5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Cancel Your Conference in 2020

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Around the world, major events are being canceled as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus causes large gatherings to be banned and social distancing to become the new normal.

For many conference organizers, it may seem like cancelation may be the only option available in the face of current circumstances.

Fortunately, you have further options. You could postpone the event, potentially avoiding a big shakeup, or you could hold a virtual conference. There may even be some significant benefits to hosting your gathering differently this year.

1. Postponing Can Help You Hold on to Spent Money

If you cancel an event, you are likely to lose out on most of the money you’ve spent so far. While in some cases you may be able to get refunds on a venue, conference space, airfare and lodging, typically, you’ll be faced with a serious cancellation fee. There is also no recouping money already spent on printed materials and merchandise.

Postponing your event can help you recoup some of that lost revenue.

When postponing, ask your venue for future available dates that are a bit off in the future. It may be possible to reschedule your booking, and you may be able to save some money. If you booked through a travel group, reach out to them now and ask if it’s possible to move your event back. 

Some places are looking to secure revenue next year to make up for cancellations this year. As a result, your travel group may be open to rescheduling your event.

2. Virtual Conferences Can Be More Flexible

In just about every aspect, going virtual can offer your conference a lot more flexibility.

Typically, a conference needs to make enough money to cover a venue months in advance. Going virtual means you won’t have to worry about that particular issue. Instead, you can put your full focus on fielding the most interesting speakers and organizing workshops, panels and other events. You also won’t need to coordinate travel or lodging for staff or guests. All you’ll have to do is make sure they have a strong internet connection and any necessary streaming equipment — like a high-quality webcam, headset or home recording setup.

If your conference is like any of the top web design conferences out there, you may already have some of this equipment on hand for livestreaming purposes.

Because you don’t need to coordinate travel, it may also be possible to continue bringing on panelists and speakers weeks or even days before the conference date. It may also be less painful if a speaker needs to cancel just before the conference.

Going virtual gives you a little extra flexibility in many other ways. For example, rather than print out conference schedules, you can save paper and create a regularly updated online list that guests can access via QR codes. This was the strategy adopted by the annual meeting of Interdisciplinary 19th-Century Studies.

Virtual conferences can also include features that pull from and build on the in-person conference experience — like a digital Q&A, virtual breakout discussions and audience chat.

3. Going Virtual Can Make a Conference More Accessible

When a conference goes virtual, it may be possible to reduce fees or waive them altogether — creating an event anyone with an internet connection can attend. Some academic and research conferences that want to reach the widest audience possible — along with other events, like concerts — are already adopting this model and hosting livestreams on YouTube anyone can tune in to.

Virtual conferences also won’t need to worry about venue accessibility and size. No matter how many guests want to attend your meeting, a virtual venue can accommodatethem.

4. Virtual Conferences Can Spend More on Their Guests

Not paying for a venue or guest lodging and travel means you can shift your focus to other priorities. With the money you save by going virtual, you can focus more on paying guests and staff, and sourcing the best tech possible to make the whole thing come together. You can also spend more on advertising your event, and attract greater numbers of attendees.

5. Now May Be a Great Time to Experiment

People can be more open to novel ways of doing things in uncertain times. 

For example, many businesses that have little or no experience with their employees working from home are learning on their feet right now. They are learning a lot about managing remote employees. Many will likely continue to allow remote working in some capacity, having learned how to accommodate and even benefit from it.

Pushing for work-from-home policies during normal times is a lot harder.

Similarly, going virtual would have been a hard decision for a conference to justify in a typical year. Now, however, things are different. If you’ve been considering pivoting to a virtual or online meeting, this could be a great opportunity to experiment with a new approach.

Also, it’s unlikely that many will complain if you postpone your event. While there’s likely to be some disappointment, right now, there’s no real path for going forward with something scheduled in the next few weeks or months.

Alternatives to Canceling a Conference

Conferences around the world are making tough decisions about how to move forward. For many, cancellation may seem like the only option. However, there are alternatives available — like postponing the event or moving it online. A virtual conference may even provide some advantages over traditional ones.

Hosting virtual this year may open up many future possibilities, as well. If it goes well, your conference may be able to continue operating virtually or potentially expand its live streaming and online offerings.

Lexie is a digital nomad and graphic designer. If she’s not traveling to various parts of the country, you can find her at the local flea markets or hiking with her goldendoodle. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and connect with her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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