Tactfully Cancel or Postpone an Event | Hanna Ashcraft | Skillshare

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Tactfully Cancel or Postpone an Event

teacher avatar Hanna Ashcraft, Travel Blogger | Content Creator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Introduction to Canceling Events

    • 2. Should You Cancel?

    • 3. Postpone vs. Cancel

    • 4. Team & Vendors

    • 5. Communicate Your Message

    • 6. Review/Debrief

    • 7. Course Review

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About This Class

The Coronavirus pandemic is a huge bummer. It is impacting the lives of millions right now with events and social gatherings being canceled for months to come. It’s a tough decision on whether to cancel, postpone, or move forward with an event under normal circumstances, so this is a particularly challenging time for anyone planning events. With this in mind, I created this course to lead you through a few thought processes for thinking about canceling/postponing and to ensure that you cancel/postpone your event tactfully and without confusion.

In this course, we will start with the question of either moving forward with your event or deciding that this is not a good time. Then, if you are deciding to cancel or postpone, I have a few tips on how to think of each. After that, we will get into the process of postponing or canceling by communicating your message to your team, vendors, donors, board member, and guests. To finish up the course, it’s important to review or debrief the planning process by thanking those involved and thinking up ways to avoid the main issues in the future. 

If you’re planning events often, you’ll inevitably have to cancel or postpone an event. So, even if you’re watching this after the pandemic has passed, there is a ton of tips for canceling an event gracefully and with tact, so that you strengthen your relationships, instead of causing confusion or burning bridges.

Best of luck!


Meet Your Teacher

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Hanna Ashcraft

Travel Blogger | Content Creator


HI! I'm Hanna and I believe in thoughtful, organized, and beautiful events that delight guests and give them a warm feeling for months after. Small touches and purposeful execution will almost always lead you to success. Given enough lead time, I think anyone can plan a spectacular small or large scale event.

More recently, I began working on a passion project - my travel blog. My experience planning events effortlessly transition into planning incredible trips. I will also be teaching travel tips and tricks that I have learned.


I have been event planning in the Santa Barbara area for the last five years. As a junior in college, I took an incredible event planning internship in Oahu, Hawaii. Upon graduating, I immediately jumped into an events ca... See full profile

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1. Introduction to Canceling Events: Hi, my name is Hannah, and in today's course I want to talk about the often unpleasant or unforeseen times in which you need to cancel or postpone an event and how to do that with grace intact. So right now I'm filming in the middle of the Corona virus pandemic, and I'm seeing events get cancelled, left and right, and it's wild out there. And I know that there's still a lot of big decision making that needs to happen in the coming months. I've been watching the Olympic Committee and not in vain, being in that position of deciding whether or not to go forward with the Olympic Games this summer. That's a tough decision to make. And it's really tough, even for small scale events aside, whether or not you should go forward with an event or not, and a good example of when you probably should have gone through it with an event is the fire festival. So there were a ton of red flags about this festival in the Bahamas not going well, and yet guests arrived and things were not done, and it was utter chaos. Last a good example. If there are so many red flags and so many things going wrong that maybe this is not the right time to do it. And I think especially in the time of the Corona virus, this is probably not the right time to do things. So let me give you a structure for how to graceful the postpone or cancel event in the first section. I wanna think through with you whether or not you should have this event. And if you're watching this course right now, I have a feeling that you might already be on the fence after that. If you decide to postpone or cancel, I want to go into thinking about the difference between those two terms and creating a plan or a thought process around those. Once you do have a decision in place, the first people you need to talk Teoh is your team and vendors. That's because these relationships are so important after your team and vendors the next people to contact and communicate. Your message is to your guests, and that includes the people who are coming who aren't coming and those who have not yet responded. You need to have a clear and concise message to all of those people. And so I want to think about where else you need to communicate that message. So, as you can tell from these different sections, canceling an event is work. It's not just like, okay, we're not doing it and, like, walk out the door. No, there's work to be done to make sure this is done well so that you don't burn any bridges with the people in your community and your guests for the future. And once the wave of all this work has died down a bit, I think it's really important to do review and a wrap up to see how you got to this point. I think what the Corona Viruses is very specific circumstances. Sometimes it's a straightforward answer, but other times it's really complicated. The main thing you need for this course is Intel book, But it might also be helpful to have your budget numbers in front of you or realistic look at how things are going for you to really think about things critically in terms of your own event. I think that's also let's get started 2. Should You Cancel?: welcome to thinking about whether or not you should have your event. I think it's good to think through with me and then with some other people to help you find a loop side, whether or not you should move forward with this event. So right now it is the coronavirus pandemic, and I would say with this is the special circumstances, you should probably move forward pretty conservatively, even if your event is in a few months. The question is, are you gonna put people at risk? Because if you're gonna put people at risk, it's probably not worth it. And unfortunately, we don't always know because this is a developing situation. I think you just have to have this in the back your mind throughout the planning process. If I was planning an event even for the rest of 2020 I would say I would probably reaching out to my vendors, Anyone working on the event and kind of have an open conversation about what? If we need to cancel, would you get your money back? Can that be written into the contract having that in the back of your mind because we just don't know what's gonna happen? Is it going to go away completely? Is just gonna disappear? Is it gonna re emerge in the fall And then also thinking about a deadline in which you need to make a decision? Is that one month out? Is that two months out? Because I imagine your vendors also want to know that deadline. The won't know if they're losing your business. I don't want to take this lightly because it is affecting so many people right now. And I think you should take this seriously and have those conversations. Now. I don't really see a downside, cause if you move for the like, if everything turns out OK before with the event, who cares? You know, it was only a little bit more of your time to have those conversations and have a backup plan in place. Okay, so let's pretend that this is normal times because maybe someone is watching this in 2021 2000. Pointed to this is completely blown over. Everything is back to normal, and you're trying to decide whether or not you should have an event. So before we even get to that question, I want to back up and think about your event in general and why you're having the event. So I think in one of my previous courses, like event planning, where to start or something like that I had you write down why you're having the event. The essence of the event. Is it because you're in love and you want to be married to someone? Is it to fundraise and raise money for a particular organization? Is it to raise awareness for a particular organization, organization or cause? Is it to celebrate someone like, Why are you putting all this time and injury to create this thing that people will attend, you know, So once you have your why, I want you to think about what's going on that so challenging. Is it the budget? Do not have enough money or, you know, raising enough money is cater. Backing out is someone really ill. That's very important. Maybe the guest of honor is really sick and not doing well. Are you not getting enough? Are SVP's or attendees, Not people not buying enough tickets right down a couple of problems? I'm sure it's probably more than one problem. If events are complicated, so it could be more than one issue. And the other thing I want to think about. If it's not already, your main issue is your budget and what's going on with that where money stands. So let's get let's talk about a few examples thinking about the why of the event and the challenging bit. So I feel like I've seen this happen more than once. Say, your had a non profit organization and you're having like a fancy dinner of some sort. And your goal is to raise money and in order to. So you want people to buy tables and tickets and donate items for some kind of an auction, maybe ham buy raffle tickets. This kind of an event is tricky because you have to raise more money than it cost to put on the event, Obviously, and if it's a fancy dinner, you have to put a lot of money into the event in order to make it worthwhile at that ticket price. This is very tricky cause you're balancing this budget, and I've seen it where you know, you're at a particular date X number of days before the event and you haven't sold enough tickets. You're definitely not near sold out like that is a big problem, because is it worthwhile to have this event and move forward with it if you're not actually going to raise money for the organization? What you need to think about in that situation is all the staff time that you're also putting into it because that also cost the organization. If this all these staff members on the day of the event and then all of your time cause you're probably the planner leading up to it, put their energy to something else, could they raise money more money that way? Or is it so worthwhile to have the extra benefits of exposure or people involved? Is that worthwhile? So I think that's definitely a budget question, but it also really relates to the Y off you're having this meant is it doesn't raise money . Let's give another example in which say, you're providing a service and that's your why I can really think of it, but maybe like a conference or something, and in order to do so, you want the most about of people to come. However, with this event, it's very low, R s V P count. That's all you have right now, a certain amount of days out before the event. I think again you're going back to your why is that worth the amount of time and energy you're putting into it? If you're not able to provide that service to so many people with what number of people is it worthwhile to put this time and energy toward it, Or would this be better planned at a better time? So let's think about a wedding. So let's say you're getting married in the fall and you don't have enough money to be it a restaurant. And in order to work with their budget, you're really looking at these places that you don't want to be like a park or maybe the beach or something. If the reason why you're getting married is because you're in love, doesn't matter where you are or because you're in love. Would postponing it be that much of an issue, postponing it for a year and being able to save up the money that you want and have the wedding that you want and have all the people there that you want be worthwhile? Personally, I love a long engagement. I think it's great you're only a fiance one time in your life. Hopefully, however, a lot of people have other reasons why they're getting married, such as a green card or someone's ill in the family. Maybe you go to the courthouse and have a small wedding with that important person involved , or to get that green card paperwork started and then have a giant party a year later. So, as you can see, I'm already thinking of solutions. So that's the thing when you're thinking about your why and then the challenging aspect. So in that challenging aspect, a lot of things constituent happen before. Sometimes there are creative solutions to a challenging aspect that are not pleasant to go through well done that before, but are are possible to fix. So say, for example, your cater pulls out on you at the last minute like there are other caters. You could probably still have the event. Or maybe the venue. Something happens, although it's challenging to contact all the events and there's confusion and you have to do all this extra stuff in order to get all the guests to the new location it's still possible to happen and still have a great event. I would say the things you're you should look at. I've already set him once. The why of the event, the challenging aspects of what's going on and probably your budget, because that's a big factor in whether or not you should be moving forward. Because if you have a huge budget and you have a low guest count, it doesn't really matter if you're spending that money. Sometimes it does. Other times it's business money and they want to do it and you just move forward with it. So most the time of the event planner here, not the main decision maker. Sometimes you are, and that's great cause you could be the final say. However, it's nice to talk to other people and make sure everyone's onboard. With this decision. I would set a meeting with those people who are. This is a maker or who are close confidantes or whatnot and bring forward this why you're having the event. You're challenging problems, possible solutions and your budget. I think with those four elements, you'll probably be able Teoh say whether or not yes, I'm moving forward or I can't have this event right now, So let's just choose between those two options. If you are going to move forward with the event, watch my other videos on event planning. However, if you say that this is not a good time, go ahead and move on to the next section. 3. Postpone vs. Cancel: to postpone or cancel. That is the question. Just to start with some basic definitions to cancel an event, it means that you are not gonna have this event for the foreseeable future. However, a few postponement event, it means that you are going to have the event in within the foreseeable future. So within the next year or a year and 1/2 I would say, And it's an important distinction because it really frames how you're going to move forward , how you're gonna talk to people and you don't want to mislead them. If you are really canceling this event and deciding that this is not gonna happen this year or next year or maybe even next year, then it's a different approach then saying to people, We are gonna have this event in the future. I want to continue working with you, but unfortunately, we're not gonna have this event at this time. I wouldn't take this decision lightly because of your vendors, just for your own reputation. I wouldn't want to be the client that's says empty promises about re booking in the future . So he decided to cancel the event, and you're not gonna do it in the next year, year and 1/2 maybe two years. I would say you need to be firm and you might not get your refund back, But you need to be firm on the fact that you're canceling the this event and you're not gonna move forward with it. So when you're postponing event, I think it's important on the back end, either with just yourself or your team to seriously look at a new date for the event. Um, I think it will really change how you approach things if you know what season that you would be doing in the future, like, Oh, we're gonna be doing this event in the fall of next year. I really think that would help with marketing from changing this from, like a negative thing to something to look forward to in the future and setting up people's expectations appropriately when you're postponing Event, obviously get to continue that relationship with your vendors. Hopefully you like those vendors, but you might not be able to work with the same vendor if they're not available in the date in the future. However, if you are looking and seriously have a new date, you might be able to re book certain things that book up quickly, like the venue, for example. So once you make that decision, it is important Teoh to commit to really having this event in the future. 4. Team & Vendors: So now that you have your dissident about whether you're gonna cancel or postpone your event, it's time to talk to your team. And I have a pretty loose definition of team in this regard. So it's anyone working on the event so that could be here are family members, or it could be the staff at your organization. It could be just anyone internal to the event planning process and then also your vendors, your vendors or your team who make the event happen. So I would first start with your internal team of who you've been planning this event with . I think it's important to tell them first out of respect and have a consistent message about your decision making process. They don't need to know all the details, but I think high level details that would be probably the most helpful. Like, Hey, we've decided not to move forward with this event because we don't have the funding in place, but we've decided to postpone until next spring. The messaging we want to tell our attendees is that this isn't the right time and that we didn't have enough momentum going into the event or some you know you could have flowery phrasing so that your staff knows what's going on. They know the truth of it, but they also have the messaging ready to go in case someone asked them. So after you have your conversation with your internal team, I would first, Before I talk to my vendors, I'd look at who I have signed contracts with and who I don't have signed contracts with. If I have a signed contract with someone, I want to review their contract and what their cancellation policies. Just so I have that in the back of my mind. What I'm talking to them. I really encourage people to get on the phone and talk to their vendors. I know that can be scary for a lot of people to talk on the phone, but you just got to get used to it as an event planner. These are people who are part of your team, and you wanna keep that relationship intact. So I think it's important to have emotion in your voice when you're talking to them and being like, you know, this is what's going on. I have talked to my supervisors, and this is our decision. Can't we talk about the contract? Usually starting out with the question is really helpful. You could always set up a call and ask and kind of let them know that some bad stuff's going down. But they need to know what's going on. Knowing that things are not going well is helpful. When you asked to talk about the contract and about the cancellation policy, you never know how that's gonna go If you have one existing relationship with that vendor, I've had it happen where I've had to cancel in a bit like a cater. And they were really flexible with me, even though I was well past their cancellation date and was like, ready to pay them or for them to keep the deposit that I had given them. They refunded it to me because the relationship was more important than that one of it. And so, if you are in event planning, planning multiple events and using the same vendors over and over again, this happens and they know that this happens, and so sometimes they will allow you to get your refund back without any issues. However, if you're a one off bride and this has happened to this cater the fifth time this month. They might just not have any more patients, and they're going to keep that deposit because they've already put the effort and scheduling everyone and perhaps even buying the food. Who knows what work they've done on there and that they need compensation for. So in this process, you might not get deposits back. He might not get refunds back, but I think it's really good for any relationship building happen to be honest with them, ask what they can dio and thank them for how much work they've done so far. Because even if you only had a couple back and forth with them, they still had you in their files. They still have started thinking about that, and they probably already started counting on that income from you. So appreciating that I'm saying thank you and having that honest conversation were really help You continue having that relationship with them in the future. So a lot of times, you know, when you're postponing event, not as many bad things happen, you'll likely be able just to have all the stuff you've ordered on and move it to the new date. It's also important to do the phone call instead of just a email message out of respect for that business, canceling or postponing close the time that the event is gonna happen. Ah, lot of times that vendor cannot re book for that date, so that date is just lost money for them. And even if you're postponing, that's still a bummer for them. It's out of respect for their business that you really want. Teoh Take your time and again thank them for their their help with getting you as far as they did with your event. 5. Communicate Your Message: Okay, now that you've talked to your team, the larger team, everyone, we have to talk. Teoh. Any donors you have and your guests so donors is. Usually people have given money to host the event or have provided some element of events. I mainly thinking of nonprofit fundraising events in which donors have given funds for the event. But it could also be at a wedding where your uncle paid for the booze or something like that. So these people, I think, take a little more precedence over all of your guests because they've already made that initial investment. So I think it's important to reach out to them, and it doesn't have to be a phone call. However, it depends on help. How important that gift waas to actually having the event happened. So if it was like an extremely important element of the event, I would give him a phone call and let them know what the decision has made. But otherwise an email will probably serve ice, but also having in that email what options they wanna have for whatever they've given. So what do they want to do with that money? Would they like that? money to go to the organization. Would they like that Money refunded? Would they like that money to go to the next event? Cause even if you're postponing, they might not be happy with the fact that you're postponing and might actually ask for that money in return. So just be prepared for that. Don't take it personally. It's their decision. And it was always there money to begin with. So I think those people take precedent. If you are going to email, send separate emails for each item. This takes a little time, I would say Maybe another level before your guests at a non profit organization. You might want Teoh tell your Board of Supervisors people who are really important to the event, and it could be the same message that you give. All the other guests actually recommend that it is the same message that they give that you give other all the other guests. Have it happened on our two or three earlier in the day. Then when you tell the larger guest population that way, they know that that information is coming. They're not surprised because, say your board members is out to lunch with someone else who is going to attend the event, and they get the information at the same time. And the guests who wishes coming looks of the board members like Oh my God, what happened? And you just don't want your board members to be blindsided. Giving them either the same message or a little bit more information is really a good thing to do that. It makes the canceling the event so much more graceful. And this is what I don't always see happen. So when telling the guest, there's three different types of guests, people who have RSVP'd s have bought a ticket who are coming to the planning to come to the event. Then there's people who have not RSVP'd at all. You just unknowns. And then there's people who have said no. So obviously out of that category, the people who have said yes is the main priority people about tickets, those air, the main priority of people who need the messaging. I would keep it short and concise. They don't need to know the details. They just need to know that it's no longer happening, and if it's gonna be postponed when it's gonna happen the future and what's happening to the money that they've given if they are purchasing a ticket or their purchasing something for the event. So be prepared for questions. And if people start asking about that new date because you're postponing, um, I would just say that you're working on it, but it will be likely in spring of the next year or whatever season you really do. You think it's gonna happen in people who have not RSVP'd at all? It's just unknown, whether coming or not, they still need to know that it's no longer happening because you don't want people just showing up okay and it not happening and causing more confusion. And so that messaging it's pretty much the same. Except you don't need the information about refunds or what happens to their money, obviously, so they just need to know that it's no longer happening when toe look forward to the new date or whether it's cancelled completely and that's about it. Nice, short, sweet, concise to the point, not wasting anyone's time, but also being respectful. Although you might think that it's not important to tell the people who said no, I think it's important. You still have to let those people who are not coming They've told you they're not coming. Doesn't matter. They should still no, because what if something else gets canceled for them? And they're like, Oh, now I can go to this thing and a like, don't know it's not happening. And they're like reaching out way later or something random like that. Just let them Noah's Well, they can have the same messaging as the people that you don't know whether or not they're coming Or you could even say something like, I know that you had RCP notice event, but I wanted to let you know that is no longer happening on this date. We're looking for a new date and spring of next year you're able to come. Can I keep you in list or something like that? You could make it very positive and forward facing forward looking. Before you send out that messaging, I would have a little brainstorm of what you think peoples questions they're gonna be because people are gonna ask you questions. It's just natural. And so having a response written for each one would be really helpful. And any team member say you're working an organization that will also get those questions. Maybe send that document toe just so they have the exact same warning that you do on People aren't getting different missed messages by talking to different people. That's one thing that when it's done well, it's really nice and consistent. If your event is public like, say, you're doing a fun run and that thing gets cancelled, that's really tricky as well, because you've probably publicized it in a public way so that the public could come make sense. So you're gonna have to advertise that your event is no longer happening in a public way. This is a bummer, however. I think it's most respectful and least confusing if you do it and do it well. So you need to advertise wherever that you had initially advertised, because people who go to the grocery store and see your flyer are probably going to see your flyer that it's canceled or, you know, social media. You really pushed it on social media. You're gonna have to make a post or even more than one post saying that the event is no longer happening and use all of your social media channels, I would say you probably should do this anyway, even if it's not a public event. So it was like a private gala. You should probably have that messaging on your website or on a couple places that those people might look to make sure that they're getting the message. And don't just rely on email. Absolutely. First page. If it's a public event, first page of your website, super important. I don't know how many times that's happened where it's a public event, and then it's no longer happening. And then there's no messaging on the website like guys. Hello. So yeah, that's all the people that I can think of who would be involved in event. If you can think of anyone else, tell them that's not happening. If there's anyone else that has been even somewhat involved, it might be good. Just a shoot him a quick email me and let them know. I think that's one thing that really stands out when I see an event that was canceled very tactfully is that it's consistent messaging. Everyone was aware, so there's no question mark about whether or not this event is happening 6. Review/Debrief: so somehow I didn't end up recording this section when I sat down to record this video. However, it does not mean that it is not important. And actually, I do a review or debrief after every event, usually with myself. Just kind of Johnny notes down about what went well and what I could do better in the future, usually because where I worked, the events have been cyclical or similar over time, because people's tend to have the same behavior over and over again. You couldn't begin to protect that behavior. But I also think it's very important for events that don't happen, whether you have to postpone or you have to cancel. It's important to think through how you got here. So earlier in this video, I have you write down what the challenging aspects were from your event. Thinking about those I want you to list the main reasons why you ended up canceling or postponing, and that could be the same as those challenging aspects where you might have had Teoh cancel or postpone for another reason. For example, Corona virus canceled. Our event events are complicated, so I imagine that you would have more than one reason for cancelling the event. Then, for each one of those challenging aspects or reasons why you had to cancel or postpone, I want you to think of the process of how it got to this point. How did you not have enough at 10 days or people buying tickets? How did you not have enough money? Where did the body go? Just kind of think through that. And Johnson notes down about what happened during the planning process that got you to this point where you have to postpone or cancel. Then I want you to think about how to avoid these issues in the future. Is it that you need to pick an event date earlier so that you can begin marketing and selling tickets sooner? Is it that you need to find a musical act or backup musical act because their main one dropped out? What are possible solutions that if you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do differently? Doing that alone is a great process, but it's also great to get some other people's opinion, especially if you're working in an organized organization and you have an internal team. You can go through this process with them. However, when you are doing in a group, I want you to avoid finding people or actions to blame. You know, you guys have already made the decision and you're moving forward. You don't need a harp on something that went wrong because of one person. And because events are so complicated, it's usually not just one person. But instead of blaming, people are finding the person to blame. I would say this is very should be a very forward looking experience in finding ways to make communication better or the planning process better or getting started earlier, like what are little things that are to make it better in the future. And then, if you are doing another group, I also recommend pointing out what people did right. There's probably things that got you so far along that people did. Wow, and those need to be recognized as well, even though you're not having the event anymore. So yeah, I think by doing this review or a debrief, whatever you wanna call it, if you're really serious about getting better as an event planner, I think you have to do this. You have tow, untangle how things happen so that you can better predict him in the future and be a better event planner. 7. Course Review: Thank you so much for watching this video. I think it's a really important topic to cover in events because this is natural. Even outside of Corona virus time events get cancel. It's gonna happen eventually. If you're an event planner, one year events is gonna get canceled. So I hope through this course that you're able to decide whether or not postponing or cancelling this right call and who you needed contact about that and and how to communicate your message well when canceling or postponing your event. If you have any questions about canceling or postponing your event that I didn't cover or you don't quite understand, please leave a comment because you're probably not the only person that has that question, and I'll take some time to respond to it. Hopefully help more people. Or if you've been following me and getting my notifications, you probably noticed I'm not making as many event planning videos anymore because I have left my event planning career behind in order to move into the travel industry, and so I'll probably not be making as many event planning videos. However, you never know when something might strike that I feel it's important to talk about, and this was definitely one of those cases. If you'd like to follow any of my trouble conduct, you can head over to my website at moderately adventurous dot com, you can follow me on Instagram or Pinterest at moderately adventurous. Hopefully, this wasn't too much of a bummer, although it's very important to think about. And I'll see you in the next video. All right, bye.