“Stick to what you said you would do,” my dad would always say. “A promise is a promise.”
From a young age, my dad reminded us to stick to our commitments. If we said we were going to do it, we were going to do it. If we changed our minds, too bad. If it was raining, we got our umbrellas and got on with it in the rain. And if we overslept, we were still going to school and we would show up late. And when I hadn’t practiced enough for that piano recital, too bad. I was still going, even if I messed up every other line of Beethoven’s "Für Elise" onstage. I said I would be there. So, I was there.
And so recently, when I had to decline speaking engagements and attendance at conferences, I was thinking of what advice my dad would give me if he was still here. How can you stick to your business commitments when Coronavirus unexpectedly interferes?
I am feeling what many of us are experiencing emotionally: Confused. Sad. Angry. Disappointed.
Many of us are now caught in either two scenarios: We are declining invitations or we are receiving declines. And the situation is changing on a daily basis.
Sometimes, the declines are our personal decisions. Sometimes, it’s our companies asking us to cancel. It’s about the safety and well-being of ourselves and those around us. It’s our responsibility to look out for each other and take care of one another.
Sometimes, there are other parts of the story that we don’t yet feel comfortable sharing. A friend recently shared how his partner was treated after being quarantined after a trip abroad. His partner followed all medical instructions, was cleared and did not have the virus, but he was still made to feel excluded by his work colleagues and by his neighbors.
So, as we are declining invitations, and receiving declines, here are three things to remember, or three ways we can still work to fulfill our commitments in the wake of the virus:
If you paid for the conference ticket and can no longer go, can you ask for a refund? If you have a speaker coming in and can no longer host the speaker, do you still have to pay? If you paid for a sponsorship and can no longer be present, can you ask the sponsorship be transferred for an event later in the year?
These are just some of the questions swirling in our heads as we weigh the decisions we are forced to make.
In many cases, contracts outline our options. Tickets are often nonrefundable; tickets are sometimes also nontransferable. Speakers fees come with clear cancellation guidelines, as do sponsorships that are tied to the specific event you committed to sponsor.
While we might want to demand a refund, think about the person who is on the receiving ends of the decline. This isn’t a simple: “Hey, my Starbucks expresso isn’t hot enough, please send it back” or “Hey, my bananas came smooshed in my Prime Order, I’m not paying for this bruised fruit.” So please, take a moment to think this through.
For the individuals on the receiving end, this is likely how they make their livelihood. This might be their one big event this year that has been now devastated by this virus.
So, honor your financial commitments. If you agreed to pay, please pay. Given the circumstances, there might be flexibility to get a credit for a future event or to delay the workshop for later in the year. Don’t forget that they might be being bombarded with declines and questions, so please be patient.
If you were slated to speak at a conference and can no longer attend, offer to still host your talk, workshop or moderate the conversation over Zoom. Some of us aren’t always comfortable with video, hosting conversations virtually or using different forms of technology. This presents an opportunity to still participate and practice using technology we might have never used before. Time to jump right in.
For those hosting, now is the time to test making parts of your event remote. It’s an opportunity to test technology and make your event even more inclusive.
And please, let’s all be patient with technology. When the sound disappears. When the video disappears. When the screen freezes for a few seconds, maybe several seconds. It will be okay.
Coronavirus will continue to have significant impact in the weeks to come. Some of the impact we'll have predicted and some of the impact we'll have never anticipated.
Many small business owners, suppliers and vendors will be impacted in the weeks and months to come. For some, a talk, a workshop or a planned conference will have significant financial impact. It won’t be just about the cancelled events. It will also be about the business they had expected to get that they couldn’t secure because of the virus. Those who are in the business of gathering people, creating community and live experiences will be looking for our support during this time of uncertainty.
So amidst this chaos and turbulence of emotions, let’s please remember to be supportive of each other. Please remember to respect individual’s decisions and please remember we don’t always know the whole story.
Please remember to ask how you can help. How else can I help you now? How else can I support you? How else I can be there for you during this time?
This could be committing to working with a small business owner later this year. This could be committing to attending the summer conference instead of the spring conference. This could be deciding to host the workshop virtually instead.
As my friend Jill Katz of Assemble HR Consulting would remind us, a little kindness goes a long way: “Situations like these remind us that we need to bring 'the care' back to our workplaces. We need it now more than ever.”