May 15, 2020
By Anna Linthicum

These past few months have been unpredictable in many ways, but there are a few themes that have remained consistent throughout these unprecedented times. Toilet paper shortages, TikTok videos, and event cancellations have all been occurring with greater regularity.

Making the decision to cancel your event is not an easy one. Events play a large role in defining your brand, driving revenue, and giving your attendees the opportunity to connect face-to-face. Unfortunately, there are times when cancelling or postponing your event is the only option. In these circumstances, it is important to know how to properly communicate these changes to your attendees, and how to shift your strategy to adjust for the change in programming. This blog post will walk through the steps of cancelling or postponing your event and will outline some best practices for you to take to your internal events program.

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Evaluate the Reason for Event Cancellation or Postponement

This may be a no-brainer, but before you can properly communicate to your attendees why you have decided to cancel your event, you must understand why you are making the decision. Is it an internal reason specific to your organization, or is it due to a larger global factor? There is also the decision to cancel versus postpone your event. When is the right time to postpone and when should you cancel?

Internal vs. External Factors

In today’s climate, the majority of event cancellations can be credited to external factors. However, in more “normal” times, events can be cancelled or postponed due to a variety of internal or external situations. Internal factors leading to an event change can stem from budgeting issues, a sudden need to change an event location, or a key event stakeholder suddenly leaving the organization. External factors tend to impact more than one organization and can range from natural disasters to local dangers to global pandemics. It is important to identify the reason for your event change, because this can help guide you in the decision to postpone or to cancel.

Should you postpone or cancel?

  1. Is an internal or an external factor causing your event change? Determining whether your event is being moved for an internal or external reason can help guide your decision between postponement or cancellation. If your organization’s budget for the quarter has suddenly tightened, but you know there will be wiggle room in the future, you can postpone your event to account for this internal change. However, a natural disaster or other external factors can be much more difficult to predict when it comes to rescheduling your event. In this circumstance, it might make more sense for you to cancel your event.
  2. Will the content be relevant later? We’ve all heard it before – content is king. So, when it comes to postponing your event, you will want to take your content into account. If you believe that the content you have planned will translate well in a few months, feel free to postpone your event. However, if the content will be outdated, consider cancelling your event.
  3. Can you definitively postpone?  We have all been there: a meeting is scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. Then it gets moved to Wednesday at 3 p.m. Then to Friday at noon. Postponing meetings over and over gets tiresome for our brains and our calendars. If you can’t guarantee that a postponed event will take place at the new time and date, it’s better to just cancel.

Implications of Event Postponement and Cancellation

Millions of questions arise when we have made the decision to postpone or cancel our event. What will our attendees think? Will we be able to make up for this loss in marketing leads? While there isn’t a clear-cut answer for all these questions, there are some best practices to combat them. We have outlined some common questions below and provided solutions to help you navigate them seamlessly during an event change.

Will our postponed event attract as many registrations as our original event?

Unfortunately, it is never guaranteed that your postponed event will reach the same number of registrations as the originally scheduled event. Some attendees may have a conflict on the new date, and there is little you can do about that. One thing you can control is communicating to your registrants the new date and time of your event. With event management software, you can easily send out an email to all of your confirmed attendees with the postponement announcement and new date and time. You will want to send multiple announcement emails with the rescheduled date and time, so you know that your registrants are receiving the information.

Will our venue be available on our rescheduled date?

It’s heartbreaking when you lose the perfect venue due to a postponed or cancelled event. Hopefully, that venue will be available when you reschedule your event. In the unfortunate case where it isn’t available, a venue sourcing solution can provide you with alternate sites in the same location as your original venue. By searching for a place to host your event through a venue sourcing tool, you can discover hidden gems and unique venues that you didn’t even know existed in your town.

How will we gain qualified leads since our event is now cancelled?

If the main goal of your event was to collect qualified leads, cancelling your event can be especially devastating. It may be worth it to consider transitioning your event from in-person to virtual. Virtual events save money and people can attend from anywhere, so they are a good option to consider if you must cancel your event for certain internal or external reasons. You can still host breakout sessions or one-on-one appointments to collect qualified leads during a virtual event. For a step-by-step guide to creating and executing your virtual event, read our blog.  

Will our brand image be impacted by the cancellation?

The simple answer to this is that it all depends on how you handle it. If you ony update the website with the new information but don’t send any explanatory email, your attendees will be confused and possibly frustrated. However, if you are overly communicative with your attendees, try to answer all their questions, and issue refunds when applicable, your brand will flourish. Your attendees and prospects will see that your brand is trustworthy and responsible. This is a great way to boost your brand image even without the occurrence of an in-person event.

Best Practices for Event Postponement and Cancellations

Be Transparent

When it comes to postponing or cancelling your event, be as transparent as possible with your attendees. You will not only earn their trust, but you will boost your brand image at the same time. Make sure that you are available to answer questions and position yourself as a consultant as you help your attendees navigate your event changes.

Issue Refunds to Confirmed Registrants

If possible, refund your attendees entirely. It might be difficult, but it is a best practice to adhere to if you must cancel your event. Refunding your attendees will garner trust, and they will be more likely to attend a future event by your organization. With an event payment processor, it is especially easy to issue automatic refunds to your registrants in case of an event cancellation. 

Be Available for Questions

When you cancel or postpone your event, there are bound to be questions from registrants, so make sure to provide at least one way to get in touch. If you can, create a question form on your website. It’s a great way to gather questions and attendee information. However, in some situations, you should provide a direct line of contact for your attendees if they must reach you quickly. As a best practice, provide the email address or phone number that you check regularly. This will guarantee that you are able to respond to questions in a timely manner, and attendees will appreciate your promptness.

Send Content

If you have already prepared the content for your event, don’t let all that information go to waste. Establish yourself as a thought leader and send snippets of content or recordings of webinars to your attendees. If they enjoy the information, they will make sure to register for your next event.

Event Cancellation Insurance

Loss of profits is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to cancelling your event. Not just the loss of potential revenue from leads, but the loss of deposits to venues, to catering companies, to chair rental groups - the list goes on. In the case of an unexpected event cancellation, event insurance is a good precaution to take to ease those concerns.

All event insurance plans are different, so do your research to find the plan that works best for your organization. There are some common features that most event insurance plans cover:

  1. Attendee Injury
  2. Venue Damage
  3. Attendee Lawsuits
  4. Liquor Liability
  5. Event Cancellation

Many companies offer additional coverage options at a higher price point. Determine what your organization needs and research plans that include those additional coverage options as well.

Best Practices for Communicating Event Cancellations and Postponement

Mobile App Push Notifications

If you created a mobile app for your event, alert your attendees with updates directly on their phones through push notifications. Send out updated event dates and times, answers to questions, and any other information you feel is relevant.

Have an FAQ page

An event cancellation or postponement will undoubtedly lead to many questions from your attendees. To prevent your phone from ringing off the hook, create a FAQ page on your event website with answers to the questions you suspect will be asked most commonly. Attendees can access this easily, and it will save you time to handle other logistics that come with cancelling your event.

Update Your Attendees Frequently

In the case of event cancellations, more is more. Do not be afraid of overcommunicating. Email them often with updates and information so they feel in-the-loop and connected with your organization.

Be Very Specific

People appreciate when brands and organizations are transparent with their community. This holds especially true when it comes to money. Clearly state on your website the refund policy for your cancelled event and email your attendees this information as well.

Use Event Cancellations and Postponements as an Opportunity

Unfortunately, most event cancellations and postponements do not announce themselves in advance. We are often met with an unexpected situation and must make the decision that is best for our organization and our attendees. In the case where the best decision is to cancel or postpone your event, it is vital to overcommunicate and to position yourself as a resource to your attendees. When your attendees see that you are an organization that they can rely on even when the event is cancelled, you can be certain that your next live event will be a huge success.

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Anna Linthicum

A recent graduate of Washington and Lee University, I am currently the Sales Development Representative for the Marketing Partnerships team here at Cvent. My writing journey got its start with stories about my cousins and me going on incredible adventures together on family vacations. You can find me organizing my closet, doing Kayla Itsines workouts, or watching The Office for the umpteenth time.

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