Clever Carly: How to Communicate a Meeting Cancellation

Strategies for talking to stakeholders when an emergency forces you to cancel

Hello, planners!

As I’m sure you would all agree, after all of the hours spent poring over meeting plans, the only thing we want is a fruitful event. But sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas, and intense weather can threaten the success of your meeting. Of course, you never want to have to cancel a meeting, but some emergency circumstances might require slight rescheduling or cancellation entirely.

It’s unfortunate, that’s for sure. Unplanning the intricate web of decisions you made in the lead-up to an event is difficult—both logistically and because it’s hard to see all our hard work go to waste—not to mention the process of communication that needs to happen with vendors, sponsors and attendees as a result. As with most things, there are certain strategies that work better than others, and each one depends on which party you’re communicating to. “The meeting is canceled. That’s it, sorry!” is never an appropriate response.

Whether you’re looking to develop your disaster communication plan or revamp the one you have, here’s what I would suggest for talking to your key meeting stakeholders: 

For Vendors

Communication with your venue manager, speakers, technology partners and anyone else you might be collaborating with can be delicate. You, of course, have to deliver bad news—and in a way that preserves the partnership for future endeavors. To avoid any miscommunication, inform them of any changes as soon as possible and call them directly. Making the communication more personal with a phone call minimizes the chance of hurt feelings, which can bubble up even if it’s Mother Nature’s fault. Then, follow up the conversation with a formal written statement. This allows some legal protection for both parties, should any contract issues arise in the future.

For Sponsors

Sponsors give their money and time to partake in an event, and not being able to act on their donations can be another tough conversation—especially when 53 percent of planners say finding a sponsor is challenging in the first place. When talking to a sponsor about an emergency-stricken meeting, prepare potential concessions beforehand to offer up in place of the changed (or canceled) event. Maybe it’s the opportunity to partner together on another meeting you have in your pipeline, or the chance to expand their sponsorship and visibility in the rescheduled event. Whatever it might be, using the conversation as an opportunity to talk about future partnerships will show your appreciation for their work and leave sponsors more inclined to work with you in the future.

For Attendees

If you’ve planned a stellar event (and I don’t doubt you have!), your attendees are likely buzzing about your event—and news of its cancellation or any date changes that render them incapable of attending will probably be disappointing or disgruntling. Your goal is to keep attendees happy and ready for your next event despite any meeting changes, and that starts with honest and proactive communication. Be upfront about the dangers the severe weather posed to the event and the lengths you and your team went through before deciding canceling was safest move. 

And, like with your vendors, keep conversations personal. Sending individual notes might not be possible, but one blanket email might come off blasé. Make sure to include a point of contact where attendees can go to ask questions or talk further. For example, maybe you have a dedicated email address, a hotline or a page on the event’s website to address any concerns with a rescheduling or a cancellation.

Again, canceling a meeting can be a big headache, and it’s important to exhaust any plans that could salvage your event before resorting to eliminating it completely. That said, safety should always be your No. 1 concern, and if Mother Nature isn’t playing fair, it’s not up to you to challenge her. Communicating fast and effectively with all of your meeting’s major players is going to be your safest bet. 

Until next time,
Clever Carly