Should You Cancel Your Event or Go Virtual? 5 Factors To Consider.

In-person events get canceled or postponed for a variety of reasons — from extreme weather or a keynote speaker’s illness to a global pandemic. But, these days, a virtual alternative could be a valuable Plan B for event planners.

This guide will help you determine whether going virtual is the right choice for your brand and event, or whether cancellation is necessary.

1. What is the nature of your event?
Not all events are created equal — and some are better suited to cancellation or virtualization than others. Carefully consider the nature of your event and its value to your attendees when weighing your options.

For instance, an annual trade show might be better off canceled, and guests will still come back the next year. In 2020, the Live Design International (LDI) trade show was canceled for the first time in over three decades due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was rescheduled for the following year, at the same venue and during the same season, with all 2020 ticket purchases being “honored for a full credit towards the 2021 event.”

That way, LDI attendees can reap the same benefits, just one year later. Since many guests participate every year, and canceled ticket costs were rolled over, the loss was relatively minimal for the event’s audience.

However, a one-time educational event could work well virtually. Say you’re arranging a weeknight panel on an off-the-moment topic with a handful of speakers. If they are all available and open to presenting virtually, attendees would likely appreciate the virtual format so they don’t miss out on the timely discussion.

2. What is your timeline and resourcing?
Virtual events take just as much coordination as in-person ones. If you don’t have the time and resources to pivot to a virtual format, canceling may be the right choice.

For instance, you may not have the technical expertise or equipment to turn your two-day seminar into a virtual event, complete with pre-recorded segments and interactive virtual activities. It might be wise to postpone until an in-person event is feasible, or until you have enough time and technical support to produce the virtual version.

3. Which plan is more financially viable?
Planners must address all financial considerations before canceling an event or going virtual. Research what may or may not be possible through your event insurance, sponsorship agreements, admissions, vendor deposits and other costs — as well as the possible added cost of switching to a virtual format.

The Costume Society of America (CSA) decided to go virtual with its annual symposium in 2021, following a successful virtual event the previous year amid the pandemic. The membership organization cited “financial constraints for many of our members” as one of the primary reasons for the change.

With attendees ranging from university professors and museum curators — some of whom had been sponsored by their employers in years past — to students and artists, the CSA anticipated higher engagement and attendance by eliminating costs like travel, lodging, meals and admissions.

4. Which option would be more acceptable to your guests?
Consider whether your event attendees and other participants have the equipment available to participate virtually. For instance, postponing could be a more accessible option for a career coaching workshop serving members of an under-resourced community, since 1 in 6 low-income households lack internet access.

Don’t forget that some guests may not have sufficient knowledge or experience to access a virtual event on their own. To support presenters who were unsure about how to adapt their material for a digital format, the CSA said it would host a webinar ahead of its virtual symposium.

Also, if your change of plans is last-minute and guests have traveled considerable distances, a scaled-back version of your live event may be preferable to a cancellation or postponement.

5.  Which option would create the most positive brand experience?
A virtual experience may not be suitable for every situation, but it can be a great way to keep people engaged if it suits the overarching brand purpose.

When jewelry interest group GemX was faced with canceling its live event lineup amid the pandemic, the organizers decided to host the jewelry lectures over Zoom instead.

“We thought, why not adapt what we love to do for an online platform?” said GemX co-founder Heidi Kreamer-Garnett in a Vogue interview. “The idea is to still bring jewelry lovers a sense of community and brighten up everyone’s day.”

Since going virtual, the group has reached a broader global audience and brought in a wider array of guest speakers than could have been possible in person.

JTB is here to help, whether you postpone or go virtual.

If you require assistance pivoting from an in-person event to a virtual experience — or if you need help navigating an event cancelation and postponement — JTB USA Meetings & Events can support you. Contact us today to learn more.