kind of want to take us through — You created HeySummit, so obviously you believe in the virtual summit experience. Using a platform like yours, how have you seen people really leverage it to foster belonging on a deeper level in their communities or even convert audience to community?
Rob: Yeah. I think that's a really interesting way that you put that and just to give credit where credit's due, I wasn't the creator of HeySummit solely. The founder's name is Ben.
Jillian: Sorry, Ben.
Rob: Ben built what would become HeySummit because exactly what you're talking about, he wanted to activate an audience. He didn't know how to do it really efficiently. He thought he'd want to bring everybody together and have this whole burst of energy. Oftentimes activation requires energy and what better way to activate a whole bunch of people than to have them learn a heck of a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time. HeySummit started off as basically a bunch of Zoom rooms with duct tape and then it grew from there. I think you're right just in terms of how online summits obviously were super biased. Online summits, I think are a good opportunity for people, especially creators who don't necessarily have a big team to be able to have a similar type of experience that is able to bring a lot of people together and get them excited about a particular issue relatively quickly.
So really, really good for stuff like building your own authority in a space and I know that maybe Matt and I were talking earlier and we could get into the opportunity for you to establish yourself in a narrow space and have a good opportunity to give your opinions some light of day in an environment that allows you to balance that with other opinions and establish yourself as an authority without compromising the opportunity to speak to a wider group. So yeah, online summits, online events we find are a really great way to provide that spark to that community, or as a rallying point for existing communities in a reasonably efficient way by also harnessing other speakers, other audiences that you don't necessarily know yet.
Matt: I think an important part of this is that community building, audience building is changing. Things that used to work, aren't working. For the folks listening that are trying to build their audiences, maybe have been following Pat’s work, our work for years now, maybe like us are realizing like, what is the future because older methods, strategies, even tactics, they're becoming less effective. That's what I see and feel from where I sit. And Tony, thank you for illustrating in our run up for Audience Driven, our own event, is because we want to and need to explore new ways of gathering for our own audience, because we have seen attrition in our own legacy methods, right?
So we also have to stay fresh and evolve to stay relevant, to stay successful and to perpetuate our own growth on our own terms. Event marketing is not new, but it seems new based on the technologies, based on the integration capabilities with other software. That's why SPI, why we're making major investments into this event coming up here in the fall. I think it's opportune for other creators to start challenging their own thinking about, again, the methods and the pathways within which they're gathering their audience that they have and then trying to invite other new audience members into their ecosystem.
Rob: I think you're right in terms of everything's gotten more crowded and existing methods of building audiences might not appear to be as effective as before. I think you're seeing the wider decentralization of social media in a way that it's really positive because you're not having these massive, behemoth social spaces that then require everybody to be following the same interests and the same subject matter. But the flip side is when you decentralize that social construct, it becomes harder for you to then find your space because your spaces don't necessarily have a lot of crossover. It's not as easy to find them using normal social opportunities.
When you're thinking about that then is how are you then able to access people that are going to be really good members of your community? They're not just going to be another person. You're not talking about trying to get to the 10,000 figure of building your email list. That's not as effective as 100 amazingly hardcore fans that would follow you to the ends of the earth. I think that those mechanics are changing a little bit in terms of how people are valuing the audience that they're building. That's a thing that SPI does amazingly, but you're seeing that a lot of communities out there are going to have a challenge making that jump between “we're a brilliant community because we're so big” versus “we're a brilliant community because we're so effective and the reason why you're coming to us is because of a specific purpose and a specific moment in your life, because you have other stuff to do. You have other stuff in your life.”
I think that an event is a really good way to give a taster session of that experience, of that vibe. It's also a really good thing to test out something and have it completely flop and for you not to have invested a huge amount of time into that. I think that there's a lot of different ways that the space is changing.
Tony: You as the organizer, get to kind of convene and create a community for a very, very short period of time, without having to commit to it being an ongoing community where you have to constantly keep it maintained and fresh and all of that stuff. Then those connections kind of last forever. Do you see Rob, that the folks you work with find that they just have better connections with their people afterward, that there's kind of a stronger sense of cohesiveness there?
Rob: Yes. In general, that's true, but I think it depends on what you define the term cohesiveness as to mean. I don't mean to be like trying to navigate my way through it. An authentic answer, I think, is based off of the interests that is bringing that group of people into the same place. At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we belong in something. Maybe that thing is, hey, Jillian and I both took this course at radically different times, but the fact that we both went through this course meant that we both felt Matt's wrath because he was our teacher, even if we were taking it years apart so we can bond over that. That might be just as valid as Tony and I getting assigned the same project in class and having to face Matt's wrath together.
Jillian: There's a theme here.
Matt: It's making me scared, actually.
Tony: It's not fair. It's not fair. I've had nothing but wonderful attractions with Matt. I don't know where this ...
Rob: That's why you know you love someone when you can give them crap. I guess the point being is that every community is different. Every identity is different, but I think that what events do, or at least what we like to think of events doing is allowing you the flexibility of meeting your audience where they sit. Something like 45 percent of the events that happen, the sessions that happen on our platform, are actually prerecorded. They're going out live, and their speakers are often live in the comments, but the actual session itself is one part of the community that's being built at that time. They're still very good in terms of turnout, in terms of engagement, but that wouldn't actually mark as excellent engagement if you're judging it by traditional — how many people are talking on Zoom at any one point. So it depends on how you define that.
What's really nice is that you're able to have flashes of that community amongst a lot of learning, without taking a huge amount of your time and your bandwidth. You can have a few prerecorded sessions, then you can have a networking session that where everybody's on in live and you're able to do that more efficiently, but it allows you to kind of meet your audience where they are and design an experience that really speaks to them.
Tony: Rob, who's doing that well right now?
Rob: Interestingly, there are a few examples that come to mind. I think people who are to paint very generalized pictures, it's not people who are trying to do catch-all events. It's not the people that are doing the digital marketing con 2021 and thinking that, that's going to really activate their audience. It's people that, that aren't afraid to be a bit spiky in terms of how it is that they are articulating their—
Matt: Their opinions, right? They have something to say, it's sharp and they want to stand out.
Rob: Exactly. I think if you combine that with not trying to be as broad as possible with the problem that you're trying to solve with an event, that mixture, that's powerful. Let's say you are a thought leader on digital marketing. You could run the digital marketing con 2021, but you rather, we would say, rather focus on one particular sub genre for the event. So we're talking about all of the content marketing mistakes and why they're not going to work. That's going to be the subject matter of the conference. It's a bit edgy. It's a bit exciting. People will have opinions and they'll bring those opinions to that session. You'll still be catering for your whole audience, anyway. You're just going to be catering for one part of it.
A good example of that is a guy named Daniel Wallace. He's a creator and a coach for writers, like an author coach. His market is fiction writers. He had the choice, do I create like Author Con 2020 or not? Luckily he decided not. He did his first summit all around the subject of plot. I don't remember what it was, maybe 10 or 20 talks just around plot. He still spoke to all of his author customers, it wasn't like they didn't turn up because they suddenly weren't interested in plot, but he was allowed to go really, really deep. He was able to get speakers that had a lot of conflicting viewpoints to make it a really interesting conference. Then his next one was around editing, the editing process. I think the next one's about setting or something like that. He both definitely has an opinion, but he can bring together more opinionated people that might disagree with each other because he's deep-diving into a particular issue. I think that's a pretty good example.
Matt: Yeah. That's wild.
Rob: Well, I think it's a version on what we all like to do anyway. We like to bring people in, in podcasts or whatever it is that we're doing, listen to their story, listen to some of the tightly held beliefs and then put that back on the shelf and listen to the same thing for the next person. So that your viewers, your listeners, the people who you are serving are able to get exposure to a whole lot of different perspectives. All of which are probably right in some way, because they suited that person pretty well. If you're positioning it like that, even if you have some tightly held beliefs and you bring on someone who completely disagrees with you, that's a really wonderful opportunity to carve out a niche, but also showcase that you understand what nuances, you understand that there are alternative viewpoints and it increases your kind of respect level, your street cred level in whatever space that you're dealing with.
So I don't think Daniel Wallace's author summits where like the meeting of the sharks and the jets or anything like that. Is that the right reference? I must admit I have not seen the musical.
Matt: You nailed the American reference with that.
Rob: Wonderful. Fantastic. I know that's embarrassing, but I think you're able to, as Matt was saying, you're able to have spiky opinions. You're able to bring together people that maybe disagree on something for the purpose of growth. Then it's not confrontational. It's about encouraging debate and getting excited about debate. I think constructing it that way it's really fun, it's really positive. If you think about the appeal of click bait titles, the reason why click bait titles are so popular or able for people to click is because they seem controversial. If you instead think, well, no, let's actually get a controversial opinion and explore that opinion. You combine the ability for people to be interested in it, immediately form an opinion, and then have the opportunity to have their opinion substantiated or challenged, which either way, you're going to have a great session if that's the point.
I'm not saying design your event's all to be click bait, but I think you can take elements of why someone would be interested in the topic, even if you might disagree with the subject matter that the talk is talking about in order to spur that debate and spur that conversation. It's quite a fun, exciting opportunity to get the brain going.
Matt: Being interesting is the key point, right? Or the tentpole, which is to say not dull because we are competing increasingly across every possible fractile of the internet for attention and focus and engagement. Virtual events, they run the same gamut, right? As compared to Facebook Live and email marketing, it's all true. We have to capture that. We have to find ways to be different, but real different. So to your point around, I guess like click bait as a metaphor or an example, if you want to be shallow or fake to that, right? You have to have depth otherwise you'll have people bounce and you'll have credibility problems thereafter, and that'll just begin to probably suffocate your marketing in general. So what I think is awesome about events and what we're going to try to explore with our own is that depth and that sort of like happy accidents, if you can start to put the right people in the room, trading ideas — because you can't choreograph all of that — and then you get some discussion, you get some maybe hopefully positive constructiveness, right?
That's where these unplanned truths and ideas and ideas upon ideas begin to flourish and you can't do that through necessarily other marketing mechanisms, but we now can through, I think, an event-type setting.
Rob: Maybe a suggestion for people who are thinking about designing an event and they want to encourage challenging thoughts is think about how awesome it is to watch a real debate, right? If you've ever seen really — not like presidential debates, but like if you've ever been to a university debate or a debate club, if you've ever watched two people debate who are clearly very well versed in the subject matter, it does not matter who wins. It's just fun. You end up learning something riveting. Exactly. It's riveting. Imagine if you can — and this is why, especially we suggest if people want to be really good speakers and also people who attract speakers, if you're focusing on relatively niche subjects, that's going to attract speakers who are really passionate about the subjects. If you had a panel discussion and you had two people that disagreed about a particular thing, that you could think, oh, it might turn into a bit of well, I disagree with this and then frisky, or you can encourage that.
You can say, we're going to have a good discussion and we're going to get somewhere at the end of this and hopefully each side are like yeah, I see that point, but I believe this because of this reason. Your audience are the ones that are going to benefit from both of their perspectives. You don't have to do that by the way. You don't have to design an event all around debate, but I think that if you're taking cues from something like watching a debate, you can make relatively small changes to the way in which you're running a session, planning out a specific kind of way and tell each other, tell all the speakers hey, Tony, I know that you really love the color green. I'm bringing on Jillian who really hates the color green and I'd love it if you guys kind of get into it a little bit because I think it would be really, really interesting because Matt right here might not really understand which color he wants to go for.
I assume that it's green Tony, but that's me making assumptions.
Tony: Green is the color of Kermit the frog. So I am all in favor.
Rob: I could do an impression of him.
Jillian: Please. Okay.
Tony: It's not easy, but it's worth it.
Jillian: Let's hear it.
Rob: Yeah. It's not easy at all.
Jillian: That was pretty good.
Matt: That's remarkable.
Jillian: Wow. That was amazing.
Matt: Hard to top that. I won't try. Rob, what you're getting even into there is zooming in from maybe meta strategy value set for why do an event into then almost a run of showing the choreographing of it, which is at least in my sort of study of it, the next level or next several levels of design of an event and how do you do that well?
So it's not just trying to invite — going back to debate, like fostering artificial debate, but is trying to have different modes of engagement and not just talking heads, talking to you for three hours on end. Is being able to as the facilitator of an event, spark conversation with attendees in the chat, being able to have different sorts of talks, one is maybe presentation like another is fireside, less structured chat. One could be, if it can be pulled off by the team and we're going to try to do some of these mechanics ourselves is like an actual live kind of QA component, potentially. If you can start to mix that together, you're fostering the attention-grabbing nature in a real way and a valuable way, of the audience member to like stay tuned in, to potentially engage with the keyboard or even to audio engage in some way.
So that I think is really important as creatives out there who are thinking like we are okay, how do we truly try to harness like put lightning in a bottle, harness the magic, right? That might be possible. It's one thing to get people to the event, if you want to try to organize for that and then the other it's like really make that energy palpable and valuable in a riveting way.
Rob: I think you're absolutely right. I would encourage people not to discount the value of novelty in a way that encourages us as humans to get beyond maybe some preconceived notions. Having a bit of fun, introducing something, a little weird to a dynamic allows someone to more easily set aside the fact that they're staring at a screen and they're being asked to challenge themselves or to think through a certain thing and not go and check their email or respond to a Slack message or something like that. So I think you're exactly right, in terms of maybe mixing and matching the types of formats, the types of tools that you use, all sorts of different things I wouldn't be afraid to experiment with and I think what you'll also find is that even if you try something and it doesn't really work, the fact that you tried it, your audience will react to and will respond to.
Matt: Absolutely. Yeah. In part, because maybe this next thing under celebrated, I don't know. Rob I'd deferred you maybe on the analysis, but is that it's market research like for us and as creators, holy crap! You've got a couple hundred people or more, and we're certainly aiming for hopefully thousands upon thousands to show up. So if you can foster some of this debate and part of that conversation involves the attendees in real time, we can witness that. We can learn potentially at a scale and at a pace that we can't through other marketing methods and channels. Yeah, we could put a survey out through an email and most brands and companies do, especially at our size, and we can capture that back, but that's all asynchronous, it's data in a spreadsheet, then you slice it. But if we can see more, maybe the emotion that's happening in real time, we can harness some of that and kind of almost feel the room, albeit a digital room.
I'm excited at that potential and excited to see if we can sort of truly feel that room and then harvest some of those observations around how audience building is really as a theme resonating with people here in 2021, where are their pain points as they think about accelerating that, especially then on the monetization side as well. Then holy cow, that's potential activation point for us to create more content, to serve potentially an unfilled need that we don't have, or to fill a gap potentially in our community program for SPI Pro that we haven't seen yet sort of in exposing of a blind spot, that customer research kind of piece and opportunity excites the heck out of me.
Rob: So you're exactly right. People use events to test business ideas, test community ideas. We had one person, I’ve forgotten their name. They're in Australia and they're a farmer. They wanted to start a new business targeting farmers. They didn't know if it was going to be a tractor business like they wanted to be a rep for tractors or an insurance business. They wanted to sell insurance to farmers. I don't understand why it was between these two, but he ran — and this is like industrial stuff. He ran a summit and it had two tracks. You could guess which tracks they were.
Tony: I love it.
Rob: Yeah. Random insurance and tractor sales. I don't remember which one, I believe it was the insurance one, it was incredibly popular and nobody cared about buying tractors. So he started his business running insurance or organizing insurance. The point being and kind of going to your point, even if you run an event and you have different types of tracks or different types of talks and some have no engagement, that's a win. That's a really big win because it's taught you something. It allows you to experiment further and the event's over. It's not like you've invested years of your life trying to build up a brand and for it to just not be catching fire, you've been able to try it just with maybe the title of a talk. We see that a lot. We see people, they spin up events, they have a whole bunch of talks, they see which ones are popular, and then they mold it. They add more talks based around the ones that seem to be popular. You're absolutely right.
Matt: That's so smart. That's so smart. It's embracing the negative space, right? So not just looking at the sun, but it's looking at all the dark side of the universe and deducing learnings from that. So I think that's brilliant.
Rob: One thing that I would say about the cohort-based learning and what cohort-based courses have done amazingly, or at least the good ones that I think people who are organizing events could take some inspiration from, is the setting of expectations. I think that so often, especially creators think that it's their job to be present for their audience and to serve their audience, versus enabling their audience to serve themselves. I think that the setting and expectation that like, hey, if I'm running an event, you have a part to play attending this event. If you don't play your part, you are not going to get as much out of this as you could if you were. A lot of cohort-based learning is all around the reason why you're here is to learn from each other. So if you aren't teaching someone else something through engaging, you're not pulling your weight in a way.
I think that being really clear about the expectations, about what it is that if we're all here together, all us 5,000 people that are attending this event have a relevance to that event and we all need to pull our weight in order for it to be a really good experience, we do find that is a really good way of not only engagement, of making sure that engagement stays high, but also for you to do more customer research. Maybe you're going to start to find your community champions through this process. Maybe you're going to source speakers for the next event. Maybe you're going to have some people that'll be able to seed content in your community. So I think that setting good expectations, making sure that your attendees bear some responsibility for the event to be successful, is something that I'd encourage you to explore.
Tony: It's so powerful when you're doing an event to see who shows up and who engages. If you've got a hashtag for event, for example, you're going to have a lot of people who are just passively consuming the event and then you're going to have one or two or whatever, a small number of people who are live-tweeting the whole thing.
To your point, Rob, part of what's nice about a digital gathering as opposed to in person, there's a lot of trade-offs to that, but one of the good things is that you as an attendee are on your computer, you're in your home or office or wherever you are, you can follow through or follow up on something that inspired you at that event right in the moment, just in time.
So I've always noticed this kind of dead end with conferences where there's all this energy built up during the event and it's so hard to follow through with a lot of it. So there's a lot of adaptation you can do. You're not paying for an event space either so if you need 10 rooms instead of five, you could just push a button and spin them up.
Rob: I think you can take advantage of, and also watch out for human nature when designing the experience that you're wanting to design. So you can very easily create an event that is purely passive, it's still very value-add, but it's mostly for someone to come in, learn if they're interested, but not necessarily engaging. You can certainly do that. But as you say, you can also take advantage of the fact that if you're having a really good experience, you have this energy, you want to use it, you want to harness it. Make sure that you give them off-ramps so that they can make use of that energy in a great way. I think it's absolutely spot on in terms of how you need to think about attending mechanics in terms of what it is that you're wanting to do with this energy that you're harnessing in a bottle or whatever you were saying, Matt, like lightning in a bottle.
What are you going to do with it? How are you going to channel it? That kind of stuff is really exciting and really interesting and I guess we would just encourage you to make your audience part of that. What do you all want to do with this and it just means that the burden isn't all on you and the responsibility for them having a great time and a great experience is partially on them as well.
Jillian: Rob, this has just been like such a delight, I've just been furiously writing things down. Just listening and being a part of this conversation what's really struck me is how accessible a virtual summit is to a creator who maybe doesn't have the hugest following or audience and there's just so many ways to leverage it and really become an authority to a sticky opinion in a niche, right? What advice do you have for someone in that situation who maybe is a smaller creator as far as finding people to present, to be a part of it?
Rob: I think that the benefit is you don't have to have a track record in order to attract some really good people in your space. I think what you need to have though, and kind of going back to what we were starting with is a very clear purpose about why you're running this thing. What is the event about? What is the thesis of it? What are you covering and what aren't you covering? We suggest that people plot out a summit or an event on paper, or I like to use Whimsical or use Miro or something like that, and completely make a fake one.
You probably know who your audience is, Jillian, like who it is that you're focusing on. You probably know five problems that they're focused on or that they have. So pick one of those problems and make it like that you're deep diving into that problem. Then come up with five titles that you know a person in your audience facing that problem is going to salivate over. They're going to read these titles and they're going to be like, oh my god, yes, absolutely. Then use that as your plan to go off and try and find speakers that are in the space that might be really good fits for those and try and resist the temptation to try and broaden it out. You're going to find speakers that are really excited to join and really excited to help you, but they're not really fitting in that focus respectfully decline and work with them on something else or work with them on the next event. Try and keep your event as focused as possible if you're doing that.
And if you're approaching your speakers with a very, very specific ask, I want you to talk about this subject, which I know you're an expert in, and you don't really talk about this very much in this specificity. That's a way that you will be able to get really, really good, really high quality speakers. Remember, the fact that you don't have an audience, if you're just starting out, it doesn't matter. You're benefiting from that speaker's audience, but that speaker is benefiting from another speaker's audience. It's a really good cross-pollination opportunity. So you can see yourself as establishing your own authority by bringing others together. That's what I would suggest that you do, so nail your attendee persona, nail your summit on paper, and then allow that to guide all of your actions.
Jillian: It's just genius. I just love it. I'm not that person. I'm not creating a summit, but I'm like, but I could.
Rob: Well, why not?
Jillian: Well, why not?
Rob: Lava lamps summit.
Matt: That's the beauty of it and it could be a launching off point for welcoming Rob back for another conversation at some point, because it's an evergreen field, there's a lot of experimentation. We're experimenting. That's great. People are using events for customer acquisition. Others are using events more for customer activation to launch a new product or to get them to cross channel into some other marketing channel that maybe is also launching. So there's just so many different ways to strategically deploy an event, at least again, from where I'm kind of sitting on the business side and developing a business vision that incorporates events as a major kind of component of our arsenal, right?
Jillian: There's so much.
Matt: Rob, where can folks go to learn more about HeySummit, about events and your suggestions on how to put on a good conference?
Rob: Yeah, you can. I mean, you can certainly hit up HeySummit.com. You can also access HeySummit.com/spi for some more information about just kind of exclusive to your audience as well. We also have a course that we have available, a virtual event architect that kind of goes into detail a little bit more and we now have a club where we're doing monthly workshops, deep dives, office hours, all sorts of stuff and it's just a group of silly creators that are trying to make the best in some ways, weirdest events that we've seen all wanting to help. So there are a lot of different ways that you can kind of interact and engage, whether or not you're a customer of ours or not. You can certainly join our community and find out some good content to get you started.
Jillian: I'm going to join just to — actually, I think I've already in it, but I'm going to check it just to see what the weirdest one is. I'm curious now.
Rob: I'll send you a few.
Matt: Awesome. That is our affiliate link, disclaimer there, but we love HeySummit like we do a lot of our tech partners, and grateful for that and we try to get the best opportunity out there for creators that want to kind of tinker with this cool stuff like we do. Tony, to round out on our side, where should folks go to learn more about our upcoming event on HeySummit?
Jillian: Yeah, hopefully we get some joiners to come and hang out with us at the summit on HeySummit. Awesome. Any last parting words from anybody?
Matt: Just grateful for Rob, you, and the team here. We’ll bid ado. Looking to see you next time on HeySummit.com.
Tony: A little round table discussion with Rob Gelb from HeySummit and our very own Matthew Gartland. I could talk about this stuff a lot, and it's kind of tricky being a host/guest for this conversation, but online events, online summits, HeySummit in particular has really been powerful and valuable for us. So I'm just glad that we got to get everybody in the room to chat about it. Let's get into the takeaways and I'll dig in with some of my kind of bonus thoughts as well as we go.
Jillian: Yeah as mentioned to Rob directly, there's a lot of key takeaways in this episode. I mean, so many things that frankly I've never thought about, but one that stood out to both of us was the concept of using a summit as market research. The tractor guy who was like either I'm going to sell tractors or insurance. So here are two tracks at my summit and then found out like, yep. Insurance, definitely. What a cool idea.
Tony: Yeah. I mean, being able to use an event as market research is just brilliant. That immediately got me thinking about how we could do exactly that for our own event.
Jillian: Also you're so fancy — “research,” literally.
Tony: It's amazing how much more sophisticated you can sound with just a few changes of accent.
Jillian: Just a wee bit of research on tractors.
Tony: Precisely. I also think that the fact that people can interact in different ways when it's an online event is really important. I mentioned that there's a lot that people can do because they're already online. They can close the loop on something that inspired them in an event instantly on the spot, and to Rob's point, you as an organizer can design the event to challenge people, to take that action in a way that might be harder to do if people are all sitting in a big room together.
Jillian: Well, and it's so awkward in person, especially at a big conference because you're just kind of in a sea of strangers. It's my personal hell. I think I've said that before.
Tony: There's a lot that you can do just by having people being able to be in the comfort of their own home while they're also at the event.
Jillian: In many ways, it's almost like a group project except individually graded, like everyone can be actively doing the thing that's being explained and sharing in the comments or however the event is working, but you can kind of share progress, but everyone's doing.
Tony: Yeah. Then in that way you can take advantage of the inevitable multitasking that's going to happen. So this is actually a great takeaway for me as well, listening to what Rob was saying and Matt was emphasizing this too, is looking for ways to be provocative and to invite a reaction, get getting people to kind of sit up in their seat and click off a Twitter, come back to this screen and see what's going on.
Jillian: It was funny talking about listening to people debate. I think I mentioned I was like, it's stressful and which defeated the point of Rob's point, but what I meant was, have you ever watched like a debate team? Like how fast they talk? There was recently a movie about people in debate. I can't remember what it was called and they talk so fast. I don't even know what's going on.
Tony: Well, and it does speak to something that I think is valuable and important in general in the world these days, which is the idea of using our differing perspectives out of a mutual interest in learning the subject better together and understanding what's going on better together.
Jillian: Yeah. We're all better for it. Yeah.
Tony: One of my big takeaways for this conversation, it's something that you kind of sparked it and I would love for us to dig into a bit more with a little bit of time here. Which is that accessibility aspect. I forgot if you mentioned cost, but I know for me, I went through a very big phase of my life where going to conferences was so huge for me in terms of meeting and being exposed to people that were helping shape my journey as an entrepreneur.
But damned if I wasn't sleeping in the La Quinta far outside of town or crashing on somebody's couch, just barely scraping by with the cheapest flight, because going to conferences is expensive. It's expensive, expensive. So being able to say, okay, well, all right, it's not the same as hanging out in person. Just don't even try to compare the two, but if you design it for the medium that it is, all of a sudden now you can have a whole bunch of people in the virtual room that you could never be able to bring together in real life, from all over the planet. Designing for the medium and taking advantage of the low barrier to entry for your audience, I think is an enormously powerful part of it.
Jillian: Absolutely. I agree. There's so many conferences well, some of them I went. I would go to local conferences because again, I had a small child in school and anybody with a child in school knows they're not really in school that long, the school day is quite short. It is not comparable to the workday. So I'd be missing the openings and the endings and just kind of popping in and like never really getting to fully participate. Why am I even, this is stressing me out. I took PTO from my main job to come to this event and it's a lot of work. Virtual is just, there's something really cool about it and I think we were all fatigued of internet and everything, and would love to get back in the real world, but to Rob's point, to your point, having these interaction pieces with it just creates a whole deeper layer of what can be done and what makes it dynamic and interesting. It's really exciting stuff.
But we have so much going on with our own virtual summit, with AudienceDriven.co, and I think we'll probably be revisiting how it goes.
Tony: Come follow along. It's an exciting ride. Come join for the summit.
Jillian: Definitely. Let us know on the Twitter sphere @TeamSPI what your experience with virtual summits is and if you've seen any particularly great tactics or ways to engage the audience to be more a part of it. We'd love to hear your own experiences and of course, follow us to know what's going on with our own summit. I think that's it for this week, so we will see you next Tuesday.
Tony: Bye, everybody. Keep being awesome.
Jillian: Rob Gelb is the CEO of HeySummit. You can find Rob on Twitter @ThisIsGelb or @HeySummit and check out HeySummit at HeySummit.com.
Tony: This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode, including links and show notes, head to SmartPassiveIncome.com and click on listen.
Jillian: Your hosts are me, Jillian Benbow and Tony Bacigalupo. HeySummit.com is a production of SPI Media.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound designed by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.
Want more from SPI?
Enter your information below if you'd like to join our newsletter!