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Have you ever visited an exhibitor booth at a virtual trade show and found it kind of lame?

Was it just a link to the exhibitor’s website? Did it leave a bad impression?

Virtual events are a new terrain everyone has had to suddenly figure out, so it’s understandable there will be a few missteps along the way. 

But a basic link just isn’t going to cut it. Attendees want more, sponsors want more, and event organizers want more.

If you are producing a virtual event for your organization, it’s important to be there for your sponsors and exhibitors. Virtual events are a completely different medium for exhibitors who are used to working at in-person trade shows — striking up a conversation on a conference floor is a lot different from inviting an attendee to visit a virtual booth. 

In our recent workshop, “10 steps to make your virtual event worth watching,” speaker and expert event producer J. Damany Daniel told organization leaders they shouldn’t leave exhibitors and sponsors on their own to figure out how to create an effective and engaging experience for attendees. Instead, they should offer guides and help on how to make it happen. 

“Work with your team to create a one- or two-sheet that says ‘best practices to make your booth dope’ — or whatever language you use — and then give them actionable things they can do, with pictures,” Daniel said. 

“Level the playing field for them. Because right now, what you’re doing is giving them a blank sheet of paper and telling them to figure it out. And it’s not fair to them.”

Enable creative sponsor experiences 

Exhibitor experiences in virtual events don’t have to be boring. In fact, virtual events can actually facilitate opportunities to make sponsor and vendor experiences better than ever. Stop trying to translate a live event to the virtual world, and instead embrace the new environment. Take advantage of the unique abilities you have in this space! 

Virtual sponsorship packages allow tons of room for creativity and value. 

How you can involve sponsors in virtual events: 

  • Branded waiting rooms and breakout rooms
  • Sponsored entertainment sessions
  • Swag bags and work-from-home survival kits
  • Commercials before 
  • Sponsor logos and banner ads
  • Sponsor branding on registration pages

If you integrate gamification into your event (we recommend you do!), there are a plethora of ways to involve sponsors and exhibitors into these experiences. For example, awarding points to attendees for interacting with sponsors and exhibitors is a great way to encourage engagement and interactions. 

Another idea is creating an exhibitor passport, in which attendees receive a stampable digital passport that is marked by each exhibitor booth they visit. From sponsored trivia to bingo to raffles, you can gamify several aspects of your virtual event to build audience engagement and facilitate an excellent sponsor experience. 

MORE: How to land sponsorships for your virtual event

How to prep sponsors for your virtual event

Educate sponsors on the event platform. 

Some virtual event platforms have amazing features for generating engagement and enjoyment. Your exhibitors and sponsors need to know what’s available to them. Better yet, you should have already crafted different sponsorship packages based around your program’s capabilities. If you are offering virtual booths, let exhibitors know exactly what they can add or edit on your platform.

Offer sponsors and exhibitors a platform demo.

Logging into a new technology platform on the day of an event can make you feel as exposed and vulnerable as leaving the house without pants on. Trust us, no one wants that, so don’t put your partners through that experience — especially if they are financially contributing to your event! Prior to the event, host a live demo walking them through your event platform, what it can do, how it works, and everything they’ll need to do for the big day. 

Prep your sponsors the right way.

Create a resource for sponsors and exhibitors with ideas, how-to’s, and pictures for best  practices in setting up their virtual booth. Give this to every exhibitor who will be setting up shop at your virtual event. 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Detailed insights on the target audience that will be at your event
  • How-to walkthrough on designing their virtual booth, like using high-quality images, clear branding, and understanding the features of your platform
  • Tips for creating booth content ahead of time with details on audience interests and demographics
  • Tips on engaging with attendees, such as encouraging sponsors to attend and participate in sessions and networking breakout rooms
  • Recommendations on testing and experiencing their virtual booth before showtime, with common mistakes to look out for, like typos, too-small text, broken links, and other inhibitors to the user experience

Help sponsors get the most value from your event

Successful events depend on partnerships and great sponsors to pull off. By providing a valuable sponsor experience, you’ll keep them coming back every year while helping them achieve a solid return on their investment. 

How to drive value for your sponsors

  1. Promote your sponsors and exhibitors to increase their brand awareness from before the event starts until after it ends. This can be on social media, on your event website, in promotional emails — anywhere!
  2. Facilitate one-on-one meetings with attendees. Make sure this capability exists on your event platform, and create quizzes and surveys to help match sponsors with qualified leads. 
  3. Build dedicated time for meeting and engaging with exhibitors into your virtual event agenda. 
  4. Don’t pull down exhibitor site pages immediately after the event. By leaving these open, exhibitors and sponsors can continue to drive traffic from your event after the event.
Emily Herrington
Post by Emily Herrington
April 25, 2021
Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.