Having experienced first-hand the impact of COVID-19 on the cancellation of an event for a client, there are many lessons we can share on how to proactively action the cancellation and move forward.

We acknowledge that financially this may have devastating consequences, particularly if your event was only a month or two from taking place. We believe it is important to step through the following points and take stock of what’s happened and to seek opportunities for the future. If you have not yet checked your insurance coverage for your event, please do so ASAP. If you were planning to run a very small event (local, minimal outlay) this may not be as relevant as a large, international event but if you have any financial outlays, some form of insurance or event protection is critical.

Contact everyone

We cannot stress enough how important it is to contact everyone associated with your event and talk to them. Given this global crisis, there has been Government action that has dictated the actions of event planners. Many events proactively cancelled as the situation advanced, others waited until the official notification was received. Whatever way your company handled it, you have had to make a decision.

The venue – depending on the relationship you have with the venue and the stipulations of your contract, there may be the opportunity to postpone your event. Venues will be facing mass cancellations and may still be trying to define their policy on this exceptional situation. If they don’t yet have a policy in place, talk to them about what you want plan to do. There may be a solution that works for both of you. Whatever happens, get the position of the venue in writing. If they will not provide any refund as a result of the forced cancellation, make sure you have that information clearly documented.

Suppliers/Exhibitors – this situation is going to put many businesses under. It is hard right now to see the economic impact, but it will be devastating and is already showing the impact on many businesses. Have you paid suppliers already? What is the status of your contracts with them? Phone everyone and talk through their situation and explain yours. Can you hold your contract until a later date? Is it possible the supplier/exhibitor will go out of business? You need to know where you stand and document each case.

Speakers – if you have invited international speakers to your event, chances are they have already booked flights and potentially their accommodation. Be understanding when you contact them of their situation – they may be focussed on how their costs may be recovered so reassure them that they have your support, but ask them to go back to the airlines and hotels first as most have allowed full cancellation. For those airlines that have only allowed vouchers, deal with these issues as they arise. If you have booked for your speakers, reassure them you will handle it for/with them.

All interested parties – this not only includes those that have paid to attend, but people who have also expressed an interest in your event. They need understand your next steps, and for those that have already paid you must be extremely clear to them what you are doing to either refund, hold or keep their money. Reassure them that you will not make the process difficult for them to ask questions as if you do, you could set yourself up for legal action as well as reputational damage. You will want to build goodwill for potential attendees in future so keep that in mind when you make decisions.

Email everyone who expressed an interest in your event to tell them directly what has happened and if you know what your next steps are, give them an indication of your intentions and ask them to continue to support you. You may like to remind them of how else they can support you such as your social media or invite them to join an email list so you can update them in future.

Set a New Goal

This will be the most difficult part of the process, as there will be so many factors in place that have influenced your event date in the first place. If your goal may be the following year, that’s a starting point for you and your team. If you decide you want to run some training sessions / webinars online then set your goal for delivery of that.

Without a new target, your team most likely won’t move forward or will need further guidance from you about what to do.

This may also be the time to assess whether it is viable to run the event in future. Whilst this is a very disappointing element of the process, it will need some consideration as well. Make sure you talk to people about this before making the decision – you may find alternatives or come up with new ideas you’ve not considered at this time (e.g. co-hosting a new event that’s complimentary to yourself and another group).

Can you move your event online?

Many events are thinking strategically about how they can still hold their event in an online environment. The bells and whistles that come with an amazing visual event will no longer be possible, but if your event is mainly about content and delivering on talking topics, then the sentiment will be there.

A car show, for example, would be much harder to move online as it is primarily about a visual interaction, but there may be an opportunity to still hold discussions on key elements that would have been discussed regardless of displaying the cars.

Start a list and define what you need your online event to achieve. If you expect to have at least 200 participants, you’re going to need to make sure your tool can allow that many participants to join. You also need to consider are you wanting to record it, live-stream, how many speakers will you have…there are a lot of questions you need to answer before choosing the right software tool.

You may also like to join other online events and see what they do and use that as a guide for what you think you want and also don’t want.

If you are unable to run your event online then you have decisions to make based on your new goal.

Get your procedures in place

The last thing you are probably thinking about is procedures, but this is the perfect time to document how you manage your event. You probably have not had any time to think about this, and decisions are made in meetings that quickly move you forward without a second thought. But, what an opportunity to define all the elements of your event and capture the workflow. Not only could this save you time and money in future, but you may also identify gaps or potentially cost-saving areas within your procedures.

It also holds others accountable to how they do their jobs. Whilst the intention is not negative here, you may not be aware how the team manage their elements of the event. For instance, is there clarity on the type of questions speakers come back with when official emails are sent out? If your answer is – you’re not sure – ask the person responsible for speaker management to document it. You may find a FAQ for speakers will help enormously for freeing up someone’s time who otherwise if answering the same questions one-on-one.

Think about what you need to report on throughout the process, not only to stakeholders and investors, but also to your team. Are there milestones you could have announced but didn’t have the time to do so throughout the preparation as you were juggling many other decisions? Identify those milestones and build them into your procedures. If you know a ‘how many have registered’ at different stages of the leadup could really boost your team, actively seek out how and where to find that information then make sure you have a strategy of sharing it (it may be as simple as writing an email template then filing that for when you need to share the information – then at the time you don’t have to think about what to write, you’ve already prepared it!).

Build new partnerships

There will be stakeholders that you’ve not had time to reach or were too busy to engage with that may now be open to discussions with you. If you have lost some suppliers, look at how you can use the time to build on new partnerships. There may be opportunities you didn’t realise were available (funding perhaps) that you now have time to research in full.

Be very clear with your partnerships of your goals and intentions. If you’re not sure if you will run an event in future, it may be premature to talk about financial inputs. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t establish a new relationship with the hope in future that it will then lead to investment or support.

Try to be optimistic (enough)

You have worked hard on an event for it to not happen, but being optimistic enough is what’s needed right now. The team will be disappointed, they will be dealing with a lot of stakeholders asking questions, putting pressure on you, but at this time you’ve made the right decision. There are no wrong decisions right now, so be positive in that your business has made a good call by cancelling or postponing. In many countries there was no choice and that’s a reality you need to deal with.

You need to be honest with your team, many of whom may lose their jobs as a result of the event not taking place. Help them to work out what to do next, be supportive, write letters of recommendation and try to be considerate of their wellbeing. They have been a part of your team so try to be supportive of their new reality as well. They may be frustrated and concerned, possibly angry, but the situation is beyond your control and that needs to be addressed and talked through.

Being forward thinking may help stakeholders to continue building connections with your event in the hope that in future it will be held, or to support your event to be held online. Manage expectations, but by thinking in an optimistic way, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re setting the scene for what comes next – for your team, for stakeholders and for your event.

Financially this is most likely to be a really difficult time, particularly if your event was a big investment for your business. We hope these points above will at least give you some elements to think about, potentially inspire you to take action to move forward. We wish you well and look forward to seeing your event take place in the near future.

We wish you the best of luck. If you wish to discuss your options further reach out to Blue Ninja for a chat.

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