When organising an event, budgets matter. One of the variables at play is delegate attendance. So when delegates need to cancel, a  well-thought-out delegate cancellation and substitution policy is not a luxury. 

These days, when we put ‘cancellation’ and ‘event’ in one sentence, our mind drifts toward cancelled events because of some wretched virus that raised its ugly head again. The trauma of it!

But cancellations happen for many reasons. Sometimes… delegates withdraw.

People have many reasons for pulling out of an event they can no longer attend. I mean…stuff happens. Things change. Sometimes sh*t hits the fan.

So when you’re on the event organising side of the table, allowing for that change and uncertainty is part of the game.

But what’s the best way to approach it? What’s the run-of-the-mill practice here in Aotearoa? What are the culprits? How do you avoid angry emails? And how do you make sure you don’t end up with a hole in the event budget?

The Need for Great Cancellation T&Cs

When organising an event, budgets matter. Always.

A lot of variables are at play, of course. One of them is delegate attendance. When you plan an event, there is a minimum number of registrations at which an event breaks even.

From the minute people register, cost accrues: credit card charges, registration software bills, admin time, etc. Closer to the date, you will have to confirm catering numbers and order merchandise.

So when people pull out- and it’s unavoidable some will- the budget you so carefully planned is at risk of colouring red…. Unless you planned for it.

Tips for Handling Delegate Cancellations and Substitutions 

As an event organiser, you want to be fair and reasonable as well as keep the budget healthy. The only way to do this is to clearly lay out the Event Attendance Cancellation Terms and Conditions. Transparency takes the argument out of what otherwise has the potential to leave a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth. 

With the amount of events we’ve organised, we’ve done it all, seen it all. So here are our golden rules for a seamless event, even for those who don’t show up.


Our recommendation is to make sure the Event Attendance Cancellation Terms and Conditions are clearly stated at the time of registration. After the person completed the registration, follow up with a confirmation email that again includes the Delegate Substitution and Cancellation Policy. And finally, it’s also a good idea to add the Delegate Substitution and Cancellation Policy to the FAQ on the website.

Be very specific

Leave no room for doubt in what you are trying to say. A delegate cancellation policy that offers a refund for cancellation until 1st of September opens up a whole can of worms if the delegate cancels on exactly that day. Offering a refund on or before the 1st of September, on the other hand, is crystal clear. Some event organisers even include a cut-off time (e.g. 5pm).

You can’t argue with writing

Ask that all delegate cancellations or requests for substitution are received in writing. The Romans had a phrase for it: ‘Verba volant, scripta manent’ or the spoken word flies, the written word remains.

Keep it simple and professional

Stick to identical rules for all attendees. People talk, and the last thing you want to do as an event organiser is to shimmy yourself into a very uncomfortable situation.

Timing is everything

It’s common practice to no longer offer a registration refund for cancellations received one month out from the event date or beyond. If the delegate cancels before that date, offering a refund minus an admin fee is widely accepted. An amount anywhere between $50-$100 is considered reasonable.

Substitutions are a win-win

As an alternative, some event organisers also offer delegate substitutions; meaning somebody else can go in their place. It’s a desirable solution for both parties: the registered person can pull out at minimal cost, and you, as the event organiser, keep the registration numbers the same. Again, ask for written details for the substitution.

Charging for substitutions

Substitutions usually are free, but they don’t have to be. A recent client charged delegates $25 to make a substitution. This may depend on whether you, as the event host, incur a fee from the software company handling the substitution.


The bottom-line is that the way you communicate and handle ‘bad news’ is just as important as the smile on your face on the day of the event. When a delegate cancellation doesn’t go smoothly, people take note and they won’t hold back from sharing an unpleasant experience. And we all know the power that comes from word of mouth….