What do you do if your guest speaker doesn’t show?

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It finally happened to me. My guest speaker didn’t show up to my event.

It happened like a bad nightmare. “Maybe he’s stuck in traffic,” I thought to myself. “I bet he’s right around the corner.”

I anxiously checked my email to make sure I didn’t miss a last minute message from him. Nothing. Then I checked my voice mail box to make sure he didn’t call to tell me he was going to be late. Still nothing.

As the minutes passed, reality started to sink in. He’s not coming.

As an event or meeting planner, the thought of your guest speaker not showing up is a horrifying incident that sends shivers down your spine. No matter how well you prepare in advance, when E-Day (Event Day) comes anything goes, including your guest speaker going AWOL.

So, what do you do if your speaker doesn’t show?

The best thing to do is to have an arsenal of back-up plans ready to launch. Here are some ideas:

Have an activity prepared.

This is the back-up plan I used when my guest speaker didn’t show. I always have at least two or three activities on hand to facilitate at a moment’s notice just in case a time slot needs to be filled at an event or meeting. So when it became apparent that our speaker wasn’t coming, I was able to swiftly divert the audience’s attention to something else.

Show a video on the speaker’s topic.

Prior to your event, research some videos on your speaker’s topic (TED talks are a great resource). Keep them bookmarked and make sure your venue has access to WiFi so you can easily pull up the videos. Prepare some discussion questions and have each table answer them in their small groups.

Can I have a volunteer?

Look at your attendee list, I bet there are a handful of speakers who could get up and deliver an engaging speech with minimal notice. Coincidentally, this happened to me a few years ago when I was asked to stall at an event by giving a 20 minute introduction to the main speaker’s topic as she had been stuck in traffic and was running late. You can also ask two or three attendees to serve on an expert panel and allow the audience to ask them questions.

There are number of reasons why a speaker would be a no-show: family emergency, travel problems, or calendaring the wrong date. The key is to be prepared and to have a variety of alternatives to choose from. Keep your cool, be confident, and guide your audience’s attention away from the missing speaker and onto something engaging, creative, and relevant to your event.

Good luck!





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