The Art of Virtualizing Live Events

April 15, 2020

From Cannes to the Tony’s, SXSW to Coachella, thousands of live events have been cancelled or postponed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of these will simply have to wait until the world goes back to normal. There’s no way to hold the Tokyo Olympics via Zoom, for example. But many conferences, trade shows and festivals are thinking outside the box, reworking their programming to bring people together in a time when connection is needed most.

Taking the framework of an in-person event and adapting it to work virtually presents unique challenges to event promoters, but it can be done.

If you’re in the experiential, conference or trade show industry and considering virtualizing your event, keep reading to see examples of who’s doing it well, and tips for pulling it off yourself.

Live Events Going Virtual & How They’re Adapting

In February, Salesforce turned its Worldtour Sydney Conference into a virtual event in just ten days. They adapted many things, including their trade show floor. “The initial live event was meant to include an expo hall so our team built a digital experience inspired by the act of browsing booths,” Leandro Perez, VP Asia Pacific, writes in a company post detailing the process of digitizing the conference. “Attendees from around the world could explore 18 virtual rooms based on Salesforce Customer 360. A company expert hosted each room, sharing demos with visitors and answering questions in real time.” 

Mirren Live – the annual conference that typically brings together a who’s who of agency new business professionals in New York – is not only transforming into a virtual event, it’s reframing its content focus in the process. “We’re repositioning the entire conference to focus on how to generate revenue during a downturn,” said Mirren founder Brent Hodgins. “The subject matter is shifting to be 100% relevant.” Instead of hosting the physical conference in midtown Manhattan, Mirren Live is splitting the programming up into several days of virtual programming, with a one day in-person conference slated for October. And there’s a silver lining. “The upside to going virtual is that more people can come,” said Hodgins. Previously, companies who sent one or two executives to keep travel expenses low, will now be in a position to purchase digital passes for whole teams.

The UnCancelled Music Festival is not a replacement of a live event, but rather a new event that organizers conceived of in the wake of live tour postponements and cancellations across the music industry, and it’s a stunning example of how event promoters are adapting using innovative streaming solutions. Writer/musician Ari Herstand put together the festival, which is airing via livestreaming company StageIT, with 25 independent venues curating streams through the platform simultaneously. Artists play 30 to 45-minute sets during the festival, which will take place on a weekly basis, with plans to stay active as long as the pandemic stalls live touring, with a portion of proceeds going to MusiCare’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. 

The Collision tech conference, originally slated to take place in May in Toronto, has moved to an online format, rebranding itself as Collision from Home. Speakers from Uber, PayPal, WhatsApp and more will take the “virtual” stage at the conference in June, which intends to pick back up its physical home in Toronto in 2021. We like the way they’re handling ticketing, with anyone who holds a 2020 ticket able to attend the livestreamed Collision from Home, as well as the in-person conference next year.

Digital Media Wire hosts the LA Games Conference, and after careful consideration, decided to split up its programming – postponing an in-person element, while introducing a three-day virtual summit in May. The virtua summit, dubbed LAGC Select, features fireside chats, panels and presentations discussing digital game investment and monetization. 

Key Considerations

Pick Your Streaming Resources

If you’re going to transform your event into a virtual gathering, you’ll have to choose a streaming option that works best for you. Of course there are free options like Instagram Live, Facebook Live (which also provides the ability to accept donations), and LinkedIn Live, but for most purposes you’ll have to investigate a paid platform. 

Streaming Options:

For a fairly exhaustive list (plus some other amazing resources), check out writer Cherie Hu’s Virtual Music Events Directory. While it’s designed primarily for music events, the resources detailed include many that apply across the board.

Re-imagine Sponsorships

While your sponsors will understand that you’re adapting under tremendously difficult circumstances (we’re all in this together, afterall) they will still expect to see a return on their investment, whether that be the exposure or leads they expected from the event.

Some creative examples of how virtual events are delivering on sponsor goals:

  • Live product demos incorporated into programming
  • Virtual trade show floor
  • Sponsoring of streaming services
  • Targeted email outreach to attendees 
  • Sponsoring a social stream 

As previously noted, there may be a silver lining to your event, which might have a higher turn-out now that attendees don’t have to factor in travel expenses. If you anticipate a benefit like that, be sure to communicate it clearly to your sponsors so that they understand the pluses they’re getting from the digital version.

Investigate Tools to Save Time 

Festforums has a great Slack workspace where venues, festivals and other event promoters have been discussing how to evolve in a world of social distancing. If you run any kind of festival or live event, I cannot stress enough checking this out – you can get answers from those who’ve been there.

When it comes to generating leads with potential sponsors, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend Winmo. There’s no easier way to pull a list of brands known to sponsor events, planning in the current quarter, and get directly to contact details for the CMOs, Marketing Directors, or Experiential Marketing Managers responsible for those budgets. If you still have sponsorship slots to fill, you don’t want to spend time on bad data or dead ends. If you’re responsible for driving sponsorship revenue, request your demo here.


A last word, now is the time to experiment. We are all navigating this new reality together, and audiences are less apt to expect perfection. They may be more receptive to new and innovative ideas, so anything you can do to bolster interactivity and disrupt “screen fatigue” while bringing people together virtually is likely worth the risk.

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