Cancelling Or Postponing This Year's Big Event? Here's What To Do
You've spent the better part of a year planning, booking, and organizing for a big event this year. Countless hours have gone into checking all the boxes and ensuring everything was set in place for the big day ... only for a pandemic to throw your plans out the window. Because your event is a gathering of more than 50 people, it needs to be cancelled to lower the risk of infection.
While you know cancelling the event is the right decision, the thought of throwing out a year—or longer—worth of planning is frustrating. No one could have predicted a threat strong enough to cancel major events around the world, even this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo. As many events saw abrupt cancellations, many event planners held onto hope that conditions would improve in time for the summer months. But as the virus continues to spread, the likelihood that these events will go on without a hitch is unlikely.
If your event cannot go on for its scheduled date
—what do you do?
At Xplor Recreation, we're familiar with hosting events and pivoting when needed. We host bootcamps in British Columbia and Ontario for our clients to learn more about optimizing Xplor Recreation for their communities—and we just move our Ontario boot camp in June 2020 online.
Here is our take on what you should—and shouldn't do—in cancelling or postponing your big events this year,
1. Explore your options for moving the event online
First and foremost, just because you can't have an event in-person doesn't necessarily mean you have to cancel the event altogether. Depending on the nature of it, this may be a good opportunity to simply move the event to a teleconferencing platform such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, or other platforms, to engage with your audience.
Sensei Jason Wenneberg of the American Marital Arts Academy in Fullerton, CA thought that COVID-19 would make it impossible for students to have special events, such as belt testing. But he got creative and found a way around it:
"Even though we are all separated, we are still able to host special classes with video conferencing. We started doing belt testing via zoom, and have done both group (by rank) testing and individual, 15-minute belt tests. Students invite friends and family to jump on and our black belt instructors jump on as the audience. After email them a rank certificate, we let them know we will to present their belt in person when they're back in class (we keep it safe at the studio 'til then)." - Sensei Jason Wenneberg, How One Martial Arts School Pivoted To Thrive During COVID-19
If you can't move your event online, there are still courses of action to take to smoothly postpone it.
2. Figure out who this affects—and how
The first order of business in cancelling your event plans is figuring out who exact this cancellation will affect. This doesn't just include event-goers; this will also affect everyone else involved in the set up and tear down of the event. This entirely depends on what type of event it is, who is involved, and where money was transferred for the event to succeed.
If you have booked vendors for food, drinks, equipment, tents, or other necessities, you will want to contact them for cancellations right away. As well, if people have bought tickets for your event, you will need to establish exactly what you are doing with their funds right away, which brings us to our next point.
3. Make arrangements for deposit refunds if necessary
After figuring out who this cancelling affects, establish how this affects them financially and move accordingly from there. If participants have paid for passes or tickets, your next order of business will be returning those funds back to payers where applicable, and as soon as possible. This pandemic is out of everyone's control, and participants cannot attend because of circumstances they couldn't have predicted.
Be transparent and efficient with returning deposits to participants. Ticketmaster denied refunds to concert-goers for events that were technically postponed—as opposed to being outright cancelled—and fans were swift to call them out publicly. Many people in our communities are going through financial troubles, and appearing uncaring or unsympathetic to your community is all it takes for a PR blunder to begin.
4. Start a mailing list and communicate all changes to participants
Now that you've established who is affected and what your course of action is, it's important to communicate those changes to your community. Don't just send out one email, or one social media post. Make sure your message is shared everywhere—it's likely your event registrants may only see it in one place—so in this case, less is not more.
Be clear with your policy, and if there are terms that would make participants ineligible for a refund, make sure they are communicated at face value, and not swept under the rug. As well, provide your event registrations with a contact number or email address to send questions to. You do not want to cancel your event, and disappear without a way for them to reach you.
5. Offer something of value for having to cancel
Finally, offer something as consolation for having to cancel or change your event is a great way to build relationships within your community. Again, you do not want to communicate to your members that you've cancelled the event, and completely disappear. If you are turning around to host the event as a video conference, offer a revised price. Or, if you have to cancel the event altogether, offer a discount off your services in your future when you will be able to provide full service.