How to Handle an Event Cancellation

A cancellation can either be an inconvenience or a show stopper depending on its nature, whether it’s a vendor or speaker cancelling, or the event being cancelled outright. Although cancellations are undesirable, you can minimize their impact on your business by taking the steps outlined here.

Communicate Clearly with the Audience

Communicate openly and early will increase the chances of your audience forgiving you for a cancellation. Once you know that the event is being cancelled or drastically changed, it is important to get in touch with your audience as quickly as possible, and give the straight story about the matter. If possible, offer to make it right in some way, such as by offering a discount on the next event. If you need to issue refunds, do so in a timely manner and communicate the process you will follow.

Consider Rescheduling or Relocating

Maybe the event cancellation doesn’t need to be a permanent cancellation. The best way to handle an event cancellation might be to reschedule the event or relocate to a different location depending on whether your budget allows. Doing so permits you to accomplish the majority of your goals for the event, just with some changes to the original plan.

Recoup What Costs You Can

If you do need to cancel an event, it is best to make an attempt to recoup as many of the costs as possible associated with the event. If the cancellation occurs near the event’s planned date, you may not be able to get any refunds. If the cancellation occurs further away from the date, you may be able to get your money back from many of your vendors and/or the venue itself. At the very least, your losses should be minimized to the size of your deposits, rather than the full size of your payments.

Use Creative Ways to Engage with the Audience Anyway

Even if your event is cancelled or drastically altered, you can still find ways to connect with your audience. Some techniques for engaging with your audience even after an event cancellation include:

  • Take it online – Maybe your event can be held online instead of in-person, so that you can still share your message without the logistical issues you faced when planning the event initially.
  • Break the event up into smaller, local meetings – If you were planning a company event that was to include employees from branches across the country or even around the world, you might be able to break up the original large event into smaller, local events where your employees still receive the education or the recognition you originally planned to give.
  • Send out informational packets – If your event was primarily educational, consider sending information packets to the attendees. They probably cannot cover all of the information from the event, but can still be valuable. For example, a company that had to cancel a community health event may send out information about low-cost local resources to members of the community.
  • Offer discounts or guarantees on future events – If the event required an admission fee, consider offering attendees a discount on future events. You might also guarantee tickets or similar seating for any events that take place in the future.

Have you ever dealt with an event cancellation? How did you handle the issue?

This post was originally published on the One Smooth Stone blog on July 16, 2015. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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