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Your Conference Speaker Canceled: Now What?

Posted:   April 18, 2017

Losing a conference speaker doesn’t have to be the nightmare scenario you imagine when you can’t sleep at night. With a little preparation, you’ll be ready for any last-minute changes to your speaker schedule.

It’s All in the Wording

Cover all your bases by advertising your individual keynote speaker as the “invited speaker” at your event. This terminology suggests that this information is subject to change should a last-minute cancelation take place due to travel delays, inclement weather or even a personal emergency.

Have a Back-Up Plan

While it’s financially unrealistic for most conferences to book a back-up keynote speaker, that doesn’t mean you have to cross your fingers and simply hope that your keynote speaker shows up. Have a designated person on your staff, conference committee, or board of directors who might be able to speak if necessary. You can even choose an attendee who might be able to step up if you’re in a pinch.

Be Flexible with Timing

Travel delays are often unavoidable, but as long as your keynote speaker keeps you updated about changes in their travel plans, you may be able to swap timeslots to accommodate their delay. Strategic event planning requires flexibility and ingenuity, especially when unexpected issues arise.

Switch Up the Format

If you can’t find a viable replacement speaker, you might consider changing formats. Rather than a keynote address, prepare the room for a roundtable discussion or question and answer session.

Keep Your Attendees Informed

If your event is utilizing an event planning app or social media updates, use these methods to inform your attendees of a change in the plans. If you don’t know who will fill in, let attendees know that while your keynote speaker unexpectedly cancelled, you have an incredible replacement they won’t want to miss. If you’re shifting the format, you might advise your attendees to bring questions or ideas to discuss in place of a keynote address.

At Vicki Johnson & Associates, we have 215 years of combined staff industry experience, which means we’ve encountered and solved a variety of unique problems that arise during conference management. Explore the many event planning services we offer and check out the interview Associations Now did with our principal, Vicki Johnson, which was the inspiration for this post.


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