Sponsors: how to keep them happy, without pissing off your participants

25 mei 2018
Categorieën: Art and value of moderation
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We do understand why we need sponsors, right? Without them, many conferences would not exist. At the same time, we know why participants hate the sponsored parts of meetings … right? The struggle is, how to make this arranged marriage a happy one. Based on our experience, we have some suggestions.

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Arranged marriages will be more successful, if someone really puts in an effort in the matchmaking. As a meeting owner, you maybe should not take all sponsors you can get (and yes I now, that’s hard … but be brave). Only go for the ones that really fit the content and that really bring value to your participants. It will make all parties involved happier.

Think as a participant
Make sure that your sponsors truly understand what your participants need and let them present from that point of view. It will benefit both delegate and sponsor. That means actually scanning their presentation and format, and discuss them.
After all, being a sponsor gives you the right to be on stage; not to put the participants asleep! Even though they pay, it is okay to be strict with your sponsors.

Design & interact

We should look for sponsored concepts that are ‘participant-centric’: find formats that will bring the delegates added value. Instead of having a sponsor present, have them interact with the participants and find their common interest. If a potential sponsor doesn’t want that … find another sponsor!

Some potential participant-centric sponsor formats are ( and some may be combined):
Question based presentation: a sponsor gets on stage, but doesn’t present. He/she will only answer questions from the audience. The effect: an on-demand engagement, rather then a forced one.

Case-study: crowdsource real day-2-day problems from the room. Instead of a sponsor then selling his product, he will use his expertise to help these participants to solve these real-life problems. The effect: Participants get valuable help; sponsors get to proove the effect of their offering.

Buzzword bingo: determine a few things a sponsor can’t say (for instance: ‘our product …’). If all boxes are ticked, there’s a penalty (should be a funny one, though).

Quick tour: all sponsors have a booth. Do a carrousel, where all participants in smaller groups get a 1 minute presentation at each booth. Later on, they can visit the booth again to ask in-depth questions. The effect: participants will consciously choose the sponsors of interest; sponsors only talk to hot prospects.

Planned networking: determine timeslots where people get to talk to sponsors for a few minutes. People can subscribe to 1-2 sponsors in each timeslot (great in combination with the carrousel). Sponsors will not be able to talk to everyone, , but will be sure to get in touch with those genuinely interested in their product.

Sponsor hackathon: at each table, a sponsor works on a specific case-study or challenge. Participants are free to contribute to each case-study they like (in an open-space format). The effect: freedom of choice and a dynamic energy.

Panellist: sponsors get to be one of the experts on a panel, together with other speakers. This helps get them to talk about a topic rather than about their product. If they do well, people will automatically be interested in the product. The effect: the sponsor becomes a valuable part of the content and meeting design.

Sponsor-quiz: do a few rounds of a quiz-format throughout the conference. Do 3-5 questions per sponsor, who get to comment on the right answer. The winner will win something really great/useful (to be provided by the sponsors, from their product range). The effect: people will have fun, while getting the obligatory sponsor-info.

In summary: only work with sponsors and formats, that bring added value to the participants. That’s the only way all stakeholders will be satisfied.