May 19, 2020
NACA Experience & Events Director
In March, NACA canceled its Northern Plains regional conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic and instead hosted a virtual caucus to facilitate business within the region. This two-day event started off rocky, but we adapted our processes along the way and ended up facilitating just as many interest forms as have been submitted at some live conferences. We were forced to try something new and along the way, developed a process that will enhance future in person and virtual events.
Canceling a major event was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my professional career thus far. A lot of time, effort, energy, and emotion goes into building an event from the ground up and to cancel it at the 11th hour can be emotionally devastating. When you are the decision maker, you are letting down all your event partners that have worked to build this event with you. Many of these event partners are like family and the disappointment created may be the part that weighs the most on me, even knowing that we had explored all other feasible options.
Things to keep in mind when you are canceling an event:
- Postpone or reschedule if at all possible, even if you are rescheduling a year or more into the future.
- If a reschedule is not possible, look at moving all or certain pieces of the event online. You do not want to leave a void there for your participants.
- You are working with people and this cancelation will affect their livelihood in some way. Be compassionate and be mindful of that fact.
- Instead of asking for a refund, move any deposits paid to a future event or as a credit. This will help offset the financial loss for your partners.
With so much unknown and uncertainty, it can be hard at times to see any bright spots with what is happening in our worlds right now. But we have been forced to look at our events with fresh eyes and to really evaluate what is working, along with what is not. We have to now figure out how to breathe new life into these events and reinvent them in a virtual space. With that forced examination, we are going to find so many new ideas and ways to do things. There are many things that can happen in a virtual event that just are not possible with an in-person event. Technology & engagement are instrumental here, but if you can find the right way to move forward, the possibilities are endless.
Change can be hard, but when we finally get on the other side of this crisis, I think that we will find some of these changes were the best thing that could have happened. So while it can be hard to be optimistic, this is a great opportunity that we all have to change the way that we host events and engage with each other. To really move forward, we must choose to see the opportunities here, instead of the challenges.
Toire Vince is the Experience & Events director for the National Association for Campus Activities.
Related Professional Competencies: Crisis Management, Networking & Business Relationships