Your conference is your organization’s asset. Through it, you’re not only creating an experience for members and registrants but also providing the critical expertise that your members want. Therefore, your ability to curate and bring together speakers and content of the highest quality is what will drive value for attendees.
If a sponsor is paying to be a speaker, the sponsor’s focus is rightfully on the company’s goals, not on your organization’s goals.
If your attendees know that the speaker paid to be there, they may be inclined to avoid that session or disregard it, suspecting that the speaker’s content may be inferior because he/she paid to be there.
If the individual is not a good speaker, or discusses a topic you agreed he or she would avoid, or launches into a sales pitch right there on your main stage, or unknowingly commits a gaffe, imagine how uncomfortable that sponsor discussion will be.
When I sold sponsorship for some of the country’s best-known music festivals, our policy was that sponsors did not have the right to make talent-booking demands. We would listen, share suggestions with the producer, but never make promises.
Our business was producing festivals, and our producers knew who would draw the best audiences. Festival programming was not our sponsors’ business, just like banking or automotive manufacturing or telecommunications — the sectors of our sponsors — was not ours. Giving sponsors influence over talent buying decisions that could negatively impact the quality of our events and thus our ability to attract ticket buyers.
I suggest you adopt the same policy for the talent of your conferences, meetings, and events.