event planning during crisisevent planning during crisis

Event Planning in a Crisis

The event planning industry has taken a big hit as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world. While the beginning of March saw long-planned events being postponed out of “an abundance of caution,” by the middle of the month, planners were responding to a full-on crisis. 

In lots of ways, event planners are well equipped to handle the rapidly changing reality of a pandemic. This is an industry where success depends on being resourceful, adaptable, and creative. But in a world where in-person gatherings go against state and federal guidance, many professionals have been thrown for a loop.

Best Practices

If you have events that are coming up in the next few months, you’re likely trying to figure out how things will play out. With all the logistical heavy lifting involved in setting up an event, it’s understandable to want the show to go on. However, as of April 2, 38 states, 48 counties, 14 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have all been instructed to shelter in place, most of them through the end of April and possibly beyond. 

If you’re in a locale yet to be under local or state guidance to stay at home AND you’re planning an event, it’s strongly advised to consider rescheduling. If it’s not possible to reschedule, consider the following to make sure you’re keeping safety at the forefront.

Evaluate your needs and your format options

Most events can be adapted to the virtual world. What were “alternative formats” in the past, in fact, are becoming the new norm in event planning. Webinars, virtual conferences, and hybrid events are ways to keep the show going. 

virtual event planningThese event types allow the content you’ve carefully cultivated to still shine and for people to connect and network. However, are you familiar with all your options? Do you have a plan for making the leap to virtual? 

  • Pick your virtual event platform: Your choice entirely depends on what type of event you’re adapting. There is a huge range of options!
  • Pare down content to the essentials: In-person events shine when all the details are just right, but virtual events thrive on streamlined content and smooth delivery. Make sure you adjust accordingly.
  • Adapt your communication strategy: When changing an event midstream to virtual delivery, it’s important to manage expectations. Clearly communicate why and how the event is changing so your audience is in the know.
  • Have a technology plan in place: The best plan for technology? Plan for it to not work right the first time. Get all support in place before moving forward. 

If you absolutely must hold your event onsite, take all precautions to ensure the health and safety of participants. Besides consulting state and federal guidelines, work with your local health department for support with determining event capacity and sanitation requirements

Keep a public update log

Because conditions are constantly shifting right now, you want to make sure that any decisions you make on how and when the event is taking place are clearly communicated to your attendees. While you should plan on pushing out the information via social and email, having a central spot on your event site gives everyone a reliable spot to find details. 

(Don’t have an event website? It’s not too late to put one together!)

Make sure you’re communicating the following information:

  • Event cancellations
  • Event format changes
  • Participating in events online
  • Changes in registration and fees
  • Any health and safety requirements for events 

Work with local public health officials

Do you know what the current advisories are for in-person interaction with others? If your event requires any kind of person-to-person contact, get smart on what you need to do to keep safe. Because each part of the country is different, the first thing to do is contact your local public health officials to see what resources you’ll need. 

This goes for virtual events as well as live events. After all, if you’re making the shift to virtual, you’ll likely need to procure equipment and set up alternate spaces for live streaming. Are you live streaming a speaker from a conference room? Requiring in-person tech support? Getting a delivery of equipment to run a webinar from your home office? All of these require some level of contact with the outside world. Plan accordingly. 

Rescheduling and cancellation costs

If you’ve already made commitments based on pre-pandemic plans, you’ll want to work closely with the people and vendors you’ve contracted with. Unfortunately, as many are being reminded, a great deal of money sunk into events is nonrefundable. However, if you prioritize relationship building over your budget right now, you may be able to negotiate services later down the road. 

Just as importantly, if your prospective attendees have already paid, you’ll want to honor any requests for refunds.


Everyone is unsure right now of what the future holds, especially in the event industry. To stay on top of what professionals are recommending, these resources offer up-to-date information.

COVID-19 Coronavirus News & Resources for the Business Events Industry – Professional Convention Management Association

Novel Coronavirus Resources – Meeting Professionals International

Key planning recommendations for Mass Gatherings in the context of the current COVID-19 outbreak (interim guidance) – World Health Organization 

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