How to Cancel An Event With Professionalism

Having to cancel an event is an event planner’s worst nightmare. Vendor and venue deposits are wasted, ticket holders are upset, sponsors might be asking for refunds. And worst of all — every question from each of these stakeholders is coming to you. And they all expect answers ASAP.

When is it acceptable to cancel an event?

If it’s an outdoor event, the threat of bad weather or an imminent storm is definitely a valid reason. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy decision. Sometimes you have to make the call based upon weather forecasts 24 in advance. It’s a no-win situation as waiting to cancel shortly before the event creates maximum chaos, but cancelling a day out can mean your decision is second-guessed if the forecast changes.

Indoor events don’t have to factor in the weather unless traveling to the event threatens to be hazardous. But they indoor events can have their own problems like:

  • AC, heating system or plumbing failures
  • Poor pre-event ticket sales
  • Entertainment or speaker cancellations

When is cancelling an event questionable?

In the eyes of event registrants, cancelling an event due to a lack of ticket sales can damage your organization’s reputation. They might wonder, “If they can’t fill seats for this event, where else might they be dropping the ball?” Sometimes it may be best to hold the event anyway. If attendees have made travel or lodging arrangements that aren’t refundable, they will be justifiably upset.

If your organization has a policy of cancelling events without sufficient attendance numbers, being up front about that policy can make a huge difference. It should be communicated clearly on every event registration page so that ticket holders will have the right expectations and know that a refund will be forthcoming.

How to cancel your event like a professional:

#1. Ask for help immediately

Who can communicate, brainstorm and help you with the flood of questions? Find a team of coworkers or reliable volunteers to surround and support you as you lead the cancellation efforts.

#2. Figure out who needs to receive communication

What types of people are involved with your event? Vendors, sponsors, entertainers or speakers, ticket holders, volunteers, event venue staff and media come to mind. Not every event has volunteers and not every event is media-worthy, so adjust your list accordingly.

Fast communication is key. For example, if you have vendors who are buying fresh flowers to make arrangements or making food, they would certainly appreciate a heads up so they can avoid making purchases that would go to waste. A phone call would be in order in cases where time is of the essence.

#3. Edit the online event listing

Login to your event registration system to edit your event details to reflect the cancellation and halt online ticket sales. If your event is listed in other places that you control such as a Facebook event or public events calendar, be sure to edit each instance of the event.

#4. Write an announcement

It’s hard to write when you are fielding phone calls and questions. Start with basic talking points. What are the facts of the situation? Consider including the “five Ws”:

  1. Who is impacted?
  2. What is the plan?
  3. Where can I go with questions? Or Where is the rescheduled event?
  4. When can I get my money back? Or When is this event being rescheduled?
  5. Why did this happen?

It’s important to have someone review the message you wrote if you have someone trusted and skilled to turn to. Give your proofreader a deadline so they know how quickly you need feedback.

#5. Use the tools within your event registration software to communicate

If you sold tickets online, you most certainly have email addresses for your attendees. Your events platform likely has a way to message all ticket holders. But consider your timing. If you are only a few hours out from an event, email may not reach everyone. In that case, texting or phone calls may be preferred. There are bulk SMS messaging services you can enlist to help, but that may take time if you have never used such a platform before. Depending upon the size of the list, you can make calls or texts yourself or even better, divide up your list amongst a group of helpers.

#6. Reach out to those who helped you promote the event

If your event is listed in local media, ask them to change the listing to reflect the cancellation. Message people who have shared the event on social media to let them know what has happened so that they can alert their followers. If you posted the event within any online groups or listservs, post an update. Correcting information across the internet that is no longer accurate might save some people from showing up to the cancelled event.

Finally, once you have done all of your communications and had a day or so to catch your breath, take stock of what happened. It’s a good idea to have a post-mortem meeting with yourself or others to go over what could have prevented cancellation or what can be done next time to avoid it entirely.

Steve Max
Steve Maxhttp://www.webzando.com/
A long time digital entrepreneur, Steve has been in digital marketing since 2010 and over the past decade he has built & executed innovative online strategies for leading companies in car insurance, retail shopping, professional sports and the movie & television industry.


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