Café Jana Video 2: Contingency Planning for Events

In the second Café Jana video, I cover why it’s important to have contingency plans for all of your events moving forward.

I also want to share with you a chapter from Digital-First Events where we cover in detail how to create contingency plans per event. These plans should include what triggers to use to make decisions about which plans to move forward with and why having clear monetary risk assessment will save your company money.

Chapter 10: Contingency Planning

In February 2020, we started to get a glimpse of the effect of the pandemic. The first signs were a slowdown of event registrations for our Asia Pacific and European conferences. At that time, we did not realize the pandemic would have a global impact that would require the entire world to go under strict lockdown. We were a bit naive and thought COVID-19 would only impact our spring and summer conferences. Since we had already negotiated contracts with venues, our team drafted contingency plans with specific triggers that would determine when we would scale down, postpone, cancel, or transform an event into a digital conference.

Our plans included a risk assessment that made it clear to leadership what the monetary risk associated with each decision was. Any of those decisions could not be taken lightly since there were many people that would have been impacted by the decision from internal stakeholders, partners/sponsors, vendors, and the community. Both conferences quickly hit Level 2 and Level 3 triggers, which meant we had to postpone our Asia Pacfific conference (looking back now we should have canceled) and we turned our European event into a digital conference.

With the pandemic still raging on, another strain discovered, and every one of us heading into stricter and longer lockdowns, we made the decision to keep our entire program virtual for 2021.

Nugget: Having clearly documented contingency plans with triggers and risk assessments allowed us to make the decision early to pivot to digital conferences and gave us the extra time we needed to pull it off.

When you start putting together your plans for 2022 and beyond, your plans should include multiple contingency plans like the options we have listed below with clear triggers and risk assessment per plan that will inform teams and leadership when they would need to set the next plan in motion.

Contingency Plan Options

Jana had originally published these contingency plans on her Medium blog last year. The plans went from continuing as-is with a large-scale in-person to scaled-down or fully digital. The reverse order now applies as we slowly get the pandemic under control and hopefully go back to physical events in the near future.

Option 1: Status Quo, Fully Digital-First Conference

This format means all attendees including staff, employees, and speakers will experience and participate in the conference in a fully digital setting.

Option 2: Hybrid Conference

This format will focus on a fully built out digital-first conference experience along with a live audience experience.

Option A: Create a digital experience that would reach a greater attendee base, but invite the speakers to the studio for high-quality presentations. This would also entail a small, on-site production crew.

Option B: Smaller, in-person experience for a limited set of attendees (customers, press, analysts, community members, leadership, etc.) and a more built-out digital experience. This would also entail a small, on-site production crew.

Option 3: Full Sized Conference With a Digital Livestream

This plan would be to continue pushing forward with what physical events used to look like prior to COVID-19.

Triggers

Travel Advisory Trigger

Each government has its own version of travel warnings, but we based our triggers off of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of State travel advisory notices. These levels range from Level 1, which allows traveling freely, through Level 4, which considers travel risks as serious and life-threatening. We use these triggers to decide when we set the next option in the plan in motion.

Risk Assessment Trigger

Every venue and vendor contract has set payment terms and cancelation dates. We created a spreadsheet that listed out all of the vendor payments based on the date ranges shown below. For example, this allowed us to say to our leadership team “If we cancel by March 15, 2020, we will owe 25% of the total expenses of our European conference. If we cancel by April 25, 2020, we will owe 50% of total expenses of our European conference.” Clearly articulating to leadership and finance teams the financial cost risk associated with moving from one plan to the next gives them the information they need to make a decision.

181+ days out (date or earlier): If we decide to cancel prior to X day, we owe X percentage of the total expenses of the conference or event.

180–91 days out (dates): If we decide to cancel prior to X day, we owe X percentage of the total expenses of the conference or event.

90–61 days out (dates): If we decide to cancel prior to X day, we owe X percentage of the total expenses of the conference or event.

60–31 days out (dates): If we decide to cancel prior to X day, we owe 100% of the total expenses of the conference or event.

30–0 days out (dates): If we decide to cancel prior to X day, we owe 100% of the total expenses of the conference or event.

While these triggers are aligned with physical event venues, they do also align with other big expenses, like production, and certainly also work in reverse, creating a contingency plan for when you are planning a digital event but you run the risk of losing out on a physical event. Having clearly defined milestones and dates to accommodate to changing circumstances is certainly a big part of running digital events while keeping an eye on the possibility of a physical event in the future. Make sure to create a contingency plan, get it approved, and share it with your team and (internal) stakeholders, reviewing your decisions at each relevant date to plot your event’s future clearly.

Book Plug: If you found this chapter useful, go buy Digital-First Events! You can use the code cafejana to purchase the book for $5! This book is a step-by-step guide on how to create engaging digital events and conferences for your community.

I’m a community builder, experiential marketer, and startup advisor living in NYC.

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