"Hello, I am Joe Speaker and unfortunately I…
- missed my flight connection;
- am snowed in at the Buffalo airport;
- am too sick to travel;
- have an emergency in my family."
First, DO NOT panic. Listen intently to what the speaker is saying and try to do some creative brainstorming over the phone.
If they missed their connection or are snowed in, when can they get to your city? Can you move the schedule around to accommodate them?
If they are too sick or have any emergency, see if they can recommend speakers that are relatively close by and knowledgeable about the topic. You might be pleasantly surprised with their help. Write down the names, telephone numbers, email addresses given to you.
Second, quickly gather your team together. Tell your team what happened and ask them for recommendations. Put together a project list of who is going to do what. Reach out to the city or state chapter of the following organizations for recommendations:
- The National Speakers Association
- Meeting Professionals International
- Professional Convention Management Association
- Convention and Visitors Bureau
Third, meet with or advise management. Tell them what happened, let them know what you are working on, and ask them for recommendations.
Fourth, if no speakers are available or they do not fit your audience profile, figure out your options. NEVER put a round peg in a square hole. Make sure the replacement is of the same caliber as the original speaker.
What about one of your attendees? Could one of them give the presentation?
Could you turn it into a networking event?
Worst case, cancel the session. It is better to air on the side of caution. Let the attendees know exactly what happened and let them know you did everything you could to secure an alternate back-up presenter, but were not able to do so on such short notice.
Fifth, make certain you have a "no-show" clause in your speaker contract. Things can happen that are outside of your control, like the weather, flight connections, sickness, and family emergencies. However, that doesn’t mean you need to pick up the bill if your speaker cancels.
If the speaker cannot make it for the allotted speech at the allotted time, you should receive your deposit back and not have to pay them at all. Speakers make their living on their reputation and availability. They should not expect to be compensated if they cannot show up.