The show must go on – coming up with a backup plan for your events.
The Show Must Go On?
Sometimes we hear the worst: “There will be 3 feet of snow,” or, “Power outages across the city,” or even, “I’m sorry I can’t give the keynote address.”
No event – however carefully planned – is immune to the dreaded Situation Change. Here in New York City, we’ve had everything from city-wide blackouts to 9/11, Snowstorm Nemo to Hurricane Sandy.
And those are just the environmental problems. Whether by obligation, business, family, personal illness, being stranded abroad, running away with the circus or alien invasion, there are times when your event (the main event of your season) is suddenly not the main priority of your special guests.
So what do you do when the show can’t go on?
First of all – do you have event insurance? You might want to look into that.
Check with your venue before you book: do they have a postponement policy? If your deposit/reservation is transferable to a later date, you have a definite opportunity to postpone the event. Same goes for your caterer. If you have an annual event and work with the same venue and caterer each year, you’ll likely have a rapport with those vendors, and they’ll be more understanding. Speak to your venue and caterer about a back-up date while you’re negotiating your contract. If your event is going to take place in the winter, and you know there is a chance of snow, factor that in.
Takeout and delivery
Have a big gala dinner planned? Your backup plan might be to do the “no dinner” dinner.
One year we absolutely couldn’t do a gala as planned, so instead, we sent everyone DVDs with messages from the organization and speakers, plus popcorn and paper slippers. Attendees were still recognized in a program, and they still gave their contributions! We had to pay some cancellation fees with the venue, but that was covered by the generosity of the donors.
Every few years the dinnerless dinner comes back into fashion. Sometimes we do them because it’s the next best thing to the real deal. The whole point of a dinner is to raise funds. If you can’t do the dining, don’t give up on the donating.
Don’t. But if you must cancel, never announce a cancellation: announce a postponement with the new date “To Be Determined”.
On with the show
Have a star attendee who can’t make it? If there’s time, notify your guests of that change in the program but keep the momentum going. If your star speaker backs out less than a month before the event, you’ll have a harder time finding an alternate speaker with similar clout – it’s time to think about asking a relative or close colleague to attend on their behalf.
If your star speaker can’t make it because of travel or weather-related issues, don’t forget that telecasting is a perfectly legitimate way to attend!
Tips: Plan C to Z
There’s always a Plan B. But sometimes we have to make Plan C (or even, Plan D) at the last minute.
Planning an event is not without its risks, and having a backup plan or five is part of the preparation. When you have to find solutions:
Did you postpone? That probably means some of your original RSVP’d guests can’t make it, and that some others now can. Offer a refund to those who can’t attend anymore, along with the option to waive the refund and let you keep that as a general-use donation. You’ll find that few people will actually ask for their money back.
It’s already the future – if your major speaker or star honoree can’t be there in person, it’s feasible to have them join you by telecast. So many free platforms – Skype, Google Hangouts, even FaceTime can be used to bring your big names to the big night.
Does your special guest have a spouse, sibling or child who can accept an award or honor on their behalf? A protege, maybe? Have the award accepted by proxy. Maybe the substitute can deliver the absent honoree’s pre-prepared speech.
If you’ve begun to sell tickets or gather RSVPs in advance, you may have enough time to postpone the event, until such a time that your main attendees can actually make it. Change the date, but keep everything else the same. With enough lead time, you can inform your guests that you’ve had to postpone. If you’re comfortable doing so – or if your honoree is comfortable – you can share the reason why.