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Blog We Drove 3,562 People to Our First Virtual Event: Here’s How We Did It & What We Learned

We didn’t plan to host a 2-day virtual event.

After pivoting back at the end of March, in less than a month, we had 3,562 people join for our first-ever Data Storytelling Summit. 

The momentum from this event and the lessons we learned (thanks to the data) led to other great things:

  • We launched Data Stories Deep Dive videocast series
  • We doubled down on paid digital where it was working
  • We created a people-driven LinkedIn posts strategy
  • And we held ANOTHER virtual event in July

… resulting in more quality leads by June of 2020 than in all of 2019.


So, how can you do that same thing?

In this blog, I’m not going to touch on everything listed above that we used to 5x our leads (maybe that’s a blog to come later), but I will cover the moment that started it all: The Data Storytelling Summit.

You’ll learn how to implement a “lightning strike moment” at your own virtual summit, how to quickly uncover the tactics that work to drive registrations, and how to zig when everyone else zags.

I’ve broken it into a few sections so feel free to jump ahead:

Planning Your Event: Choosing Your Theme, Finding the Right Speakers, & Making Your Event Unique

Measuring Success: How We Quickly Uncovered What Was Working and Thought About Metrics

What We Learned & Where We Doubled Down


Planning Your Event: Choosing Your Theme, Finding the Right Speakers, & Making Your Event Unique

Know Your Audience 

Large registration numbers are pointless if the people attending aren’t the right people. You want to make sure you attract your buyer.

I recommend having the event brand, theme, and sessions at your event all tie back to a central theme that solves a problem for your buyer. 

Here’s an example… 

Narrative Science audience: Analytics leaders 

Problem we help with: Improving data adoption

So, we built an event to help them tell the story around their data to prove value to their stakeholders and ultimately drive adoption. Every session and all of our speakers tied back to this.

Not sure how to define your audience? 

Check out “The Five Things Every Marketer Should Know About Category Design with Dave Peterson”

Pick a Clear Name 

If your buyer were to skim past a Linkedin post about your event and just read the name, would they instantly know it was for them? Don’t make your name too abstract — people don’t have the attention span to investigate whether or not it’s valuable to them.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

Maybe you sell to Plumbers. Your event can be either “The Plumbing Summit” or “Tapped In 2020” 

Okay, these aren’t super creative examples but my point is clear. The latter may be a bit more fun but the former is better for growing registrations because it has the word “plumbing” actually in it. 

Ask the Right Speakers

When I comes to building a list of people you’d like to present, break it down into two groups:

  1. Thought leaders with an audience – These are people that speak to the theme of your event and have an audience of their own. 
  2. Your buyers – This allows you to create a relationship with your buyer in a way that isn’t directly tied to your product or sales. This idea comes from James Carbary’s book, Content-Based Networking.

Since our event was free, we did not ask our presenters to pay for speaking slots. Instead, we used tracking URLs and shared the leads with them that they helped generate (which we explicitly called out in our event registration form; GDPR is important!)

* If you have more tactical questions about speaker relationships and negotiations, I highly recommend you check out Drift’s blog here. 

Be Different & Make It Fun

There is soooo much competition right now with virtual events. Ask yourself, “How can we zig when everyone else zags?” 

At our event we did the following:

  • Give your event a unique brand that ties to your brand guidelines but stands alone on its own. With the help of our design/website agency, Maark, we created visuals that showcased the fun side of our brand and data storytelling. Cue flying books!

  • We curated “virtual” swag bags with content like the Narrative Science Coloring Book, a Spotify Playlist, and educational resources from our speakers
  • We had fun breaks like a magic show, mindfulness meditation, and cocktail class to break things up
  • We played fun music as people joined and used icebreaker questions to get our attendees engaged with us before we started each session. 

These are just a few ideas on how to make sure your virtual event feels like an actual event and not just another webinar (because Zoom fatigue is a real thing). 

Measuring Success: How We Quickly Uncovered What Was Working and Thought About Metrics

What Metrics We Monitored

When we first launched the Data Storytelling Summit, we began to look at registration growth (WoW), where they came from, and if we were on track to hit our goal of 1000 guests. 

Spoiler alert: we surpassed that goal 3x. 

Here’s what we tracked & how we did it: 

Using our UTM structure, we are able to track back all of our registrations to their most recent campaign, source, and medium. (Not familiar with UTM’s? Read this article). 

We used both Marketo and Drift to collect our registrations and create attributes in Marketo that tie to both original UTMs and most recent UTMs. 

For reporting, we plug data from tools like Marketo, Google Analytics, and Salesforce into Lexio.  (Without Lexio, this blog would be filled with excel sheet screenshots and steps on how I cleaned up the data and reported out on it each week. So, thank god for Lexio!)

Lexio takes that data and turns it into actionable stories (like Sparknotes or news articles about your business). It writes about all kinds of business data. 

Long story short, Lexio does the data analysis work for me so I don’t have to get slowed down  by the mess that is exporting .csvs from all of the marketing tools (raise your hand if you hate exporting and cleaning Marketo .csvs ?‍♀️)

Here’s how I used it each week to monitor our event registrations and reported to our team on how things were going: 

Step 1: I’d open a “This Week” leads story that showcases Marketo data in real-time. 

Step 2: From here, I’d filter down to only include the forms tied to this virtual summit campaign (e.g. Marketo, Drift, paid-digital lead generation forms).

This generates a story that tells me how many registrations we’ve generated this week. I can compare this to where I’d like our number to be during this point in our campaign so I know if we are on track to hit our goal.

If we were ever off track, we would brainstorm in Slack how our team could boost the numbers that week (Ideas like: our CMO tags our speakers on Linkedin posting about the event to leverage their reach, we send another email and/or LinkedIn message to our target accounts, we tap our AEs and CSM team to send our personal invites). Be scrappy! 

Pro Tip: Once you create your filtered Lexio story, you can bookmark it to reference each week.

Step 3: Over in the explore section of your new Lexio story, I then explore by “UTM Medium”. This tells me what tactics were our top performers aka the things I want to do more of. 

It also let’s me know if anything needs my attention:

  • Are we spending too much time on Linkedin direct message outreach if nobody registers from that? 
  • Should most of our ad budget go to Facebook or Linkedin?
  • Are the speakers sharing? Do I need to nudge them again?

In the example story below (this data is fake), you can see that “partner”, “social”, and “paid” are the leading tactics for registrations. 

Using this information, I could go a bit deeper into: 

  • What ad-platform has led to the most leads? By clicking on “Paid”, adding it as a filter, and then exploring by “Source” I uncovered where we could allocate more budget. In the fake example below, that would be Linkedin Lead Gen ads over Facebook. 

This tells me our Facebook audience might need to be more refined and it also tells me that we might want to spend a bit more money on Linkedin. 

Before I make that decision though, I’d want to look at the lead quality and check the cost-per-lead for each campaign. 

(Shoutout to our ad agency Refine Labs for teaching me how to know if ad groups are good and what a good CPL looks like.)

  • What partners have led to the most registrations? By filtering by Partner and exploring by “Source”,  I’ll see who is our best partner. This tells me who we should partner with again in the future and if also I need to nudge a few of them to post about the event because they didn’t yet.
  • What social channels are our best performers? Do we need to reevaluate how we post on each channel? Cadence? 

I can also change the Lexio story time frame to “This Month” or “This Quarter” to see our best performing tactics throughout our entire campaign.

Step 4: All of my stories above are bookmarkable. So, I was able to share them with our team who could long in and do their own investigations as well. No more read outs via email!

What We Learned & Where We Doubled Down

Use Your People

Company Linkedin pages are dead. Instead, posting as an actual person gets more reach. We found that we were able to drive a large share of registrations by leveraging our people to post on their own social channels. 

We recruited people to join our Slack channel from all across the organization (not just marketing and sales), a calendar assigning dates to post, and whenever someone posted about the event they would share the link to their post in the Slack channel so the entire group could give it a boost with comments and likes. 

Not only do we plan to continue this group sharing strategy for events, but we’ve implemented it as an essential tactic for all our content marketing efforts. 

Paid Digital 

By using Lexio, we uncovered that Facebook Lead Gen ads (Shoutout again to Refine!!) were absolutely killing it. 

So, we decided to allocate more budget to them over the course of our event and read ads directly on our event streaming page so people would jump in despite not being pre-registered. As a result, we generated over 800 new leads in 2 days. 

Speakers / Partners 

By looking at each session attendees by speaker, we were able to prioritize what sessions we chop up and use to create additional content (More people? More opportunities.)

We also looked at how much traffic each speaker drove to the event and used this as a data point to invite speakers back to be a part of our Data Stories Deep Dive Video series. 

Final Thoughts

I hope that you found this valuable and can take a more tactical approach to your next virtual event. 

The great thing about marketing is that it also involves science. If you know your goal, you can look at whether or not you’re on track, why that is the case, and use that data story to inform how to improve every campaign moving forward.


You can see more examples of marketing data stories in Lexio here.

Have a question about hosting your own virtual event? Shoot me a note on Linkedin. 

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