Leadership Lessons Learned From Organizing A Virtual Summit

Podcasting was a massive trend in 2014, virtual summits are in 2015. They are online events, bringing together industry leaders to share their advice in interviews that can be consumed for free.

The WP Summit is such an event, featuring world-leading experts on WordPress and online business. The line-up includes Jason Cohen (founder of WP Engine), Rand Fishkin (founder of Moz), Oli Gardner (co-founder of Unbounce), or Dan Norris (founder of WP Curve).

For me as the host, this summit was a powerhouse of lessons on leadership, interacting with true leaders, and organizing a global event with massive organic growth.

The goal for the WP Summit was, to become the single best event, educating beginning WordPress users and online entrepreneurs on building powerful websites and scaling their businesses.

And it turned out to become just that. Let me share three of the major lessons I learned from organizing this event.

Lesson 1: Don’t Underestimate The Potential In Your Vision

Even though your vision might seem ridiculously huge in the beginning, you never know what happens.

When I dabbled around with the idea of running the WP Summit in December 2014, I set out to build an incredible speaker line-up. I had no idea how I should reach Rand Fishkin or Jason Cohen, but I tried.

I also set out to make the WP Summit a global event. I’m living in a small town in Germany with roughly 50k residents. I’m the only online entrepreneur here, and local business owners still think they social marketing is a waste of money.

So the local conditions aren’t very motivating to pull off this summit. I can’t chat with anyone here about it, since most of my entrepreneurial friends and mentors live on other continents all around the world.

But I knew there are many people struggling with WordPress, so I took action to run the event, every single day.

One after another I got in touch with the A-list speakers and in fact, it was quite easy to get them to join the WP Summit.

I worked late night hours for weeks, but the WP Summit grew into a global movement.

Here are some of the achievements that I ruled off as impossible in the planning phase:

  • I have Jason Cohen, Rand Fishkin, Oli Gardner, Dan Norris, Pere Hospital, or Mark Bowness in the speaker line-up
  • The website gets traffic from 91 countries
  • I have WP Engine, TemplateMonster, Cyfe, and Cloudways as sponsors
  • The summit gets featured on blogs like WP Mayor, the sponsor’s blogs, and to the time writing this most likely on SEMrush
  • The event generated $1.5k+ in sponsorships and All Access Pass sales one week before it even started
  • The website gets translated into Portuguese and will be heavily promoted in Brazil

Lesson 2: Never Be Afraid Of Asking Or Reaching Out

One thing I learned is that leaders ask. A lot.

They ask for help, for advice, for opinions, for collaborations, basically for anything they don’t know but want or need to know.

They’re smart enough to realize their own limitations and to leverage other people to overcome those.

For the WP Summit I wanted the best speakers. The event should deliver first-class insights on WordPress and online business, from world-leading speakers only.

My wishlist for speakers featured the big names I listed above, and I had to reach out to those and get them to speak at the summit.

And in fact, just by reaching out to them I convinced most speakers.

Here’s the Twitter conversation I had with Heather Brunner, the CEO of WP Engine:

Reach out to get results

I sent the following email to WP Engine:

Results come from reaching out

A marketing representative replied to that email and we took it from there, arranging the speaking gig of Jason Cohen as opening speaker!

This is the basic model I also used to get in touch with Oli Gardner from Unbounce and Rand Fishkin from Moz.

Lesson 3: Work Hard And Stay Humble

Leaders have to be in the front row with everything they do, working hard and truly leading their followers.

During the interviews with all the amazing speakers I saw the same information about working hard and staying humble coming up over and over again.

Leadership is not about the leader, it’s about serving those who follow. Business is not about the business, but about the audience and target market. A website is not about the website owner, but about the visitors.

Working hard (and smart) is mandatory for being successful, because there always will be people working when you’re taking days off.

Staying humble also is crucial, because you want to serve your followers and be likable.

Leaders who constantly brag about themselves will quickly lose authority. You won’t hear a single speaker bragging about their accomplishments during the WP Summit.

A good example for the importance of focusing on your audience is this short preview of the interview with business coach Ryan Magdziarz from Australia:

Conclusion: Leadership Is Earned

I didn’t see myself a leader, and I still struggle to wrap my head around this term. I see myself as a passionate guy who tries to help entrepreneurs get the most out of WordPress.

Yet, by organizing the WP Summit, I’m perceived as leader and authoritative person in the field of WordPress. I try not to take that too serious, but to stay focused on what I’m doing.

The WP Summit is free. You can watch all interviews for free for 48 hours after they’re released. It could have been just 24 hours, but I want to make sure that people all around the world can see the interviews for free at their convenience.

For those who are really passionate about taking their WordPress site and business to the next level, there’s the All Access Pass – giving lifetime access to all interviews and some bonuses.

The WP Summit is meant to educate WordPress users and online entrepreneurs, and deliver massive value in the form of free expert-interviews.

And organizing this event has earned me reputation and a leadership-position, which I need to get used to now.

I highly recommend to check out the free WP Summit if you want to learn about:

  • WordPress fundamentals and hosting
  • Bootstrapping great looking WordPress sites
  • Optimizing your online business strategy
  • Building highly converting sales funnels
  • Optimizing your copy and conversions
  • Building a raving audience on social media
  • Protecting your WordPress against data-loss and hackers

You can get free access to all 28 expert-interviews here: http://thewpsummit.com

This is a guest post by Jan Koch. Jan blogs about building online businesses and getting the most out of WordPress when you’re not a geek. He is also the host of the WP Summit 2015.

If you’re interested in sharing on JMLalonde.com, you can find the guidelines at An Invitation To Guest Post.

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

  • Wow! Great post. Thanks for pulling back the curtain and letting us see what it was like running the show! I was most surprised by lesson 2 – and I’m curious… did anyone turn down your invite? How many influencers did you invite? And how did you feel throughout? I mean… seems pretty gutsy requesting c-level people off the bat!

    • Hey Ed,
      sorry for the late reply!
      Only a hand-full of people turned down my invite to speak. Most of them were traveling to that time, and couldn’t make the time to record an interview.

      I’m sure that with more planning and not asking them only a few weeks before the launch they would have joined the summit 🙂

  • Terribly visitor-unfiendly site. So many ads which even adblock does not help with, and then throwing popups at me. That’s disgusting. Sorry Jan, but I can’t read the post here.

    • I’m sorry you’re having trouble with my site Lik. There shouldn’t be a lot of ads, only in the sidebar. There should also only be one popup asking you to subscribe to the site. Are you seeing other ads?

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