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I had the pleasure of being Master of Ceremonies at the Western Sponsorship Congress on November 23 & 24th. MCing is delightful – it really is heaps of fun helping delegates at an event relax, connect, and engage with the program and with each other. It also positions me to meet the interesting, smart people attending and participating in the event.
But MCing the WSC had an additional advantage – I was able to sit in on some outstanding sessions with great takeaways about the sponsorship side of corporate partnerships and communication.
Even though the context was corporate sponsorship, the ideas that many speakers touched on reflect principles of communication and speaking that apply across different industries. I’m keen to share them with you. Here were my top takeaways from the Western Sponsorship Congress:
Honesty, integrity, and authenticity can (and should) be achieved in communication even when pursuing personal or business advancement goals.
Just because you are connecting with someone in order to achieve a goal like brand recognition, better sales, or some form of personal gain doesn’t mean that the communication and connection can’t be real and full of integrity. Many of us are deeply cynical consumers – if a person or business might gain from interacting with us, there’s a knee-jerk reaction that assumes their message or efforts are somehow phony.
This is a win-lose mentality, one where we see everyone as being out to get us. But it’s a mentality that is fostered in a culture where every second bit of information is an advertisement and two thirds of your social media feed features someone presenting a dishonestly polished version of their life. This breeds cynicism in communication, and it’s up to the communicator to overcome that.
While the corporate presenters at the WSC were very up front that their sponsorship campaigns were done with an eye on the ROI, they focused even more attention on the other reasons for their sponsorship activities – creating a positive corporate culture, engaging their employees in meaningful and restorative activities, making a real difference to a group of people or a cause or a social good. Showing their heart and putting those messages out to the public help them rally attention to the causes they sponsor and, of course, gives their brand a positive image at the same time. This is win-win. Authentic communication (showing your sense of humour, highlighting the people behind your business, sharing the causes you support and the actual impact your support had) helps you get across the heart of your message. Integrity allows you to be up front and objective of the economic gains you or your business will make from the interaction. These two things together create an atmosphere of honesty that drastically helps overcome any cynicism in the person you are communicating with.
The people, associations, organizations, and causes you align with communicate something about your own values and beliefs. Choose carefully and don’t align with things that contradict what you do or stand for.
This is very much related to the point above, but it’s more cautionary. When you decide to chum around with someone, or toe a certain party line, or support a certain cause, it needs to be in alignment with what you do and who you are. If there is a disconnect, people will pick up on it. Sometimes they might just shrug and say ‘you do what you gotta do.’ Sometimes the disconnect can be compartmentalized, isolated, and explained or justified – lawyers have to do this a lot. But sometimes the disconnect is just too glaring to be ignored. When this happens, your authenticity, honesty, and integrity will be questioned and cynicism about your motivations will be fostered. For an outstanding example of this, check out one of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s posts about some of the sponsors of a medical conference on obesity. If you pull that kind of crap, people will question everything you have to say.
It’s all about your audience.
This is a communication principal near and dear to my heart. Your audience’s interests are number one in their mind. You need to communicate about the things they care about. If you are trying to persuade someone to take action, don’t tell them how much you’ll benefit from their participation in your business or your cause. Instead, tell them what they’ll get out of it. How they’ll gain, how they’ll feel, what they’ll experience. Weave yourself into your audience’s story, and describe the outcomes they can expect. Yes, it’s important to show your heart and soul, to let people know why you feel a certain way or believe in a certain thing, but once you give them a glimpse of you, you need to turn the attention on to them. That’s where connection really happens – when we see a bit of ourselves in what a person is saying.
There was more covered during the congress, for sure, and I covered many pages with notes. But these are the things that came up again and again in multiple presentations. I may not be a part of the sponsorship industry, but I still learned a lot from it and am glad to share some of it with you. And it goes to show that every group, industry, event, or situation can contain lessons about how we communicate and connect with one another.