How to handle event cancellation or postponement

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Realising the event you’ve poured your heart and soul into might need to be cancelled can come as a devastating blow. But it’s an eventuality all event planners need to prepare for, because failure to do so can make things so much worse if things do end up going wrong.

But how do you decide if you really do need to pull the plug on your event (or at least postpone it)? And what’s the best way to communicate this with people who’ve already bought tickets?

In this article, we cover all you need to know. 

When to cancel or postpone your event

Although cancelling your event is an incredibly difficult decision to make, it’s one that needs to be done with confidence and often without hesitation. Here are some of the scenarios that are likely to make event-cancellation a non-negotiable:

  • When safety will be compromised – from storms to pandemics to heat waves, some external factors simply mean safety standards can’t be upheld, making event cancellation or postponement the only viable option. 

  • When there just isn’t enough interest to make it work – if it’s looking like you’re not going to sell nearly enough tickets to cover your costs, or make your event work from an experience point of view, it might be time to cut your losses.

  • When carrying on with your event would be in poor taste – sometimes unexpected things happen that turn a community upside down temporarily. If a tragedy or disaster has taken place in the run-up to your event, it might feel too disrespectful to go ahead. 

  • When your venue cancels and there are no equal alternatives – if your venue cancels and you’re not going to be able to find an alternative that allows for the same atmosphere, capacity or event features, it makes sense that you’ll at least need to postpone the event to another time. 

  • When key performers cancel and you can’t make up for it with replacements – if your event is centred around a headliner or key performer who ends up pulling out, it might be better to cancel or postpone rather than try to find a sub-par alternative. 

How to communicate event cancellation or postponement with attendees

Once you’ve made the decision to cancel your event, it’s imperative to move quickly. The sooner you let attendees know the better – and the way you communicate this with them will be a crucial part of keeping your reputation intact. 

Don’t forget you’ll need to stop taking bookings immediately, too.

  1. Draft up an apologetic email as soon as possible: don’t delay in putting together a considered and empathetic email. It’s really important to make sure the tone of the email conveys that you really do understand the frustration and disappointment your attendees are feeling. 

  2. Explain exactly why the event has to be cancelled: providing valid reasoning for the event’s cancellation will help attendees to understand you’ve done everything in your power to keep things afloat – but that, because of circumstances you can’t control, it just wasn’t possible. 

  3. Assure that a swift refund is on its way: make sure it’s clear that the attendees will be getting their refund very soon – or even better, that it’s already been given.

  4. Give attendees the opportunity to provide feedback: If you’re thinking of postponing your event or even re-organising it for a year’s time, it can help make your attendees feel valued to get them to weigh on this. Ask them if they’d be interested in the event happening during X month instead, or if they’d still be keen this time next year. 

  5. Draft an official statement for anyone who was thinking of buying tickets: Finally, you’ll want to make sure you’ve drafted an official statement to push out on social media to let all potential-attendees know the event is off. Try to make sure the statement comes from the heart, and expresses your own disappointment at things not going ahead. If you’re cancelling for safety reasons, or in light of a tragedy or disaster, make it clear that you have the best interests of your community and followers at heart. 

Don’t forget to speak with partners as soon as possible

When it comes to cancelling an event, it’s equally as important to communicate with any partners as it is with attendees. Getting in touch with them straight away is key, as you might be able to organise a re-scheduling of services, rather than having to pay for stuff you’re not going to use (although you’ll likely lose deposits). 

Even if you still have to pay for the partner’s service (hopefully you’ve got event insurance to cover the cost!), it’s crucial to keep relations strong with clear, open communication and heart-felt apologies for sponsors. 

Cancelling any event is always going to feel so disappointing, but you’re gut will usually tell you when it’s the right thing to do. With good organisation, plenty of empathy and an appreciation for the things you simply can’t control – the situation will be infinitely easier to handle.