Last week I talked to a meeting planner who had a keynote speaker coming from Florida who wasn’t able to get to their event due to hurricane Irma. When I asked what she did, she said she keeps a list of speakers she knows she can count on in a pinch, and goes through the ones local to the event in case of an emergency.

I’ve been on the other side of that as a speaker who was booked because of another speaker having to cancel. When you have to pull together a speech literally at the last minute, it helps to be an expert in that topic who knows the subject backwards and forwards. Here are some examples of speakers who have been in that situation and meeting planners who have saved the day when a speaker cancels:

“As an international planner who has been in the events profession for over a decade, I have experienced a handful of times that a speaker has canceled their set less than two weeks prior to a conference. Only once have I had someone cancel onsite, and that was due to food poisoning. Surprisingly, he pulled it together and showed up after he cancelled.

In the times that a speaker has canceled, we have a few systems in place. First, we work with the speaker to see if there is a way for us to pre-record some of the content for our group or find out if there is a way to do a live stream before we announce any changes. Most of the time, either of those solutions works. Sometimes they have a protege they can send in their place, which most of they tend to deliver messages with more enthusiasm.

We also work with the speaker who canceled to implement post conference content that can be pushed to the attendees, which is a win-win for both their brand and for the attendees to still feel they received information from an industry leader.  In addition to those strategies, we always contact several speakers beforehand on their schedules and inform them that we may need them for a conference. Most of these speakers are of the lower tiered in their category, so their schedules are a bit easier to manipulate.”

Robin Oloyede
Events and Communications Director for Texas State Optical
Global Accounts Manager for Helms Briscoe

“As a frequent speaker, I find that too many meeting planners try to get their speakers on the cheap which is what leads to cancellations.  Yes speakers have important information to share, but frankly, we are not doing it for our joy and personal satisfaction alone, but we need compensation to keep doing what we are doing.

I have found today that too many speaking engagements are offered as ‘networking opportunities’ with very little financial incentive to make those engagements worthwhile.  Personally, I don’t accept such engagements, because I don’t want to be forced to cancel at the last minute, but I think the idea that “you get what you pay for” is important for those who need professional speakers to round out events.  Being too cheap simply sets them up for last minute cancellations.”

Pam Danziger
Speaker, Author, Market Researcher
Unity Marketing

“I’ve been an meeting planner for 2 decades and speaker’s canceling at the last minute is rare. Although, I worked a conference for another planner this week and 5 speakers canceled in two days which was really unusual. I hope it’s not a trend. I teach a class at AZ State Univ. and funny enough last night the topic was “meeting planners working with speakers” and we talked about this exact topic!

What do you do when a speaker cancels happens? Three things:

  1. The contract w/speaker is critical as there must be a cancellation clause that details out what the liabilities are when the speaker does cancel (6 months out, 3 months out, etc.). The next part is how the deposit will be handled such as return of % of deposit to the association or company based on timing.

In the contract you could require if the speaker does cancel they are responsible to providing a replacement based on the terms of the contract, meaning no additional cost to the host company.

  1. As the planner or educational committee you need to have a list of back-up speakers who could be called on to present the topic. The resources could be just knowing who are the experts in the field they can call on, other planners who have a list of recommended speakers, speaker bureaus
  2. Cancel the session if it happens at the last minute, like the day before, and the planner doesn’t have a local expert – this is the worst option as attendees are always disappointed that the topic they want to hear is not available. This happened yesterday when a speaker didn’t show and the room was packed. Truly a bad reflection on the speaker.

 

Marla Harr

Business Professional Development Consultant

Business Etiquette International

Act Well Do Well

“I was speaking at a conference in Boston 2 years ago in February, the winter of historic snowfall in the area. A major storm hit the day before the conference so several speakers could not make it into town because the airport had cancelled so many flights. I am based locally and ended up speaking 3 times on different topics the day of the conference.A lot of people who were already there ended up having to step in as well. It actually worked out amazingly well, the attendees were appreciative that the event went on and many seasoned speakers like myself were able to join panels on related topics or step in and give an impromptu talk based on their experience and background.

The survey after the conference rated it very successful and popular,sometimes you just have to roll with the punches as needed. I have spoken at other events over the years when the keynote had a last minute family emergency or conflict and the person who replaced them gave a terrific talk. Sometimes it works out even better than expected, the replacement speaker does not have time to get nervous so speaks off the cuff and the audience has lower expectations and is blown away by the authenticity of a less prepared speech.

Paige Arnof-Fenn
Founder & CEO
Mavens & Moguls

“Every meeting planner has that stomach-dropping moment when they have a room full of people waiting for a speaker that doesn’t show. The mark of a good planner is the ability to think on their feet – and this is definitely a test! Act quickly and calmly – if you have other sessions happening simultaneously, make a short announcement informing attendees of their other choices, and ensure them that you will have any materials (slide deck, handouts) they missed out on circulated post-meeting.

If you’re in a situation where the speaker is the main event, here’s where knowing your audience is key. Every conference has a few stakeholders in the room who may have a presentation or some seasoned advice up their sleeve – this is the time to pull together an onstage interview or fireside chat with those folks who you know will jump at the chance for the mic.

None of these options available to you? Slot in some extra time for networking! Many conference attendees are bored by constant programming and wish they had more time to connect with their peers – turn this into an opportunity.

Whatever you do, make sure you follow up with attendees who may have been disappointed by the change in schedule. Reach out to your speaker to see if they’ll record a video message or send a note to your attendees who missed out on their knowledge.”

Moey Fox

Senior Manager at Scott Circle, a full service communications, conference, and event management firm based in Washington, D.C.

“One time I was attending a 3-day leadership conference — as a participant — when it was learned that one of the speakers scheduled for the next morning would be unable to make it. So, when asked if I could possibly jump in to fill this void, I had to put together an entire 3-hour workshop – including powerpoint slides and handouts – overnight, on the fly! Glad to be able to report that it went great.

I’ve jumped in to speak, sit in on panels, and deliver workshops a few other times, as well, with less than a day’s notice.

The key to me, first of all, is to be a subject matter expert in your field, and to have a strong brand, so that others feel confident reaching out to you to step in with little notice. And to know your content so well that you can deliver it with minimal preparation.

Secondly, and of equal importance, is, in your preparation, to be clear on who your AUDIENCE is…and what your PURPOSE is. One-size-fits-all, generic presentations are, usually, not very effective. So I always try to find out as much as I can, as quickly as I can, about the Who, What, When, Where, and Why…so I can best determine the How.”

Todd Cherches

CEO & Co-Founder

BigBlueGumball LLC

www.bigbluegumball.com

 

“I host an annual event for small and growing business owners called, The BOLD Move Event.  We’ve been doing these two-day events since 2012, and have had only one speaker cancel.  She literally cancelled the day before the event because she said, “She wasn’t feeling the crowd; I don’t think there will be enough people for my workshop.”  Well as the event host, I had become so full of last minute registrants, changes, sponsor requests, that I literally said, “Fine.  We will do something else.”  I consult with businesses and do some speaking, so I created (on the fly) a workshop about when we have to make adjustments to plans and activities in business.  It was a big hit.

A last minute speaker cancellation can cripple an event and do harm to the hosting organization’s reputation, especially if the event is built around that speaker.  If the host is knowledgeable,  flexible and quick on his or her feet, a last-minute cancellation can create a positive lesson for conference participants.

Michelle Aikens

Sepia Prime Woman

I had a long conversation with a meeting planner the other day about whether the audience prefers style or substance in a motivational speaker. The answer is “it depends”.

First of all, it depends on the speaker’s role. It seems backwards to me, but a breakout speaker who is there to give good, actionable content to an audience is actually paid much less than a keynote speaker. At most conferences, they aren’t paid at all.

If the speaker is a name celebrity, an entertainer, or is hired as simply a motivational speaker to pump up the crowd, they aren’t held to the same standards as far as bringing actionable content. The speaker’s role is different.

It also depends on the audience and what they expect to get out of it. I speak a lot to scientists and engineers, and they want actionable information that they can take back to the lab or office and put into action. I’ve actually seen them do it, which is exciting as a speaker to know your advice was taken.

I’ve also spoken to audiences that didn’t want any actionable information. They just wanted to hear inspirational stories, and could fill in the blanks themselves if they wanted to.

This is surprising to me, but then again, I’ve spent a big chunk of my life in Hollywood, where everything is style over substance. Value is in who you know, what kind of car you drive, or how rich or connected you are. What you know takes a backseat.

This is also how many people choose a political candidate. The average height of all American presidents since 1900 have all been close to 6 feet tall. Out of 43 presidents, only 5 have been below the average height. I know some very smart people who say they vote on a president based on their height and whether they look “presidential” or not.

Even in identical twins, the taller one tends to make money money (yes, even identical twins can be different heights based on environmental factors and growth restriction in the womb).

Studies show that university professors who are considered more attractive are rated as better teachers. And females who are considered more attractive by professors will tend to get better grades than females they consider unattractive.

Is any of this fair? Of course not! But as my speaking coach always tells me “The audience is never wrong”. So, how do you know if an audience member wants style or substance?

Well, you could ask the meeting planner. But sometimes they don’t even know themselves. You could even ask the audience, but I doubt you’d get a straight answer.

The best way to handle it is to strive to be the best speaker you can be, bringing actionable content for those who value it, and a little sizzle for those who don’t. In any audience, you’ll always have a mixture of both.

As someone who favors substance over style, I feel cheated by a speaker who is all style and no takeaway content. But not everyone thinks that way.

Speakers who sell the sizzle and not the steak may succeed in the short term, but it’s the speakers who have substance and bring value that will succeed in the long term.

 

 

 

 

 

No matter where I go these days I’m constantly running into someone who says they are a speaker. At the grocery store today there was one person in front of me and one behind me who got into a conversation about speaking. In L.A. you expect to run into someone who is an actor, writer, director, or all of the above on every corner. But speaker? Hmm, what’s going on?

This is interesting because, according to studies, glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking is the number one phobia Americans have. You would think more people would shy away from it, but I get calls every day from people who say they’ve just become a speaker or they want to become a speaker.

Since I’ve been working in the entertainment industry in some form or another since I was a teenager, I look at the speaking industry as being very similar to the entertainment industry. For example, you have a handful of actors who are on the A list, who make millions of dollars, a lot of actors who make a living some or most of the time, and a lot of wanna-be actors who never make any money from acting, who eventually give up and do other things, maybe acting from time to time as a hobby.

This is because the entertainment industry is full of supply, but not enough demand for all of that supply. It’s the same in the speaking industry. Most actors want to be on the A list, making the big bucks, waiting for someone to write a check so they can focus on their craft and showcase their talent. Most speakers want the same thing. I admit, I’d love nothing better than to just show up and get a big, fat check to be a rock star. Who wouldn’t? But the speaking industry, like the entertainment industry has far more supply than demand. It’s a seller’s market. Far more sellers than buyers.

So, that’s the bad news. The good news is that there has never been a better time in history to be a speaker or entertainer. But, just like the entertainment industry, it’s an incredibly difficult path if you’re simply standing in line with everyone else. Personally, I don’t have the patience to wait in that line. For the past 20 years I’ve been writing, producing and staring in my own productions, either with angel investors, my own money, or with small business sponsorship.

When you go the self-funded or sponsorship route, supply and demand doesn’t matter. You find the demand first, then supply the talent. That means finding niches that need what you have to offer and then finding a way to get paid for it.

A good example of this is historical keynote speaker Lord Scott, who bears an uncanny resemblance to George Washington. He not only looks like him, but is the right size and age to portray Washington. Scott has used this to his advantage, booking educational presentations at schools, 4th of July celebrations, corporate events, and churches.

He has also started his own non-profit “We Make History”, putting on historical events on both the east and west coasts. His team now includes over 200 actors, and continues to expand. Scott has found his niche as a public speaker and performer by thinking outside the box and creating his own speaking career.

As a professional speaker how can you create your own career and bypass the supply and demand problem of the speaking industry?