Event Planning During the Coronavirus

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Having an event after the Coronavirus

If you have a meeting or other event scheduled for this summer, there is a good chance that we are still fighting to get the spread of the coronavirus under control and not able to safely gather in large groups.  So what does this mean for your upcoming event?  You have a few options for how to handle it.  I’ll give you some factors for each option to help you choose your best option.


empty seats photo

Cancel Your Meeting

If you are leaning toward canceling your event because of the coronavirus, what will be the economic impact to your budget, sponsors, attendees?  Will you be able to cancel without penalties?  If you want to have this event in the future, consider the attendees that have already registered.  How you treat them and communicate with them will be important if you want them to come an event in the future.

What are your next steps?

If you are using an outside venue to hold your event, the first thing to do is to check the force majeure clause in your contract. Does it allow for cancellation, without penalty, due to an epidemic/pandemic or government regulations.  The coronavirus would likely be covered under both circumstances.  If you do not have this clause in your contract or it does not specifically state that you can cancel for those reasons, check with a contracts attorney for other options.

Call the venue and talk to the sales manager that signed the contract.  Once you have a good understanding of what your contract says and how you can apply it, you will be informed enough to have a conversation with the venue.  Be ready to discuss and defend the reasons why you are deciding to cancel the event and not postpone until a later date.  Most venues would rather receive its revenue late than not at all and may give you push back on cancelling your event.  As long as you have your facts in order and give them notice within the time permitted in your contract, you should be fine.  Again, please consult an attorney if you have any difficulties.  Make sure you follow your conversation between you and the venue with an email detailing the phone call and the outcome for everyone’s records.

Check your vendor and speaker contracts for cancelation fees or penalties.  Send them a written cancelation notice explaining the reason that you are canceling the event and will no longer need their service.  If your meeting is annual, maybe you can avoid penalties or loosing your deposit if you book them for the following year.  

How will you handle attendee refunds?  Does your refund policy cover pandemics, government regulation or a national shutdown?  

Communicate to everyone.  Use all forms of communication.  Email, social media, your website, etc.

Postponing Your Meeting

The big question here is….Postpone until when?  We really have no idea when the spread of the coronavirus will be reduced enough to allow our events to proceed.  Will it be October, November or maybe not until 2021?  

If your event is annual, will attendees come to both events if they are closer together?  Have you already signed a contract for next year’s meeting? 

Here are some steps to take for postponing your event.

Follow step one from above. Check your contract and consult an attorney.  

Before you call your sales manager for the venue, be sure to have at least three choices for alternative dates.   The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to reschedule your event and market your new date(s). If your meeting is usually during the week, will your attendees be okay with one or more days over the weekend?  If your meeting has scheduling limitations, have at least five options ready before your conversation.  Be sure to check the calendar for the city your event is in.  If there is a large event happening during your new event date, your attendees could have a hard time getting hotel rooms at reasonable rates.

Depending on the size of your meeting, traveling requirements of your attendees, and time of year you decide on, there will likely be people that are not able or willing to attend your event during your newly scheduled time.  Make sure to review your venue contract terms.  Give yourself an opportunity to reduce your food and beverage minimum or hotel room nights without penalty before your event.  If you can get the hotel to agree to 14 days before the event, that would be great. If not, get as close as you can.  Also make sure your force majeure clause includes pandemics, epidemics and government shut downs!

Be sure to make your attendee cancelation policy clear and communicate it to attendees multiple times in multiple ways.  Give them a time limit for making cancelation requests and explain any fees associated with canceling. 

If you have speakers and/or contracted vendors, make sure you reconfirm their availability for the new event date.  Request updated contracts with the new date.

Convert To A Virtual Meeting

virtual meeting photo

As Zoom can attest, we are embracing the virtual meeting and event during our mandatory coronavirus shut down.  But can you apply it to your meeting or event?  That would depend.  Here are some things to consider before deciding to turn your face to face event virtual.

Event size-  The size of your event will determine what platform you can use.  If your event is under 500 people, you have more options.  With more than 500 attendees, you will have less options.  Over 1,000 attendees, the virtual platforms available to you are considerably less and they will be more expensive. 

Audience engagement-  How would your face to face meeting engage your attendees? Do you have multiple speakers with presentations, audience polling?  Will there be networking, a happy hour, or other special event?  Does your event include continuous learning credits for your industry?  How would you like to virtually engage your audience?  Do you want them to be able to download presentations?  Ask the speaker questions?  Answer polling questions?  Share contact information with other attendees?  Thinking through your face to face event and your virtual meeting requirements will help you choose the right platform.

User friendly-  There is nothing worse than having to take the time to learn new systems

Budget-  There are many platforms available for your meeting.  Be sure to compare apples to apples when pricing your options.  Some platforms will charge a flat fee for a package of web hosting goodies or charge you per person.  Some may charge you per feature.  

Security and Connectivity-  Face to face meetings usually require a check in, badges, maybe even security personnel.  Virtual meetings can be hacked or “bombed” by people sitting at home with nothing to do  but cause trouble.  Choose a platform that will give you the best security for your event and your budget.  

How is the platform hosted?  Will you have a dedicated server for your event or are you sharing it with other events?  Can they guarantee connectivity throughout your event?

Add a Virtual Option to Your Face to Face Event (Hybrid Event)

If you decide to postpone your meeting to a later date and some attendees are not able to meet in person, it may be beneficial to offer a virtual option.  For a reduced registration fee, they can attend sessions and listen to presentations.  You could possibly use the virtual registration fees to pay for the platform and you will save money on food and beverage cost!

Which option you choose, depends on a lot of factors.  The bottom line is do your homework and communicate your decision to all of your stakeholders. 

Jamel Shuford
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