The 5 Misconceptions of Sponsoring a Virtual Conference

Natividad J. Carlson
6 min readDec 15, 2020


Can virtual conferences compete with the in-person experience?

Sometimes it seems that everyone is struggling to pivot to remote: school teachers grappling with remote learning, social workers trying to decode remote therapy, and even comedians scuffling to kill it on the virtual stage. Conference sponsors are no different, and most are still in shock; they’ve not had the chance to catch their breath and figure out the role they should play in virtual conferences.

Well, there’s good news: there are many silver linings when it comes to virtual conference sponsorship. Maybe even some benefits when compared with sponsoring in-person events. At least that’s what we’re finding at Rosenfeld Media as we virtualize our three annual conferences. We feel that many of sponsors’ biggest worries are really just the kind of misconceptions that come from something new. So let’s demystify virtual conferences and dig into some of the biggest misconceptions below.

Misconception #1: People don’t attend virtual conferences.

…which explains why there are so many of them out there.

Since lockdown, there certainly has been an explosion of virtual conferences. Not surprising, as the barrier to entry is lower.

But while there is more competition, potential audience size is dramatically larger: virtual means better accessibility, global reach, and lower cost due to reduced ticket prices and no travel expenses. We’re starting to see more attendees from smaller markets, both inside the US and outside, register to attend our conferences than in our in-person days.

Misconception #2: There’s no way a virtual conference experience can be as enjoyable as in-person.

Well, any time you can eliminate crowded flights and hotel coffee from the conference experience, that’s massive addition by subtraction!

That said, virtual and in-person conferences are similar, but not the same; each has its pros and cons. And we’re seeing some amazing benefits to virtual that just don’t happen with in-person events, like:

A flattened hierarchy: Many attendees tell us that they feel much more comfortable talking with speakers, sponsors, and other attendees in the chat rooms we provide. Introverts and less-experienced professionals are especially emboldened to engage.

Creating new ways to network and learn: As people become more comfortable with the remote learning tech stack, we’re finding new ways to connect them. We’ll be using those technologies to enable small groups of attendees or who share common interests or backgrounds to remotely prepare for and attend our conferences together. With the aid of a facilitator, they’ll be introduced, establish their common goals, chat during the conference, and reconvene at its conclusion to review what they’ve learned and decide if they want to continue learning together.

And let’s not forget how our polka-dotted PJs and the pets and kids that hover in the background of our Zoom windows humanize our conference experiences.

Misconception #3: Without a physical presence, sponsors can’t meet and network with attendees.

We work with our sponsors to create innovative programs of sponsor activities that take place during breaks and at the end of each day, so they don’t compete with the main program. These activities range from breakout sessions showcasing the sponsor’s thought leadership to fun stuff, like trivia contests, and feature sponsor staff who are often already respected in our profession. We also promote these activities beyond paid attendees to our broader and highly qualified communities, who can attend free of charge.

Sponsors can also facilitate our cohorts. For example, a sponsor from fintech that is looking to recruit new team members would do well to facilitate a small group of attendees who are all professionals working in fintech.

We’re also finding other great ways to get sponsors to engage with attendees, like enabling frictionless 1–1 appointments and prominently showcasing sponsor activities and sponsor staff on our website. And, of course, sponsors not only still receive attendee lists, just as they do at in-person events, but can readily invite attendees in advance to sign up for activities and engage with content, like white papers and job openings, linked from the sponsor’s unique conference landing page.

Misconception #4: Without a physical presence, sponsors can’t showcase their products.

In an era where digital products dominate, virtual conferences-by dint of larger qualified audiences-are the ideal platform for product promotion. We’ve used a digital swag bag for years, and attendees love the Tinder-style swiping to opt in for deals on trial licenses, white papers, and the other digital goodies our sponsors offer. Sponsors quickly receive attendee information, making for fast follow ups. And virtual kiosks, booths, and breakout sessions offer other great opportunities to showcase products and the people who stand behind them.

Misconception #5: Without a physical presence, it’s impossible to determine an ROI for sponsorship.

Whatever a sponsor’s goals are-whether recruiting or selling-qualified leads are the name of the game. Virtual events give sponsors more specialized opportunities to interact with attendees in natural, engaging ways that may compare favorably with interacting at conventional booths. Each opportunity-whether leading a panel, critiquing a design, or facilitating a specialized cohort-enables sponsors and attendees to engage and get to know each other over a shared interest. And each opportunity generates its own attendee information that can help sponsors calculate ROI, such as numbers of visitors, repeat visitors, duration and, most important, contact information.

Most people don’t know that pivot is really Latin for “pain in the ass,” and let’s not sugar-coat it: rapid changes to conferences-whether you’re a producer, speaker, attendee, or sponsor-isn’t simple. But the pivot opens up many, many opportunities, especially for conference sponsors to establish more and better new relationships and to reinforce the old What are your biggest challenges when it comes to sponsoring virtual conferences-and how have you tackled them?



Natividad J. Carlson