August 26, 2019

What to Do When Your Event Speaker Cancels | 8 Tips

The catchphrase for effective event planning is Be Prepared. During the run-up to your event, things rarely go 100% according to plan – sponsors can pull out, exhibitors cancel, venues flood and catch fire, service workers strike and a myriad of other “acts of God” and man can conspire to impact your event.

Don’t just be prepared expect the unexpected. Anticipating worst-case scenarios is key to ensuring event success.

Topping the list of contingencies is speaker cancellation. Speakers can drop out from scheduling conflicts, illness, travel problems, change of corporate direction, loss of employment and countless other personal and professional stumbling blocks.

Tips for Overcoming Speaker Cancellation

When speakers cancel, don’t panic. Your events team can overcome any eventuality with a bit of planning and foresight. Following are some tips to help you prepare.

Formal contracts – many events rely on informal speaker commitments (an email or phone call). With employee presenters, commitment comes from employment status. But third-party speakers – partners, customers, industry analysts and luminaries, celebrities and other types of presenters – should be required to execute contracts stipulating content, timelines, costs and cancellation terms.

Calendars and milestones – build potential speaker cancellation into event preparation calendars. Confirm and re-confirm speaker commitment at multiple junctures. Build cancellation milestones into speaker agreements to ensure lead time to replace them, restructure, fill gaps in the agenda and re-promote your event.

Presentation and speaker hierarchy – while all presentations and sessions contribute to event success, some are more critical and those speakers are harder to substitute. Attendees readily accept substitute breakout leaders or tutorial instructors; swapping keynote and mainstage speakers is more challenging, but a peer from the same organization can usually stand in with competence and aplomb; however, top-billed keynote speakers – CEOs, media personalities, political personages and other high-profile “draws” are harder to replace.

Speaker pool – most conference speaker rosters are oversubscribed, leaving a list of worthy presenters whose talks don’t fit into event agendas and tracks. Stay in touch with these “wait-listed” speakers to maintain a pool of available talent should other event faculty cancel.

Remote presentation – if a centerpiece speaker is too busy or otherwise unable to reach the conference venue but can still carve out 60-90 minutes to fulfill their speaking commitment, consider using streaming video and telepresence technology to enable the speaker to be “virtually there.” Livestreaming is best, but even pre-recorded video of top-billed speakers can suffice.

Shuffle Agendas – often, speaker cancellation stems from changing availability from one day to the next. For multi-day events, try to swap speaking slots between days before giving up on a speaker. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of flexibility to bring an errant presenter back into the event fold.

Remediation – for cancellations in the final days before the event or during the event itself, put aside “dealing with” errant speakers. Focus on event success first. Wait until afterwards to evaluate your relationship with speakers, contractual implications, availability for future events, etc.

Lessons learned – event planning involves incremental improvement. Speaker cancellation is a “teachable moment” – learn from the occurrence to avoid future cancellation crises. Look for indications and red flags leading up to cancellation and preempt them in future events, through inclusion of contract terms and by refining speaker selection criteria.

The show must go on!

Having a contingency plan for speaker cancellation can mean the difference between successful event experiences and potential calamity. Let Temple Rock Productions help you expect the unexpected to achieve your event goals.

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