How I Put on an Online Event that Over 20,000 People Signed Up For

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the Leadership and Influence Summit… how we put it together, how we’ve garnered the exposure that we have, what’s in it for me by making it FREE to attendees, etc. Because of that I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a little “behind the scenes” information and what we did, how we did it, and why we did what we did.

First, let me setup what the event is for those who might be unfamiliar.

The Leadership and Influence Summit is a free online event that features over 30 leading authorities (NY Times Best-selling authors and key practitioners) sharing 6-20 minute tips, via recorded video, on how to maximize leadership and influence effectiveness. See the full lineup and get instant access, for free, now through November 30th December 31, 2010 at

To date we’ve had over 20,000 people sign up and hundreds more are coming in each day as the event continues to be shared from person to person. It’s received all kinds of buzz on Twitter and Facebook (read here, here and here), it’s been profiled on top sites around the internet such as Smartbrief, 800CEORead, GiANT Impact‘s massive newsletter, and plenty more. The beauty of it all is that we didn’t spend a dime on advertising. As a matter of fact, the only $ spent was on the website, a logo and few small things here and there. Most of the investment was time.

What you might not know is that we put together the entire event in a little less that 6 weeks! It was literally the end of September when the idea first came to me. Oh, and by the way, when I say “we” I mean a small, lean team of my web designer (thanks Greg), one support staff (thanks Stephanie) and me.


I felt there was an opportunity in the space of leadership and influence to bring together some phenomenal talent to share valuable content that others could actually use. Content that gave tips and practical application. Then I thought how we could strip it down, remove barriers, make it simple and do it for FREE online to give as many people access as possible. There were a lot of others who have done something like this with audio clips or audio webinars but nothing free that featured video, that I was aware of, targeting leaders and influencers across the board from marketplace to nonprofit.

After considering the WHY, we moved to the Benefits for attendees, speakers and for us. My number one goal was to provide value to the attendees and the speakers. Attendees needed good content from quality experts to make it work. Speakers needed exposure and traction back to their sites, books, etc in order to justify their time in doing a video. The last consideration was my own but that was a simple consideration. I had three goals in mind. 1) Add value to others. 2) Build a list / community of those interested in these types of events and the topics of leadership and influence. 3) Elevate several of the speakers who are also clients of mine ongoing and whose monthly retainers enable my time in organizing events like this.

I’m happy to report that all of my goals were not just met but exceeded in ways that even I didn’t anticipate. We’ve had tons of emails from attendees saying how amazed they were, many of the speakers have seen a great increase in traffic, and I now have a community of over 20,000 people to network with and develop new resources for (all in less than 6 weeks time).

Now about the HOW. How did we do what we did to pull this off?

1. I developed a simple, one page outline and a plan. Nothing to complex. I needed to pull this off and go live by early November so I needed the plan to be quick, simple and easy to execute.

2. I tested the idea with a handful of speakers that I ideally wanted in the lineup (many of whom I already have established relationships with). Sent them an email outlining the idea and asked if they would be interested in participating. Within 48 hours almost ALL responded with a resounding yes. I took that as a sign to move forward.

3. We made it simple and turn key for the speakers. We gave them direction on what to include in their video. They recorded their own and we provided an upload link for them to send the videos to us. Worked great.

4. We built an initial 1-page registration website that was simple and focused on 2 things. 1) Featuring the value and the presenters. 2) Getting people to sign up. That site went live in early October.

5. We had a viral / social strategy. Once someone signed up they were immediately sent a thank you email that had details about a special offer that would enable them a chance to win a leadership and influence resource kit IF they shared info about the event on Twitter, Facebook, email to their co-workers, etc. Instructions were for them to do so and then email us via a special email address and let us know. That email served as their entry into the drawing. We saw HUGE success from this. We also implemented social sharing in the main site once it went live.

6. We partnered. We went after a few targeted outlets that we felt would make great partners for the event. Some partners were promotional in that they agreed to promote the event to their lists while other partners were more content driven and promoted the event as an educational resource to their members. Either way, the power of these partnerships enabled us to attain a visibility that we could not have done on our own. As I mentioned above, we didn’t spend any money on advertising this event. It was all grass roots, partnership driven and viral sharing.

7. We executed. We did what needed to be done and did it quickly. We had excellent follow up in place and the right relationships at the right time. I tried not to over think things and chase every temptation to expand or make it bigger. As the event took on a life of its own we began to get emails from others speakers who wanted to participate, other potential partners, etc but I stayed true to the plan. Sometimes less is more and I really wanted to just keep this lean and efficient, especially for this test.

Now that the event is fully underway and will stay online with free, on-demand access through at least the end of November… we’re not done. We’re continuing to outreach, to share and to encourage others to do the same. It’s working well and we already have plans to spin this off into several additional events in early 2011 (details coming soon).

I firmly believe it’s because I kept our focus on providing value to the attendees and the speakers more so than what was in it for me. Too many events or businesses start with the wrong goal in mind. They make it about themselves instead of about the customer. I knew that if we delivered to the people and kept the speakers happy then everything else would fall into place for us. It’s about service and relationships beyond just transactions and conversions. I wanted to build something that would last, not just an event but a relationship and a reputation. I think we’ve done that and done it quite well.

And for those internet guys / gals out there who are solely focused on monetization and monetizing everything they touch… even though I made the event free, I still made money even in the short term by picking up two new clients that will add thousands of residual dollars to my bottom line. But that wasn’t the goal, it was just a nice byproduct.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you this helped you in some way. Happy to answer any specific questions you have so feel free to leave them in the comments section here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.