By Jenny Beard

Each day new developments around COVID-19 promote more cancellations and disruptions to events of all sizes and locations. The need to reach and support your audience, however, continues. That’s why organizations with events scheduled in the near future need to be proactive and re-imagine their programs. Here are some smart steps to consider when the show simply cannot go on as planned.

Flip your format – go virtual or go home?

The idea of changing the format of your event may be daunting, especially as you have likely spent several months planning a perfect in-person experience. However, you can turn this obstacle into an opportunity. There’s still time to do things differently and give our audience a great experience!

  • Localize the event. If mass public travel like air or rail is an issue for your attendees, consider meeting locally in smaller groups. This is an opportunity to take big issues you may be tackling and address them on a more personal level. Sharing ideas may be more effective in small, targeted conversations.
  • Revamp format for online audiences. While there is no substitute for connecting in person and collaborating face-to-face, you can still have a successful event online that conveys the information you want to share. The key to successfully engaging an online audience is to create more vibrant, visual elements. Be bold and break the mold for virtual conference settings.
  • Go live, as in livestream! Keep the programming, but shutter the seats and forego an in-person audience. Instead, broadcast the event online. You can elevate the virtual experience by adding visual appeal onstage and in presentations. Use two to three cameras for more angles and energy. Something as simple as changing an audience’s view can amp up the dynamics and production value.
  • Add more interaction. Incorporating event polls and quizzes can successfully increase the level of online audience engagement, giving virtual attendees a chance to participate. Make live Q&A successful by dedicating staff – not the event host or moderator – to monitor the conversations and respond in real time with your audience.

Deciding to postpone or cancel

  • Tips for choosing a new date. You can postpone to later in the year. At this time you should consider only fall or winter dates and be prepared for another cancellation if uncertainty continues. If you would like to stay at your contracted venue, ask to waive any penalties and inquire about cancellation policies should the public risk still be in effect later.
  • What to do if you cancel an event. Review your existing contract and be informed of any “Act of God/Force Majeure/unforeseen” clauses. Then, call the venue and any vendors directly to inquire about their current cancellation policy. The widespread impact of coronavirus is unprecedented. Many venues have relaxed their published cancellation policies due to the unusual nature of this public health issue, so just ask!

Communicate clearly…and often

Once you have determined if you are going to change the format, postpone, or cancel the event, well-crafted messages to your internal and external audiences should be timely and clearly explain what is happening with your organization’s event.

  • Internal communications – Start with internal communications before going public. Inform your staff and stakeholders about the decision and, if necessary, provide talking points to use when communicating outside the organization.
  • External messaging – Be transparent when you convey your decision to your attendees and the general public. Be empathetic in tone, as many people are experiencing anxiety surrounding travel and gatherings. Let people know as much as you can – when is it getting rescheduled or when will you know more – then stay in touch regularly with updates.

Unusual circumstances call for creative solutions. As event organizers, we have an opportunity to elevate our audience’s experience in new ways during the age of COVID-19. The Hatcher Group can help you re-envision your event. Our team of event experts and communications leaders can think through solutions for your organization’s upcoming events landscape. Contact Jenny Beard at jenny@thehatchergroup.com to discuss how we can support your needs.

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