What’s Your Plan B? What to Do If Your Keynote Speaker Canceled Last Minute

So you’ve spent months and months planning an event. It’s the biggest ever, you’ve pulled out all the stops and covered all your bases. You’ve planned for every single possible contingency. Especially the biggest one. Your keynote speaker canceled at the last minute.

A nightmare, right? You’ve printed all the programs and posters with that person’s face all over them. Attendees have bought tickets with the promise of hearing an awesome keynote speech from this particular speaker. And the—admittedly, rare—unthinkable has happened. One of the worst things that could happen, really.

But! 

Being the professional planner that you are, you’re prepared with your Plan B, right?

I hope so! 

Here is a list of some Plan Bs for when your keynote speaker cancels at the last minute (I know it seems unlikely, but it does happen!).

Five Plan B tips for when your keynote speaker cancels last minute.

1. Crowdsource your crowd for a networking opportunity. 

Be upfront with your audience that your keynote speaker canceled, then turn that negative into a positive. Turn the empty time slot into an opportunity to have a group think tank. Have some talking points ready, ask your attendees to form groups and discuss the points on a timer with a buzzer. Invite them to reform new groups every time the buzzer rings and assign a new talking point. The points can be anything from current social issues to favorite kitchen hacks. Keep things moving at a fast pace and your audience will be laughing and forming new connections in no time. When time is up, have audience members share their favorite thoughts from the session for a larger group discussion. This lively interaction will quickly distract your audience from the missing keynote.

Corporate event planning has its own unique challenges…for some useful advice check out this post: Ten tips to make your corporate event unforgettable!

2. Appoint another guest as your substitute.

Many larger events feature many talented people. Well before the event, approach one of them and ask if they would like to be your substitute keynote speaker. Most speakers will jump at that opportunity. You will have to compensate them for their additional responsibility, but as your keynote will have forfeited their compensation, (unless their contract states otherwise) you will have space in your budget. If this happens, you can advertise their original session as an extension of their keynote.

3. Mine your past speakers.

Your past speakers can be a great resource in a pinch because you already have a positive working relationship with them; they trust you and you trust them. If your keynote speaker cancels, run through your list of past speakers and call any who are in your area and might be able to help you out with a last-minute favor. They already know that you’re good for your word, so will be more likely to stick their neck out for you. 

4. Create a panel session.

Choose five or six big players from your audience or list of other presenters. Have a strong moderator appointed, and line your panel up in chairs on the stage for a group discussion around a current topic that is pertinent to the industry. Field questions from the audience and keep the discussion moving and interesting.

5. Work with a speakers bureau.

When your speaker cancels last minute, your best Plan B is to have a speakers bureau in your back pocket ready to be dispatched. As professionals who have years of experience in the industry, a speakers bureau has countless speakers at their fingertips and the ability to pull in favors to get you a great backup speaker fast. A speakers bureau does all the legwork and paperwork for you so all you have to do is make the call and wait for your speaker to arrive.

There is a lot to think about when planning an event, and your speakers are arguably the most important part. Ready to start taking the guesswork and legwork out of booking a speaker and leave the particulars to the professionals? Don’t hesitate to contact us to get started.  

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