Event Cancellations: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Cancellations: They’re not a matter of “if” but “when” for your association events.

That was just one of the lessons learned when a major speaker cancellation turned into a teaching experience for attendees at the Meeting Professional International 2017 World Education Congress (MPI WEC), which took place this past June in Las Vegas. Basketball legend Magic Johnson, who was slated to speak at an all-attendee luncheon, had to cancel the night before he was expected to appear.

MPI leadership, along with host hotel MGM Grand Las Vegas and AV contractor Freeman, immediately convened to plan for the unexpected change, communicate the change to attendees and then execute with the time left. MPI formed an ad hoc panel during the luncheon to help attendees learn from the experience of having a major cancellation during an event. Here are some of the key takeaways.

Notify All Parties Involved in the Solution – Now

MPI Program Director Miranda Van Bruck received the email from Johnson’s team at 9 p.m. cancelling his appearance the evening before the event. After gathering her thoughts, van Bruck immediately reached out to Vice President of Education and Events Matt Marcial, CMP, CAE. They then notified MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer, MPI Manager of Communications Sonya Thorpe Cobb and MPI Digital Marketing Manager Hector Olguin, along with key contacts from the MGM Grand Las Vegas and Freeman. Within three hours of the cancellation, everyone involved in coming up with a solution was notified, gathered and working on the plan.

Communicate Quickly, Consistently with Attendees

The purpose of MPI WEC is provide top education and experiences for meeting professionals. To stay in line with that goal, MPI decided that transparency was the best policy. Around 2:30 a.m., Van Deventer released a video through the official MPI WEC app used by attendees throughout the event. The message focused on the solution MPI and all parties involved were working on through the night to execute. A press release followed in the morning noting the cancellation and MPI’s commitment to deliver meaningful and valuable content to attendees regardless of the schedule upset. In a post-event survey, 87 percent of attendees agreed with MPI’s communication plan post-cancellation.

Manage the Tone

MPI knew a negative tone from attendees could be a threat post-cancellation, so the association took control of the message, quickly and calmly conveying what happened, why it happened, the internal efforts to resolve the challenge and the solution. Interaction with event leadership remained solution-oriented and focused on delivering what attendees came for versus bashing the speaker. MPI also opened the floor for attendees to share feedback to gauge if their solution was valuable to all attendees. Through open and ongoing communication, the cancellation wasn’t a constant topic throughout the weeklong event, but rather a hiccup championed by the event leader, host and attendee as a valuable learning experience.

Collaborate and Let Your Team Do Their Jobs

By collaborating, the MPI and MGM Grand Las Vegas teams were able to jump into action and deliver an engaging experience for attendees of the 90-minute luncheon in less than 12 hours. The team knew the audience was expecting high energy entertainment and valuable education. Each team member focused on their own area of expertise. The education team turned the cancellation experience into a learning opportunity for the audience. The entertainment team sought out every available act in Las Vegas, including Cirque du Soleil, Carrot Top and David Copperfield. The AV team sought out the correct materials for the performance. The communication team delivered a consistent message to all attendees and industry professionals unable to attend through social media. Every team member acted to protect the attendee experience and brand of MPI, WEC, MGM Grand Las Vegas and all parties involved. By lunch time, MPI and MGM Grand Las Vegas delivered American hip-hop dance crew The Jabbawockeez, who led into an educational panel discussion and audience Q&A on what to do when things don’t go as planned.

Leverage Relationships with Industry Partners

It was clear MPI and MGM Grand Las Vegas value each other as event partners. MGM Grand Las Vegas Vice President of Entertainment Drew Strozza said, “Everyone picked up their phones on a Tuesday night after 9 p.m.” That’s the kind of relationship you want with your host city, hotel, food and beverage, audio and entertainment partners. As MPI members, event professionals also have the power of the membership network at their fingertips. Whatever your need, there is likely an MPI member in the destination where you’re hosting an event to serve you or make a recommendation of who can. Rely on valuable MPI relationships and the trusted industry suppliers that make up the affiliate membership of every chapter. But if you can’t find an MPI member or if you’re not in an entertainment-centric town like Las Vegas, rely on the local destination and convention experts who can come to your rescue quickly. This is yet another reason why it’s important to “Buy MPI.” Members should also reference their annual chapter membership directories for important contact information.

Know Your Audience

After the luncheon, the panel discussion included an audience Q&A. Questions flooded in for the panelists signifying how important the topic of cancellations was and how to handle them. Audience engagement showed MPI and MGM Grand Las Vegas made the right decision when tasked with booking another education-focused keynote speaker versus opening up the floor and turning the cancellation challenge into an interactive, on-the-job learning experience for all attendees.

Brittany Thompson is a project manager with Naylor Association Solutions. Email her at [email protected].
Photo credit: Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock.com

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