From Advertising Week Europe to Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Mobile World Congress to Google I/O, many of the marketing and technology industry’s biggest conferences have either been postponed, cancelled or are looking distinctly uncertain as countries and cities move to clamp down on the spread of coronavirus.

Some, like the massive SXSW festival held in Austin, Texas, had been reassuring attendees that the programming would be going ahead as planned until their hands were forced by cities banning gatherings of several hundred people; others have reacted to the increasing unease and withdrawals from both attendees and sponsors by proactively postponing or cancelling their events.

However, a number of events have found a way to continue with their programming while still preventing the undue spread of coronavirus: they’re going virtual. Events like Google’s Cloud Next in April, Adobe Summit in late March, and tech conference Collision in June have announced that attendees will be able to join from home as they shift talks, panels and discussions to streaming platforms and apps. Some new events have also sprung up, like Virtual Commerce, an online alternative to the retail-focused ShopTalk conference in March.

But with conference-going a staple of many marketers’ calendars, providing a chance to learn, network and socialise with industry experts and peers, how will the virtual conferencing experience compare? How can event organisers replicate the experience of attending conferences as closely as possible using digital tools, and prepare for the inevitable infrastructure demands as attendees log on to streams and apps? Might there even be some advantages to as digital event? And will we see a long-term impact on how conferences are carried out in the industry?

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