This is likely to strike fear or induce a panic attack in some program managers, but it doesn’t need to! If you’ve planned an event and your speaker cancels, it doesn’t need to be the end of your event or ruin the day. We’ve got some tips for you to stay calm, cool, and collected!
What to Do If Your Speaker Cancels
Now, your response may be different if it’s a same-day cancellation (speaker is ill, flight is late, family emergency, etc.) rather than a few days or a couple of weeks heads’ up, but the end result is the same—you’ll need to act quickly to manage the situation. One of these suggestions may help you:
- Focus on your event first: Put aside any feelings of frustration (towards the speaker or the situation) and put the success of the event first. There will be time later to deal with the speaker who didn’t show (the nerve!) or to finesse your Plan B (next tip).
- Always have a plan B: Experienced program managers always have a few tricks up their sleeves (and these tips can certainly help) but consider having a network of speakers you can call, or someone in your group that can step up to the plate. Don’t think this through at the last minute.
- Create a Q & A or an “expert panel”: No speaker? No problem! Ask 3–4 of the most experienced, well-thought-of people in your audience to be a panel to talk about something that’s of interest to your group (vegetable gardening, how to grow roses, sustainability, etc.). Have a moderator who takes questions from the audience and let each panel member have a chance to respond.
- Bump up another speaker: This works particularly well if you’re the manager of a multi-day event with numerous speakers. Find one that has another presentation they’d be willing to give on short notice—you’ll need to pay them, of course, but they’re a resource that’s ready and waiting for you.
- Call on a past speaker to fill in: This works best if you have a couple days’ notice. Look back on your past programs and call one of your well-received speakers to see if they’re available. It’s best to have them speak on a different topic than they have previously, but most speakers have several presentations handy.
- Consider a virtual presentation: Can your speaker simply not get to your venue (cancelled flight, bad weather, etc.) but is otherwise able and willing to present? Live stream it! This will involve some tech but is certainly doable and could potentially add to the importance of the event and session.
- Shuffle the agenda: This is a great option for multi-day events where the speaker missed their flight, for example. See if one of tomorrow’s speakers can swap time slots with the delayed presenter—it’s an easy fix in this type of situation.
If you’re a program manager and you have an experience that could help your colleagues, please leave a comment! We all learn from each other, and your difficult situation (and how you handled it) might save a colleague from a disappointing and frustrating outcome
Kathy Jentz says
Great tips! I have been both a planner who has had this happen to me and also a speaker called in last-minute to pinch hit. It is always a bit nerve-wracking on both sides, but with team work and good communication it can work out well – and sometimes better than the originally planned program!
– Kathy Jentz