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


3 Responses to “What Happens When a Speaker Cancels?”

  1. Dr. Ronald G. Shapiro says:

    As a speaker I always discuss this with the event planner/sponsor. I have cancelled/postponed just a very few times over several decades. To minimize risks of airport delays I always try to arrive day (or more) before my program in case of flight cancellations, etc. but it does cost more for me to arrive early (extra hotel, for just one example). Most of the time my clients and I agree that if they or i need to cancel our only obligation is to offer to reschedule at a mutually convenient time in the near future. I’m more than pleased to work out any arrangement client would like (including having a backup presenter or co-presenter who could step in and do the program right in the room). It is just a matter of cost.

    My worst story about being an almost no-show… I was doing 2 conference presentations in New Orleans shortly after Katrina at the same conference. The conference planners scheduled me to do the sessions in different hotels about 15 minutes apart by bus… and they allowed me only 15 minutes between the sessions. When I asked them to make a change they told me to deal with it… So, I shortened the first session. Got on the bus on time to make it to the second session only to find several obstacles along the way… including an overturned car on the road. Needless to say I was late. Fortunately, I had 2 co-presenters who started without me and the session went well. Ron

  2. Julie Austin

    Julie Austin says:

    I also come in 2 days early. Several times it’s worked in my favor, even if it eats into my costs.

  3. Maria Marsala says:

    Like Julie Austin, I get to events 1-2 days early.

    I want to make sure that I’m bright eyed. If the talk is in another time zone or 20 something hours away, as I just dealt with, I add how many days I think it will take for me to “be myself.”

    I’ve been a filler-inner quite a few times. I make sure that any company or group who contacts me knows that I’ll a) be a filler inner in case a speaker cancels b) I’ll speak at a 2nd event for a lower fee if they choose one of my other talks.

    I have canceled 1 actually the last unpaid webinar, a week before the event. I had to let it go. After agreeing to a topic, description, bullets, etc. he changed my talk twice, which mean I and my assistant changed the PPT, description, etc. 2x. When he wanted to change it the 3rd time, I said no.


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