Your Keynote Speaker Cancelled with 24 Hours’ Notice – Now What?

Posted: September 16, 2014 in Meeting Planner

One of The Speaker Experts favorite speakers is General Russel L Honore. He is probably best known for serving as the Commander of Task Force Katrina, responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in the affected areas of the Gulf Coast. Today, Honore is retired from military service and is an in-demand speaker on the topic of leadership and preparedness. When it comes to preparedness, he is fond of saying, “…ya gotta stay to the left of disaster….” In the meeting industry, a cancellation by your keynote speaker within 24 hours of the presentation might count as a disaster. The Speaker Experts have a few ideas that will help you “stay to the left” when a speaker does cancel.

Flight Cancelled

Since The Speaker Experts work for a speaker bureau and have a dog in the hunt for speakers, we do believe that calling a speaker bureau is a good recovery option in a situation where a speaker cancels last minute. When on site at a meeting, you and your team do not have time to track down and evaluate speakers. In fact, we would suggest calling a major speaker bureau if the cancellation occurs within 24 hours of the presentation. A major bureau affords you the following advantages:

  • A large number of people on-staff that can mobilize and solve your problem. As a meeting planner, you have too many moving parts while on-site at a meeting to be calling speakers to see if they can jump on a plane. A bureau can create a task force from their staff to solve the cancellation issue at hand. (At Keppler Speakers we call this a “Code Red Team”).
  • Major bureaus often have dozens of speakers scheduled across the country on a given day. It just may be that they have the right speaker already booked in your event city the same day as your meeting.


If you are not inclined to call a speaker bureau, we suggest considering some of the precautionary measures well before the meeting takes place. Having a back-up plan to implement if a speaker cancels is always a good idea:

  • One trend we are seeing is the use of a contracted substitute speaker. In this scenario, you actually book a back-up speaker to attend the meeting. While it can be a costly insurance policy, it will give you peace of mind. If the substitute speaker is not needed, they provide a neat option for the following year as they learn a lot about your members and attendees by spending a few days with them in this setting.
  • Explore the resources provided by local universities. Often you can find world class economists, business leaders and human resource experts willing to speak at the last minute. The key is establishing a relationship with the targeted speakers prior to your meeting.
  • Understand the speaker talent that lives in your meeting city. Our blog post “Speaker Recovery Options in First Tier Destinations” will give you some ideas for speakers in major markets. The Speaker Experts are always happy to provide a list of speakers in which you are holding your event. Knowing the speakers living in your event destination and if they are in town during your event is good information to have before you leave for your meeting.
  • Local TV and Radio stations can be good sources for meeting hosts, emcees, and on-camera talent.
  • Major and Minor league sports teams can be good options to turn to for high-impact, motivational or teamwork speakers.
  • Know what other major meetings are taking place concurrently at your destination. You would be surprised how many times we have solved a cancellation situation with a speaker who is already in the same hotel speaking on the same day for another organization.


Proper planning, research and attention to detail is always the first line of defense against a speaker cancellation; but sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent them. At the end of the day, you always want to have a plan B. In our world, B stands for (speaker) Bureau, but it is not your only option.

Gary McManis & Jay Conklin

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