How Do I Engage My Sponsors in an Online Event?

Making the switch from offline to online events should not mean that you have to compromise or lose out on valuable sponsorships.

So, you've had to move your in-person event online.

One big thing you were psyched about, and are now worried about, is Sponsors and Exhibitors . You've worked so hard to get them onboard - built your network, offered incentives for attendees and sponsors alike, prepared the booths. Sure, an online event could offer similar, or even higher, value to your attendees and speakers, but when it comes to sponsors, most event organizers are used to offering sponsors/ exhibitors the chance to market their services during traditional offline conferences.

Just because you're used to offline engagement between sponsors/ exhibitors and attendees doesn't mean that the pivot to a virtual iteration will be difficult. We're going to walk you through some options to show you that moving your event online doesn't mean you have to compromise on both the quality you're bringing to your attendees and the level of sponsor engagement you can achieve.

Check out our handy Knowledge Base for tips and tricks guaranteed to make your summit experience as smooth as can be - like this one on sponsors! Got any other great ideas on how to enhance the experience for your sponsors and attendees? Sound off in the comments!

Conference booths: not the be all and end all

If you're used to setting up in-person events, you're probably familiar with the sight of sponsors/ exhibitors staffing booths at your event. There is usually a lot of attendee movement throughout an all-day conference, and they visit these booths to find out more information about your sponsors. This gives the opportunity for sponsors/ exhibitors  to engage in direct conversations with attendees, providing them with direct access to a core custom cohort. Yes, virtual booths exist - tools such as VFairs mimic the 'trade show' environment quite closely. So if that works best for you, and your attendees and sponsors/ exhibitors  are expecting to find the equivalent of a booth at your online event, go for it! 💪

However, we work closely with event organizers who have employed another model for their virtual events.

The Content First Approach helps ease event organizers' concerns in two major areas in the transition from in-person to virtual:

  • Hoping that attendees 'e-visit' the sponsor/ exhibitor booth as and when they please is leaving a lot up to chance. There's less of a draw for attendees who are free to use their time between sessions to play with their dog, grab a bite to eat, or catch up on the news. This unstructured approach can waste a lot of time for sponsors/ exhibitors  and vendors.
  • Attendees and sponsors/ exhibitors  will be matched up in terms of interest. If you think about it, in terms of attendee mechanics, attendees at physical conferences often take a whole day out to attend the event, and potentially only visit sponsor/ exhibitor booths to 'fill' time between talks. This is a great strategy - attendees have a whole day's worth of time and after all, it's the promotion and sales aspect of booths that sponsors/ exhibitors  love to capitalize on. This might not translate as well into a virtual format because, well, it's the internet. They're at home - they can fill time between talks doing other things like eating, catching up on their emails, reading the news etc. So the 'pull' of the booth is just not fully there. The mechanics are totally different - for every virtual event your attendee participates in, they're actively taking time out of their day to attend it, so they are going to be prioritizing talks over booths.

How do I encourage engagement with sponsors/ exhibitors through a virtual summit?

Successful event organizers choose to think more strategically about making sure that sponsors/ exhibitors  and exhibitors can leverage the benefits a virtual summit can offer. Sponsors/ exhibitors  rarely get an allocated time slot to present anything, but with virtual summits, you're able to offer sponsors/ exhibitors time slots for their own talk, or even bring them together for a panel discussion.

It's not about trying to replicate the exhibitor booth. It's looking at leveraging the fact that we have these both live and asynchronous types of relationships. The first suggestion we have is that you, as an event organizer, think about your sponsors, think about your exhibitors, and come up with a couple of panel discussions that really speak to your exhibitors or your speakers. For example, if you have a number of sponsors/ exhibitors interested in, or are themselves medical device companies, why not create a panel discussion centered around the latest trends in medical devices, and have interested attendees sign up to attend?

Another option is to have sponsors/ exhibitors host their own talks. Have your sponsor or exhibitor create a talk that will provide great value to your attendees. If they can't commit to a live talk, they have the option of pre-recording it, or even using a talk or presentation they've held in the past. By adding it to your summit, attendees can discover these sponsors and exhibitors - and you've done a great job at providing them with a large platform and a whole new audience.

A third option is to use virtual networking. This encourages a reciprocal interaction between sponsors/ exhibitors and attendees. You can schedule in specific times where attendees, speakers and sponsors/ exhibitors will be networking, and set limits for how long each networking session should last. You could do this once a day at lunchtime, or even after every talk - you're in control. The HeySummit platform allows for tons of flexibility on this - for example, you can use the networking abilities within Zoom Webinar (breakout rooms),, or Hopin.

If you're worried about losing the level of engagement you'd normally get from a face-to-face networking session, there are several things you can do, for example:

  • Soliciting questions from attendees prior to a live panel discussion
  • Enabling comments on the talk page
  • Having sponsors/ exhibitors enter the chatroom (via HeySummit or Disqus) of a pre-recorded talk to answer live questions

Another possibility is working with a tool like Vectera, which, in general terms, is similar to a hybrid of Zoom and Calendly. It has a calendar for booking slots and a video room. It's an easy tool to use - you get your sponsors/ exhibitors to fill in their information and availability so that attendees can book a slot to talk to them, with you having oversight of everything.

Furthermore, you could use any of the options above in tandem with traditional marketing of sponsors. Just because the physical event is not happening, does not mean the marketing aspect of your summit has to change radically. For example, the use of mailshots and giveaways. Everyone loves a freebie, so why not work with your sponsors/ exhibitors to send all participants (attendees and speakers) T-shirts?

Make the switch - with confidence

Ultimately, making the switch from offline to online events should not mean that you have to compromise or lose out on valuable sponsorships. Sponsors/ exhibitors add value to virtual summits, not only through providing the resources to get your event up and running but also with their presence and endorsement, which can lend a great deal of credibility and attract attendees you would have not reached otherwise. At the same time, a virtual summit provides sponsors/ exhibitors  with a unique platform and a global audience to market their goods and services to.

Ready to take the next step towards building an awesome virtual summit - sponsors and exhibitors included? Start your free trial with HeySummit today!

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