Less than 3 months after the initial outbreak of the Coronavirus, conferences and events were already being cancelled. Even so, many major events are still moving forward.
This made me wonder how many of you have a policy in place for cancelling your conference if it has to happen. It can be for any reason from…
- Major vendor pulling out
- Terrorist alert
- Cancellation by the host facility
- Natural disaster
- Or other events outside your control
I would seriously consider being proactive and forming a policy now and before an event occurs. Your policy should be based on a number of factors to include participants, vendors, speakers, and the facility.
The fact that major conferences such as South by Southwest in Texas are cancelling events actually provides you a great deal of available research to plan your own policy. Look at what they did, how they made the announcement, why they made the decision, and what they did for attendees, vendors, etc.
For an example of a festival that did it completely wrong, check out the Arnold Sports Festival hosted by Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Their Instagram feed hosted a lively discussion from vendors and attendees. Arnold posted a video stating that all festival activities were cancelled-
Naturally, people started scrambling to cancel travel bookings that were still refundable. Then, a day later, they partially changed their mind.
Then another day passed before they issued a statement blaming it on the Governor.The Gov of Ohio, not The Governor Arnold. As many people stated, many other large sporting events were still taking place the same weekend.
As you can see, with no clear policy in place, key stakeholders (Arnold!) acting alone, and flip-flopping decisions, you can really ruin your reputation as a conference. The Arnold Sports Festival basically just reacted by ignoring all the people left in the dust and started blasting social media with pics from the ruins of the festival.
So, here are some mistakes they made that you should consider-
- Who is the point person controlling media, i.e. your Public Information Officer or spokesperson?
- Who will get refunds and how much?
- How will refunds be issued?
- Will you also give a goodwill gift? This is a great idea to consider for your reputation. I recommend a gift that can only be used at a future conference like ‘conference bucks’ to use next year for merch.
- What ramifications will there be to your contracts with the facility, catering, speakers, etc?
- Can you afford to do all this without breaking the conference?
- Do you have insurance for this? South by Southwest did not.
- Is there some way you can hold a reduced conference? This was at least one thing the Arnold tried to do right. See my P.S. below for an idea.
- Do you need to send out warning info prior to a cancellation? Check out part of the e-mail below from a conference I’m slated to be at later in the year…
I imagine you might be thinking about the coronavirus and PLF Live next month in Orlando… and it’s certainly on my mind as well. So first off, know that the health and safety of our PLF community and my team is paramount to me. And along with the rest of the world, my team and I are closely monitoring the situation. At this time, PLF Live 2020 is moving ahead as planned.
If you need help working on your Cancellation Policy, give me a call. I’ve designed Emergency Action Plans for government agencies for the very same reasons a conference might be cancelled. I’d love to bring that experience in to help you.
Dr. Dave, the guy who’s hoping all his out-of-town speaking engagements don’t get cancelled this year
P.S. One idea that I’ve offered to conferences that book me to speak. If you do cancel, I’m willing to serve your audience by recording or releasing a pre-recorded version of the keynote or training I was booked for. This way the attendees still get something.
P.S.S. As a last item, also consider what you’ll do if something bad happens DURING your conference. How many of you remember that year the tornado struck downtown Salt Lake City UT during the Outdoor Retailers Association conference?
This message was written by a team of geeks, nerds, gamers, and Dr. David Powers. You can always find us at www.callsignredbeard.com. Thanks for reading!
In the words of Starship Troopers, “Would you like to know more?”