The coronavirus has severely impacted event planners across the globe in a number of ways. Whilst the crisis continues, your delegates will want to know what you are doing. And it’s critical that you manage their expectations well – now more than ever. In fact, a new research study from Eventsforce this month has found that 1 in 4 event planners see managing delegate expectations in the right way as one of the biggest challenges of the job right now.
You want to be doing everything you can to protect your delegates. You want to make things easier for them, continue educating them, whilst minimising their disruption and anxiety. Doing this well can serve you well – it will also help you build trust and loyalty for your events in the long term.
Have a look at what things you need to be thinking about when managing delegate expectations in the three most common scenarios event planners are currently facing: Cancelling or postponing events, going ahead with events (if not in immediate future) and making the move to virtual. We also share some thoughts on how to communicate with delegates, regardless of the situation.
Cancelling or Postponing Your Event
In many parts of the world, it is now illegal to hold gatherings of people that exceed a certain number. In the UK, that number is as small as two. Even if there are no legal restrictions on hosting events, you may decide it would be best not to anyway.
Whatever the situation, you need to be clear with your delegates. Have you cancelled your event or has it been postponed to a new date? What do you want delegates to do when they find out? Do you want them to phone your office, do you want them to e-mail, or do they need to complete a form on your website? Whatever you want them to do, be sure that your office is adequately resourced to be able to deal with the questions that delegates will have. You may need to draft in some temporary help.
Cancelling or postponing your event will have an immediate impact on your delegates. They may have booked flights, accommodation and paid for their tickets to attend. And as such, come the issue of refunds.
Do you give delegates a part refund, a full refund or credit for your next event? The actions you take will depend in large part on your ticketing policy. If you are waiting for a decision from your insurance company on whether you will be able to pay refunds, then let your delegates know that is your current position.
Let them know how long it’s likely going to take for a refund or claim to be processed. If you bolster your FAQs page on your event website and direct people to it for the latest updates, make sure you are keeping on top of it. If you don’t, it will soon appear neglected, which is not good.
Use the most effective communication channels to get your messaging out. You may want to use your event app, but it’s unlikely that delegates would have downloaded it anyway because most people only do that just before or at the event. So it’s better to use more obvious channels like email and getting them to check your event website regularly too.
If your event is postponed, it’s essential that you continue to build the excitement to it. Even though your original event date has changed, you can create interest along the way to the new date. It’s more important than ever that you continue to update delegates with the information for the event and keep them engaged. This article on post-event attendee engagement may be handy for some ideas.
Going Ahead with Your Event
If your event is still going ahead (say it’s scheduled for later in the year), it’s important that you give peace of mind to delegates that they will be safe. In addition to building the buzz around the event and communicating the usual essential information, it will be super important to show what precautions you will be taking on-site.
Have a think about what a delegate will want to know when they are at your event. If you have networking as an activity, what will you do to make sure that it is safe? Your job is not to increase the stress levels of your delegates, so explain what your networking looks like. When it comes to sitting down for lunch, how will that be organised? Will you cater for small groups of people at separate times? Will you have hand sanitisers close to the stage for delegates and speakers to access? Remember delegates may be touching microphones as they answer questions from the floor.
If you walk through the delegate journey and think of what they are likely to touch and if you have any crowds forming at entrances or registration desks, you can make a plan of how to deal with them. Once you have the plan, publish it and inform your delegates. Provide them with the assurance that you are absolutely looking after their safety.
Related reading: How to avoid long queues at events
There are many ways you can communicate how you will keep delegates safe at your event. For example, through your event website, through personalised emails, through social media, through signage at the event and of course with your event app. This is where an event app can be very useful as you can use push notifications at the event as reminders to delegates of personal hygiene measures that everyone needs to be exercising. It’s easy for people to forget, especially when they see colleagues and friends that they haven’t seen for a while.
Pivoting to a Virtual Event
Rather than cancelling or postponing your event, you may be able to move it to a virtual format. Is it possible for your event to make that shift? Probably. Let’s take a conference that has speakers and break-out sessions and a bit of networking. You can quiet easily replicate that in a virtual format these days. It just takes some design thinking. The technology is available, there are platforms you can use and specialist advisors who can help.
As far as your delegates are concerned, you may need incentives for them to join. There are plenty of things you can offer. For example, maybe your conference has a scaled down agenda which means they save time by attending but still get the invaluable content. Plus, you could arrange for the sessions to qualify for CPD points. Then, you could let them know, that they can still earn their CPD points by attending online sessions (some professionals association members depend on these for their career development). You could also mention networking. And the carbon footprint impact. Whatever incentives you use, it’s important that your delegates know that your virtual event will help them.
Your messaging will need to let delegates understand how to register, whether they need to pay and which web-link to use to access the livestream. Then they will be able to attend as a remote (virtual) delegate. Be sure to remind them to have their sound turned on, otherwise they will not hear the great content.
You could suggest they close other browser windows, so as not to become distracted, plus it may reduce their connectivity speed. And of course, you will need to make sure they are connected to the internet. Whilst these steps seem basic, the majority of queries that arise are from delegates not being properly set up.
Think about how you can help your delegates make the most of the virtual platforms that you will be using? How can they send in questions or make comments? It pays dividends to hold their hand to get going. Imagine your delegate has never attended a virtual event before. Go through the steps, map their journey (as you would for a live event) and then you can create helpful advice for all delegates.
Provide detailed instructions and helpful advice in their information packs when they register. Plus, if you create a short explainer video around getting the most out of the experience that can be very useful. After all, becoming tech frustrated is not the way you want a delegate to experience your virtual event
Related reading: 7 mistakes to avoid when using Facebook Live
Other Important Considerations:
1) Maximise Social Media
Social media is a great way to market your event. But it’s also a great way to communicate important announcements and updates. With public facing events, social media could be used to inform your delegates of the actions you are taking whilst the coronavirus crisis lasts.
It doesn’t matter whether you are postponing or cancelling, whether you are going ahead with your event or whether you are pivoting your event to being virtual, social media will help.
You will need a strategy otherwise you will waste time and energy. Target the right social media channels that your delegates use and have a simple hashtag for your event. A hashtag that is easy to remember and spell.
2) Speak to Delegates in the Right Way
What is the right way to talk to your delegates? It’s a tough question, but even in times of crisis, you should be using your usual tone and style. Think of safety briefings on flights. The airline has its own voice and you know how the airline staff will treat you. What’s common to every airline, however, is that they want you to listen to their safety announcement. You could adopt the same approach when you issue your messages to your delegates.
Be clear when making your statements. How clear is your message? How would you react if you received the message? Put yourself in the place of the delegate. If you have any ambiguity in your messaging, you can guarantee that you will confuse your delegates. It’s not something you want especially when you are seeking to offer calm reassurance.
3) Keep Communicating
It’s essential that you keep communicating with your delegates at any time, but this is heightened especially at the time of a crisis. The timing of when to release information is critical. The crisis is happening and you need to let delegates know what that means for them. If you don’t say anything, delegates will fill the void with their own interpretation of what’s going on – and you don’t want to do that.
Related reading: How to handle a big crisis at your event
There are some basic principles you should follow, such as being honest, not making things up, providing clear guidelines, keeping to timelines for updates and remaining optimistic but realistic in tone. Your communications can be issued with regular follow up. You can do this easily through your event management system which can manage all your delegate emails, app notifications, updates on your event website(s) and through adjusting registration and supplementary forms to ask important questions that have become relevant.
Whilst you are working through the crisis and having lots of communication with your delegates, do not forget that there will be malicious scammers looking to steal personal data. A crisis can easily hide their activities, so be mindful of protecting personal data and complying with GDPR as well as managing the expectations of delegates and looking after their personal safety.
Keep communicating and be clear. With so much ambiguity coming from the media, governments and other suppliers, your delegates will appreciate your efforts as you demonstrate that you take crisis communications very seriously.
Use the technology, use your network and keep learning. The coronavirus crisis will eventually pass but in the meantime you need to do everything you can to manage your delegates’ expectations regardless of the situation you are in.
Considering a move to virtual events? Eventsforce can help you deliver your sessions online and engage with audiences in the same way you would for your in-person events. Click here for more information or get in touch for a chat.
If you are an Eventsforce customer whose events have been impacted by COVID-19, please get in touch with your account manager for information on how we can help.