Insights from event leaders at Demandbase, Lattice, and Outreach on guiding your attendees and your team through a crisis.

Last week, we spoke with event leaders at Demandbase, Lattice, and Outreach to discuss one of the largest crises facing the event industry to date.

Our panelists included IN-PERSON Podcast alum Nani Shaffer and Erin Flannery in addition to long-time BizzaFriend Melissa Westendorf.

The conversation covered important topics including postponing events or outright cancelling events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of putting your attendees and customers first, and the future of events. 

Here are our top 6 takeaways to help you successfully lead during an event crisis.

Note: You can watch the Full Customers Come First Webinar here.

1. Prioritize health

It can be difficult to make a decision to cancel or postpone and event—especially when you consider the amount of time, work, resources, and investments that are put into bringing an event vision to life. However, given the current circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic, event organizers everywhere are working to make the right call. When assessing what decisions to make, our panelists turn to two important factors: attendee safety and event goals.

The most important thing is to take care of our internal teams, make sure that they feel safe, but also release any attendees that are also from a high risk area from any commitment to our event. And we communicate with them right away saying, ‘We’re going to pivot, we’re going to do something virtual, we’re still going to bring you all that content you were looking for.’”

Melissa Westendorf, Director of Events at Outreach

“While we were making decisions about what to pivot to, something that was incredibly helpful for us was to remember why we were hosting that particular event to begin with. What was the point? What did we want our attendees to get out of it? And a lot of that had to do with their ability to build a community, to build their own brands, and think about their careers and new ways to get inspired. Once we made that decision to cancel our event, things became a lot easier.”

-Nani Shaffer, Senior Director of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations at Demandbase

2. Establish a process for making decisions

When evaluating if an event should be canceled or postponed, the team at Lattice uses a decision matrix to assess event goals, resources, and timelines to help determine if going live with an in-person event is feasible.

“What we’ve done is made a decision matrix, based off of our production team deadlines, venue payments, and then how long it would take to promote the events. We need to understand how much time we can lead up to the event, promote it, and still hit our goals. We’ve set a date in the sand, and we’re just going to say, if we can’t hit that date and make a decision, then we probably will just postpone our event until 2021.”

-Erin Flannery, Head of Events at Lattice

3. Quickly communicate with your teams

Once your decision is made, make sure to effectively communicate with internal stakeholders. This can mean immediately starting larger discussions through channels like Slack and taking more time to work with other departments like sales, legal, and finance.

“There were a lot of internal discussions that happened in rapid fire—including our legal team, finance team, and our production company. And for a short time, it was about understanding consequences of postponement, of cancellation, of keeping as is, of moving totally digital, until we got to sort through those puzzle pieces internally for a few days.”

-Nani Shaffer, Senior Director of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations at Demandbase

“We immediately created a Slack channel for everyone who was involved in Q1 events, from our customer success people who were supposed to attend, sales people who were supposed to work booths, demand team, and just laid out everything that we knew, and said, ‘If it’s not on here, I don’t know the answer, we’ll be checking back in tomorrow.’ Then, we wanted to check in with our exec team, and say, ‘This is what’s going on.’ And of course our events people, since we had more travel than most of the company, needed that extra level of clarity.”

-Erin Flannery, Head of Events at Lattice

4. Be proactive and transparent with external comms

Remember that your attendees, sponsors, and speakers are eagerly awaiting updates about events. Be sensitive and make sure to communicate quickly and honestly to strengthen trust and transparency.

“I think open communication with your sponsors is just really, really valuable. We all need each other to make this thing happen when it all comes back to life in a few months.”

-Melissa Westendorf, Director of Events at Outreach

The pivot to the external communications was quick and it was on purpose, and we were okay with going out with unanswered questions, because everyone had so many unanswered questions. It was more important for us not to appear like we were hiding anything or holding anything back, or potentially not taking seriously the health risks involved with this.”

-Nani Shaffer, Senior Director of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations at Demandbase

5. Look at the crisis as an opportunity for experiment

While current circumstances are keeping people safely apart, there’s still a clear need to engage to network, connect, and get inspired. Panelists express the overwhelming positivity of looking to virtual solutions in the immediate future and the potential for hybrid events—bridging both in-person and virtual experiences—to attract new audiences and engage attendees in creative ways moving forward.

“I’m frankly a little bit too enthusiastic and excited about the potential for making this into something that’s different and cool, and an opportunity for us to showcase what we would have been able to do in person in a totally different way. I don’t think we would pivot away from in-person events, I think that’s going to be an incredibly important component, but certainly, for this year, there’s flexibility around coming up with other options.”

-Nani Shaffer, Senior Director of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations at Demandbase

“It’s really exciting to hear what everyone’s talking about—virtual events could be a whole new space for a whole different type of person who might not feel comfortable going up and starting a conversation in a group of strangers. There’s an entire group of people that might be able to participate in a bigger way than they ever could before. I’m excited to keep exploring that. We’ll still keep working with our peers and our co-workers and people at other companies, especially in other industries. I think that’s the most important thing event planners from all different kinds of industries are talking to one another right now about, “Okay, I work in tech, you work in pharmaceuticals, you work in construction, you work in trucking, we all need to do something.”

-Melissa Westendorf, Director of Events at Outreach

“This is a good opportunity to get even more people involved, more attendees involved. When thinking about our events programs, the different events target different parts of our marketing funnel, which means we can still do events that are virtual events, that target those parts of the funnel, but they might be a little different. We can host way more people and can have someone from our sales team jump on to chat. There are just different avenues. So, admitting that it’s not the same, but you can still target the same people, and you just have to get a little more creative. And I think, to Melissa’s point, we’re all going to come out better event marketers at the end of this.”

-Erin Flannery, Head of Events at Lattice

Interested in exploring a virtual or hybrid event platform? Check out Bizzabo’s Virtual Experience Solution to learn how you can reach the full potential of audience engagement with experiences that can reach attendees wherever they are.

6. The Power of Connection Unites Us During A Crisis

Event organizers are resilient and it’s clear to our panelists that creativity and energy and rise above current setbacks. As we look to future, encourage your teams to embrace new ideas and spark new innovations to bring the industry forward.

“I wholeheartedly believe that when this is all done, people are going to be so excited to get together again in groups and networking in person.”

-Melissa Westendorf, Director of Events at Outreach

“f you don’t have the ability to change the format of say a big meeting like this, or a webinar, or everyone with cameras on, lean on your content team and go deep on what content could be really fun and engaging, and maybe a little outside the norm. Get more creative with your content, especially now considering we have more flexibility in terms of trying stuff out.”

-Erin Flannery, Head of Events at Lattice

“I have been amazed over the past several weeks about the appetite for connection that is still here, and that people are very eager and open to creative new ideas. Some of the best ideas we’ve had in years from our team internally or coming directly from customers discussion how they want to get together—there’s been remarkable flexibility in the ways that we approach that ability to connect with each other.”

-Nani Shaffer, Senior Director of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations at Demandbase

Looking back at the conversation, it’s clear that event organizers are deeply engaged and highly motivated to do what’s best for their attendees, sponsors, and teams as well as create new ways to engage and expand their event audiences.

No matter the circumstance, it’s clear the power of connection is critical in times of crisis.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for our panelists and event organizers everywhere as they continue to build the future of events. Look out for our next discussion for more thought provoking insights from the most innovative event leaders.

Want to learn how you can build a customer first approach to events? Check out the on-demand recording of Customers Come First for a deep-dive on all the key points shared here.

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