While most meeting planners are concerned about the limitations of interaction and networking in the virtual-meeting environment, there are actually several opportunities for connection that are unlikely to happen at in-person events. What’s more, these opportunities can be paid for by sponsors who also get to engage with attendees.
During an online panel session coordinated in late August by Meeting Professionals International, Nancy Hays, president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers; Sharon Fisher, CEO of engagement company Play with a Purpose; and Brudis Lamar III, director of sales for e-180, a collaborative-learning consultancy, discussed the benefits and challenges of three online sponsorship ideas.
First, Hays detailed how professional musicians, actors, authors, and other entertainers are not only more accessible and affordable in the virtual environment but can also have personal interaction with many more attendees than they could in person. For instance, a virtual session can start with a moderator-led Q&A with the entertainer, followed by a performance or storytelling session, and concluding with an open Q&A that allows all attendees a bit of one-on-one interaction. Hays’ most important piece of advice: “Make sure the performer you choose is able to engage easily in conversation and is somewhat quick on their feet” or the session could feel distant, awkward, and disappointing to attendees.
Next, Fisher spoke on matching the right tech platform to the specific interaction goals for the virtual session. For instance, “do you want attendees talking mostly to the chef” who’s leading a virtual cooking lesson you’ve organized “or do you want them conversing more with each other” as they watch, she asks. “Plan out your objectives before you choose the product you’ll use.” With the goals and costs better understood, planners can then properly price a sponsorship opportunity for the event as well as the degree of interaction the sponsor is permitted to have with attendees or the session leader during the event. “These are more customized offerings than what you find in typical gold, silver, and bronze sponsor packages,” Fisher noted. So, if the sponsor can reach their most desired audience in the right way then “they’ll be willing to pay for that interaction even if it is with only a small number of attendees.”
Another tip from Fisher: The chef, entertainer, or even the sponsor might benefit from a coaching session with a communication expert to help them with virtual interaction. For such an investment (that’s perhaps paid for by the sponsor), the result could be a better experience for participants that not only gets them to maintain contact with the sponsor but also persuades them to attend more virtual sessions.
Lastly, Lamar suggested that planners use tech tools that allow participants to tailor their interaction to the style they prefer. Further, offering networking opportunities based on mutual interests rather than job titles and then analyzing the resulting conversations allows event hosts to develop future session content and formats that are desirable to potential attendees and sponsors alike.
Titled “Future Forward: Trust & Transparency,” MPI’s half-day online program had the panel discussion on virtual engagement follow a presentation from Dr. Yoram Solomon, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University and author of The Book of Trust. His topic: Giving and receiving feedback in ways that build trust. And after the panel discussion, Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Capehart spoke on how to foster important conversations to create a more productive workplace. All three segments will be available on demand at MPIweb.org as of September 1.