Postponing vs. Canceling An Event: What Should You Do?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many event planners to make the difficult decision of postponing or canceling their 2020 events. As an event professional myself, I know that this is one of the absolute last things you want to do with an event that you’ve worked so hard on and invested so much time in; however, in situations like the one we’re currently in, choosing to reschedule or scrap an event is a necessary move to put the health and safety of millions of people above everything else.

We’re living in uncharted territory right now and many event hosts are left wondering how they should respond to this crisis. Events scheduled for the 2020 calendar year are up against a major battle — a battle that might not be worth the risk. With that said, how does one decide between postponing or canceling an event and feel confident in making that decision?
 

Here are a few clues that will help you make the best decision for your event in time of crisis:

To Postpone or to Cancel?
Postpone if ... Cancel if ...
The purpose of your event will still be relevant at a later date. The purpose of your event won’t be relevant at a later date.
The crisis/issue won’t exist at a later date or is unlikely to exist at a later date. There’s a good chance the crisis/issue will still exist at a later date.
At a later date, event attendance won’t be negatively affected. When the crisis is over, people will still want (and be able) to attend the event. The crisis/issue will negatively impact attendance regardless if the event is held now or at a later date (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting bars and restaurants financially — if the people who own or work at these businesses are your target audience for the event, you’ll probably want to cancel as they’ll likely be in a tough financial situation after the crisis, and spending money on an event won’t be at the top of their priority list).
There is no or low risk to the safety, security, and health of those attending at a later date. There is moderate or high risk to the safety, security, and health of those attending at a later date.
The crisis and its ramifications will likely improve by a later date; so, hosting the event won’t be seen as insensitive or inappropriate. Hosting the event will be seen as insensitive and inappropriate due to the crisis or the aftermath of the crisis.
Accessibility of supplies for your event won’t be an issue at a later date. The supplies you’ll need to host a successful event won’t be accessible. You won’t be able to live up to the quality of the event that you have promised attendees.

This comparison chart isn’t meant to be all-inclusive. There will always be exceptions to the rules, and there are many other things to take into consideration when choosing between postponing or canceling an event. This is meant to be a general guide to help you in your decision making.
 

If you decide to postpone your event, here are a few things you should do:

  • Contact your venue and vendors (and review your contracts) to determine the plan going forward and ensure everyone involved is on the same page
  • Determine your plan for refunds in case the reschedule date doesn’t work for some of your registrants
  • Prepare for questions from registrants
  • Notify your registrants of the postponement and be sure to give a brief explanation as to why you made this decision
  • Continue to promote your event and communicate with your venue, vendors, and registrants when a new date has been selected
     

If you decide to cancel your event, here are a few things you should do:

  • Contact your venue and vendors (and review your contracts) to determine how cancellation affects everyone involved. Communicate with those involved to ensure you’re all on the same page.
  • Stop ticket sales
  • Determine your plan for refunds and prepare for questions from registrants
  • Notify your registrants of the cancellation and be sure to give a brief explanation as to why you made this decision
  • Issue refunds as quickly as possible
  • If this is an annual event, you could send out a thank you / apology letter to registrants with event merch to reinforce that even though this year’s event was canceled, next year’s event is still a go!

The decision to postpone or cancel an event is a difficult one, but when done well, will preserve the integrity and reputation of your brand.