Events: What to Do When Speakers Go AWOL
Delayed flights, traffic jams and illness can lead to last-minute cancellations from speakers. When a speaker bails, making the best out of the situation comes down to preparation, creativity and flexibility.
Open communication with your speakers is crucial for sessions to run smoothly. And the process begins months ahead of time. "It comes down to putting your audience's needs first and making that a front-and-center issue with your speakers," says Kevin Beam, executive vice president of IT media company TechTarget.
Beam says his events team actually apologizes to speakers in advance, warning them that they will be hounded for every little detail up until the show. TechTarget e-mails speakers warnings every week for three weeks as a reminder that the event is coming. Staff collect cell, home and work phone numbers, both work and personal e-mail addresses, administrative-assistant contact information, travel itinerary, where they are staying, and when they are expected to check in.
Each speaker also signs a contract that requires them to provide a replacement speaker of equal or greater stature if they are forced to cancel. "You can't control everything but if you take this approach with each of your speakers it gives you a lot of control of the outcome," says Beam.
But even the most meticulous preparation is not foolproof. If a last-minute cancellation does occur, there are options on how to work it out without having to cancel the session. Beam suggests moving another speaker from a session scheduled later in the day into the slot. "If we have done our work it should never be the case that we can't locate another leading expert who is ready to go," says Beam.
Another option: Repeat a popular session that has already occurred so that attendees who missed it have an opportunity to see what all the buzz was about. If a speaker is a panel member or is sharing a time slot with another speaker, you may be able to find another attendee who is willing and able to talk on the subject matter, or you can tap one of your editors to sit in on the discussion and invite audience members to chime in.