Krista Miller of Summit in a Box: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event

Tyler Gallagher
Dec 15, 2020 · 16 min read

Have a specific outcome in mind for your attendees. While it’s fun to host an event for the sake of hosting, there should be a real, tangible takeaway for your attendees. For example, my latest virtual event helped online course creators reach their biggest course launch yet with a virtual summit. When you can get specific with a real outcome, your event will draw attendees in easier and be more memorable, as it will create a real impact in their lives.

As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krista Miller.

At Summit In A Box, Krista helps entrepreneurs 3x their monthly revenue through virtual summits without wondering where to start or what to do next. Her method is focused on strong connections, collaboration, and making a difference in the lives of everyone involved.

The best part? She makes it easy! With every strategy, copy template, website template, script, tech tutorial, and resources you’d ever need, preparing a virtual event just got a whole lot easier!

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in smalltown Wisconsin as an extremely shy girl who you’d never have expected to one day be hosting and teaching about virtual events. I was happiest out riding dirtbikes with my brother or, oddly enough, doing my math homework.

In fact, if you’d have told me that I’d grow up to run my own business, host virtual events, and teach others to do the same, I’d have laughed hysterically. I was the type in high school that cried (embarrassingly enough) before giving speeches and avoiding the spotlight whenever possible.

I went on to college to get a B.S. in Computer Science and a Masters in Software Engineering. I thought I’d go on to happily work as a software engineer for the rest of my time in the workforce.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

After a couple of years of working as a software and web developer, I found myself unhappy with where I was. As you might be able to imagine, being the only female on a large team of software developers can get uncomfortable at times and it had started to wear on me. However, I didn’t want to just find any other job. Instead, I started my own little web development business. I didn’t expect it to get me far, but after 6 months I was able to put in my notice and begin working for myself full-time.

After about two years of that, I was ready for more. A more consistent client schedule, more income, more leads, and more industry connections. Although I was terrified, hosting a virtual summit came to my mind as the best answer. I knew it would get me a ton of new leads that I could work to turn into clients while connecting me with other experts in the industry.

I got to work piecing together my own strategies based on the little bit of information I knew about virtual events. My goal with this first event was to have 500 people signed up and to make $2000. Instead, I ended up with 1400 people signed up and $16,000 in sales. For a web developer making $3–4k per month at the time, it was huge and the most profitable thing I’d ever done.

After the event was over, I was surprised to start receiving countless emails from speakers and attendees asking if I could teach them how I did it. My initial response was to laugh, tell them how much work it was to figure out, and turn them away. But after 6 months of being asked consistently, I gave in and put my virtual summit project plan up for sale. To my surprise, it sold better than any digital product I’d ever created and it turned into the beginning of what Summit in a Box is today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The thing I look back and laugh at the most was my fear of putting myself out there when I was getting started. I remember sitting with my finger over the “Tweet” button for an embarrassing amount of time before publishing my first update on Twitter. And similarly, I remember sitting and shaking for a solid 30-minutes with my finger over the “Go live” button on Periscope (RIP) before going live with my first video.

The reason this makes me smile now is the fact that when I was posting that first tweet and going live with that first video, I had 0 followers. Literally 0. So who was I afraid of seeing and judging what I was going to do?

Luckily, each time got easier so by the time there were people to see what I had to say, I didn’t have to waste an extended period of time with my finger hovering over a button.

Is there a particular book podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A podcast that made a huge impact on me is Courage + Clarity by Steph Crowder. In fact, I wouldn’t be where I am without it.

I was driving home one day, listening to an episode where Steph and a guest talked about doing things their way and not always following the cookie-cutter approach. As simple as that advice is, it was a huge ah-ha moment for me. At the time, I’d been wanting to host a virtual summit for months and holding myself back. I knew I couldn’t compete with the influencers out there hosting summits, I didn’t feel good about hosting an event that was super marketing heavy, and I didn’t know why anyone would want to attend a summit from someone with a small audience. But listening to them talk made me realize that I didn’t need to do things the way the big-name influencers were doing it — I could do it my way.

I remember pulling over in my car and writing down the idea I had for my summit and ways I was going to make it different. That was what led to my first event, the success it had, and the fact that I’m teaching about virtual summits today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” — Max Depree

This quote hits me every time I read it. So many times in running a business or putting myself out there with virtual events, I’ve asked myself questions like, “Should I really do this?” Or, “Can I really do this?”

Remembering this quote helps push me through those doubts. I can look back at the shy girl from northwest Wisconsin who couldn’t even get up in front of the class to give a speech and see the times where this has been true. I couldn’t start a successful business by staying hidden in the background, where I liked to be, at my corporate job. I couldn’t dig up the courage to host my virtual event, while also telling myself how shy and scared I was. I couldn’t grow my business to what it is today by thinking that $3–4k months was all I deserved.

To reach that next level, you need to embody the next level. And that’s something I’ll always live by.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?

I organized and hosted my first virtual summit in April of 2018. At the time, I’d struggled to find resources to help so I created strategies on my own, pieced together from events I’d attended and one I had spoken at. My goal for that first event was to make $2000 with 500 people signed up and instead, I had 1400 attendees, $16,000 in revenue, and a client schedule booked out for 6 months. Since then, I’ve hosted 4 additional events of my own, the most recent two making over $60,000.

In addition to my own events, I’ve helped hundreds of clients and students launch virtual summits of their own. My students range from those just starting their online businesses who want to start strong to experienced business owners who are working to use their event to hit 6-figure launches for their signature online program.

Through my years of hosting events, I’ve focused on testing new strategies every step of the way. I love to learn what works, what doesn’t work, and why each piece ends up the way it does.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

All of the events I’ve hosted have had some type of live aspect. Some of those live aspects have simply included a live chat box available during pre-recorded videos, while others have been made up of full live sessions with panels of speakers.

My favorite takeaway from hosting both live and pre-recorded events is the vast difference between the two. While events that don’t have a live aspect can still be incredibly beneficial for everyone involved, nothing can touch the power of an event that is fully live. The extra energy that you feel carries over to all aspects of the event. Speakers are more excited to participate and attendees are significantly more likely to be there live, engage with the event, and therefore experience the transformation you want them to achieve.

My favorite live event memory comes from the first speaker panel I ever hosted during a virtual summit. I brought together 4 business friends to speak on a topic and I was blown away by how the session turned out. While I expected to ask questions, have them answer, and move to the next, it’s not at all what happened. Instead, they bounced ideas off of each other, added their own take to things, incorporated comments from attendees in the chat, laughed, engaged the audience, and had more fun than I’d ever seen anyone have in a panel discussion. Better yet, they went on to schedule calls with each other afterward and become fast friends.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I have yet to see a company pull off a live event better than the interview series from Systems Saved Me. The thing that impressed me the most in the latest round of their event was the intense attention to detail in the planning.

While organizing groups of people to show up live is a huge struggle for a lot of hosts, Jordan and the Systems Saved Me team had such a solid process that I never saw a single mistake. Speakers and the team are given minute-by-minute agendas with all of the information they need to do their part in making the event run smoothly. In fact, the level of detail provided can only be accomplished by someone with the highest level of organizational skills and a clear vision for exactly what they want the event experience to look like.

A few other details that stood out to me included music in the transitional stage between sessions to keep the audience engaged and live captioning to ensure that even a live, virtual event was accessible to the hard-of-hearing community.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?

There are two common mistakes I see hosts make when trying to run a live virtual event:

I’ll break those down a little bit. To start, many event hosts are so excited by the thought of hosting an event, especially a live one, that they think that the act of hosting an event is enough to draw a crowd and get the results they want. However, the true success of an event, specifically a virtual summit, lies in being able to solve a specific problem for a specific type of person.

For example, hosting a summit to help online business owners grow their business won’t be nearly as effective as an event to help wedding planners book out their client schedules using Instagram. That second topic will end up being far easier to promote, bringing in a larger and more engaged audience, and that audience will stay more engaged as there is a specific outcome that they truly want.

To avoid this error, don’t get caught up in the initial excitement to get an event out as quickly as possible. Instead, take the time to get specific on who the event is for and what it’s going to help them accomplish.

The second mistake, not getting detailed enough in the planning and testing process, tends to be more apparent for those who jump straight from no event experience to hosting a live event. I say that because those who host pre-recorded events at least have an idea of the logistical issues that can come up. For example, speakers aren’t where they’re supposed to be when you need them there or tech decides to stop working right when you need it.

Because of those issues, it’s important to make a detailed step-by-step plan for your entire event as well as have a backup plan. For example, what do you want the attendee experience to look like minute-by-minute? What do you, your team, and your speakers need to do to make that happen? And you’ll continue breaking it down from there. As for the backup plan, if you’ve decided on a specific piece of tech, have another one ready to go in case of an emergency.

For example, I’ve seen a pre-recorded event where the video-hosting platform they were using went down the morning that their event began. I’ve also seen a live event where the link shared with attendees to join the session didn’t work and it took over 30-minutes for the host to notice. It’s vital to have a backup plan in place and fully ready to go in case that happens.

Taking time to test (and test again) also has the power to catch any issues before they happen.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?

Oddly enough, all of my favorite events have simply taken place on Zoom — nothing fancy!

I think this is because of the familiarity that everyone now has with it from being forced to give it a try over the last several months. It’s easy to understand, you can control different access levels, and there’s a simple way for attendees to engage. It’s also an affordable option for those without a large event budget.

While there are all kinds of expensive virtual event platforms out there with a wide variety of features and options, often the best answer lies in the simplest solution.

Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

My #1 must-have tool for hosting events with multiple speakers is Content Snare. While this piece of software isn’t related to the event itself, it is a life-saver when it comes to collecting the information you need from your speakers. A big pain point that many event hosts face is getting what you need from speakers when you need it. Things as simple as a headshot and bio can be hard to gather by the date you need it and keep organized.

What I love about Content Snare is that you can set up a simple form for speakers to fill out and it will take care of all of the follow-ups for you. That means you and your team don’t have to worry about constantly checking to see who has or hasn’t sent in their information and send follow-up emails. Content Snare takes care of it all for you with a follow-up schedule that you have complete control over.

My events tend to have 30+ speakers, so this tool saves my team and I hours for every event we host.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Have a specific outcome in mind for your attendees. While it’s fun to host an event for the sake of hosting, there should be a real, tangible takeaway for your attendees. For example, my latest virtual event helped online course creators reach their biggest course launch yet with a virtual summit. When you can get specific with a real outcome, your event will draw attendees in easier and be more memorable, as it will create a real impact in their lives.

2. Your speakers matter. Your event speakers are incredibly important, especially when it comes to a live event. In any kind of event, choosing speakers with the same audience as your event means that they’ll be more effective in promoting. But choosing engaging speakers with experience for a live event will take the pressure off of you, as you can be confident that they’ll show up when they’re supposed to and provide a positive experience for those tuning in. For example, in a pre-recorded event I hosted, I received a presentation from a speaker that wasn’t delivered smoothly and was nearly impossible to follow. If that would have been a live event, I wouldn’t have had the freedom to reach out and remedy the situation — it would have been out there for everyone to see. An important lesson that I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way in a live event.

3. Create an engagement plan. When planning a live event, you may find yourself so caught up in the nitty-gritty details that you forget to sit down and map out how you’ll keep your attendees engaged. Naturally, some engagement will happen automatically when a group of people with a shared interest come together, but it’s not as natural as in an in-person event. My favorite ways to keep attendees engaged in a live event include giving out prizes to those who attend, games (for example, Bingo with actions you want them to take in each square), and asking questions that will get everyone talking and familiar with each other. Also, consider things like how you’ll transition smoothly from one portion of your event to another to avoid people leaving between sessions. Music or a live MC are helpful!

4. Give attendees the chance to meet each other. The biggest piece missing from virtual events when compared to in-person events is the networking aspect. Between sessions at an in-person event, it’s natural to find yourself chatting to someone new in the hallway. That doesn’t happen automatically at a virtual event. Instead, it’s up to you! My favorite way to do this is through networking sessions. In a networking session, you can use Zoom’s Breakout Room feature to split attendees into groups of about 5 to chat and get to know each other. Provide conversation prompts and mix the rooms up every 20–30 minutes to keep connections forming.

5. Create a minute-by-minute plan. When you’re nearing the final stages of planning your event, take the time to make a down-to-the-minute plan. Review things like which sessions are happening when, who needs to be present at each session, and what each team member needs to be doing to make it happen. Also consider what details you, speakers, and team members will need at every step and include them within the plan so no one has to go searching for information. Doing this will not only help the event run more smoothly, but it will help you identify holes to fill. For example, if a set of speakers needs to show up at a certain time, what will you do to make sure they don’t forget or lose track of time? If there’s a waiting room for speakers to come together before a session, which team member will be present and what will they do if someone doesn’t show up?

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

The most important steps in starting to plan your live event will shape every decision you make throughout the rest of the process.

1. Get clear on what you want to get out of it. First, consider why you actually want to host a live event. It’s definitely something fun to work for and can have a wide array of benefits to your business, but get specific beyond something like an income goal. This is an opportunity to connect with new experts, new audience members, and to make a lasting impression on hundreds or thousands of people. What will you do with that once the event is over?

2. Get specific about who the event is for. Then, get more specific than you think you need to on who you’re hosting the event for. Specifically, if you don’t have a large audience to begin with, an event for a wide audience like “entrepreneurs”, “women”, “professionals”, or even “moms” isn’t going to get you the results you want. If that’s the type of audience you target for your business as a whole, break it down into subsets. What is one subset of your wider audience that you can host this event for? This makes the next step significantly easier, while also giving you the freedom to target a different subset of your audience for the next round of your event.

3. Identify a specific outcome for attendees. And last, decide exactly what you want your attendees to get out of your event. For the clients and students I work with, this means they’re identifying a specific pain point that their audience has and creating an event to solve that problem. For example, a recent student saw the struggles her audience of photographers experienced keeping their businesses afloat during the pandemic, so her event was all about building a community amidst the pandemic to keep a client flow coming through referrals. The more specific your outcome is, the better.

From there, you can move forward to the details of what the event experience is going to look like, the tech you’ll use, and more.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am passionate about seeing people who have trouble believing in themselves follow their dreams. If you pushed all of your self-doubts aside, what is it that you’d go out and do?

I’ve seen close family members want to pursue a new dream or career and make the decision that they “can’t” do it. And after they make that decision, it becomes their reality.

When I started my first business, I never dreamed that I’d get to where I am today. And honestly, no one else thought I could do it either. If I would have let those doubts hold me back, I’d still be sitting in a job that I was unhappy with, rather than living out my dream every single day.

What is it you want to do?

Go do it.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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