Our top ten handy hints to help you navigate event cancellations and postponements
If the last 12 months (and more) has taught us anything, it’s that the world can change in the blink of an eye. From long-term lockdowns to snap circuit breakers and shifts in COVIDSafe regulations, Event Managers (and Project Managers) are constantly facing shifting sands.
It can be an overwhelming and unsettling time (to say the least) as the best laid plans are disrupted. Sometimes it can be hard to change direction when you are sprinting to the finish.
Yet, last year made us stronger, better, more informed and taught us many things. Lessons we can bring into 2021.
Drawing on my experience of working at an international event cancelled the day before it was due to start (CHOGM 2001), to working at an event that was partially shut down mid tournament (Australian Open), to community events that have had to adapt, here are my top tips to help you navigate event cancellations, postponements and uncertainty:
- Scenario planning is your new best friend
We don’t know what the future will look like and that’s OK. No one knows when an outbreak will happen, when a circuit breaker will be implemented or when COVIDSafe regulations will change. And that’s OK. What is most important is that you ramp up your scenario and contingency planning as this will ready you for any change in direction. This ensures you can adapt, adjust and respond quickly – and with a steady head and hand. This ensures there are no surprises and helps reduce stress.
- Allow yourself time to grieve
Life goes on – but you have probably gone through shock. A week ago the event was a certainty, a few days later it is shut down. Allow yourself time to grieve what could have been, process what has happened, talk to friends and family and tell them how you are feeling. You don’t need to immediately bounce back to being OK. You can feel down, worried and confused and that’s OK. In the moment, it will seem the biggest thing in the world but you will get through it. The more you can talk about it, the more manageable it will become.
- Focus on your event only
During snap circuit breakers, it is easy to get overwhelmed by everything else that is happening but it’s important to focus on your event and how it has been impacted. Try not be overwhelmed by the bigger picture. Avoid the ‘even that event is cancelled’, ‘have you heard about that event’ conversations etc. Focus on your event only.
- Focus on what you can control
There are so many, internal and external, factors that you can’t control. Focus on your area and what you can do. Each little step, each little action you can take will keep you moving forward. Your do to list will seem endless, and with competing urgencies, when your event gets cancelled or postponed. Achieve clarity by methodically working through your to do list, rather than the temptation to bounce back and forth between tasks. Take it step by step, task by task.
- Do not look in the rear view mirror
Do not spend time on the ‘what if’s’ or ‘this is when the event should have been’. The event has been cancelled or postponed – that is fact. Focus on the future now.
- Make the most of the second chance
Most event managers have worked on an event and thought ‘next time we’ll make this change’, ‘if we had a bit more time, we can do this’, or ‘next time we can do this part better’? Well you now actually have that chance. Use all those learnings to plan an even better event next time – even if the format is different.
- Get out of the bubble
Event life can often be an all-consuming bubble. This can be a good thing but it can also mean we feed off each other’s stress and worries. Make sure you invest in life outside events. Be kind to yourself.
- Continue communicating
Communication is the most powerful tool you have. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Whether it is to your staff, volunteers, sponsors, stakeholders, members or guests – the more open, calm and informative communication you can provide, the better. Avoid inflammatory language or speculative rumours. Avoid projecting your emotions into your communications. Create communication that is relevant, warm and informative. Don’t leave anyone in the dark guessing. The more you can communicate, the better you can engage with your key stakeholders and build stronger relationships.
- Talk to your networks
Reach out or give an event peer a call if you need help or just someone to chat to. Collaboration was such a positive of 2020 and there is an amazing community out there to help and support each other.
- You can do it
While the thought of rescheduling, reimagining and planning again from scratch can seem daunting, just remember you have done it all before. You designed, develop and planned the original event and you will be able to design, develop and plan the rescheduled event. Take a deep breath and go for it!
- Scenario planning is your new best friend
With every situation we face (whether we like it or not), we will be wiser for it and can take those learnings into our next event. This will make us and our events stronger.
The current situation continues to force us to think differently, do things differently, be innovative and that will almost certainly create some amazing results in return.
In the meantime, be kind to yourself. These continue to be unusual times.
Thank you to our Author: Georgie Stayches, Founder and Chief Engagement Officer of Fetching Events & Communications, a boutique agency specialising in event management, communications and volunteer management. Fetching Events & Communications specialises in working with NGOs, NFPs, peak bodies, associations and community groups and is a member of PCOA.