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Photo by Rebe Adelaida on Unsplash

Dear Innovation Women,

I have a potential opportunity to speak in Italy in November for a women’s technical association conference! (This is a result of a speaking engagement last week.)

The conference is small and doesn’t have funds to cover travel and I am wondering if I can help them by getting my talk sponsored. I can think of potential companies that might want to be seen there, but have no sense of where to begin/whom to reach out to, etc. Suggestions? Thanks, Linda

Dear Linda,

We know that many conferences and events have no budget for speakers. They also expect speakers to pay for their own travel (or live nearby). When speakers work for a large company this type of arrangement may pose no great barrier – the company pays for your travel and still pays you a salary.  The company may see it as part of your job, encouraging you to travel and speak. But if you work for yourself, or work for a small firm, unpaid speaking engagements, without a travel stipend, more often than not, have to be turned down.  Or do they?

There are some organizations that sponsor speakers, pay for travel in exchange for a report about the show, social media support or even pay for you to attend on their behalf (usually “under their flag” representing them for new business purposes, etc.)  A lot of this is the type of stuff that is pitched and managed by people with pre-existing relationships. It’s harder to get in the door cold with something like this but if you are trying, I might start with sales, marketing, strategic alliances, PR or HR, or, if you have access, upper management.

The first, and most important thing is to determine whether what you want to do is an issue for the organizers.  If you slap Company X’s logo on your slides, for instance, will that be offensive to the audience or cause an issue for the organizer? I know some companies who supply slides and data for speakers to use, for the credit. Then it’s not necessary to put a logo on every slide but rarely does that expand to full-on travel sponsorship. Is the organizer selling sponsorship of your talk already?  Are the companies you are targeting companies they already approached? Do they have over-arching sponsors who will object if your talk is sponsored, potentially by a competitor? If you are putting sales literature on every seat?

An author friend regularly has speaking engagements, in fact whole speaking tours, paid for by large tech companies.  When you write about efficient management of IT resources, you may find interest from the big IT players. Lesson learned? Think big, perhaps beyond a single engagement. Our friends at the Speaker Sisterhood recently returned from a month-long tour of New England sponsored by several companies. The #SpeakUp Tour Van was covered in logos like a Formula One driver’s suit.
So, let’s get creative! What does a sponsor receive?

  • A presence at the show — I can wear their branded clothing, hand out their cards
  • Social media visibility — Company Z is sending me to Italy…to talk about IoT.  I brand my Instagram, FB, Twitter and other media with their logo for the week, or just thank them regularly. Upon return, blogging!
  • Social media assets – I’ll send back photos and video they can use
  • A scouting report – I’ll come back with an analysis of the show from a marketing and/or sales POV.  Should the sponsor attend or sponsor the show next year?  What’s the best use of their time and marketing budget?
  • Leads and sales – Maybe the exhibitors are prospective clients for the sponsor? Can I represent their interests at the show?
  • Competitive analysis – What is the competition doing at the show?
  • “Secret Shopper” services – checking up on remote teams and/or contractors.


Other Options

Think about defraying costs with in-kind sponsorship from an airline, car rental agency, or hotel. One of our Innovation Women speakers, Steph Palermo, is currently seeking sponsorship from doctors and other healthcare professionals to fund a speaking engagement to an international nurses’ conference. Since a big part of the cost for her is the travel, she’s also reaching out to airlines. Steph is a radio talk show host and author working out of Atlanta and Boston. She’s also living with a rare disease and the nursing conference is an opportunity to tell the world what it’s like.  (Interested in sponsoring Steph? We’ll put you in touch!)

Can you get another speaking engagement in the same area and get that event to pay for travel?

You may also decide that your travel to a remote speaking engagement is an important business investment. Arrange other business meetings while you are there and take advantage of every opportunity offered by the conference.

Or, conversely, maybe you can arrange to take time off, before or after the event, and call it your vacation. We’ll bet you don’t do that nearly often enough.

Keep Talking,


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