Keynote Speaker Bail? How to Find a Last-Minute Replacement

You’ve been there before. Your event planning is smooth sailing, and all the details are falling into place for the corporate event. The catering is on point. The venue representatives are on their game. And you’re in the home stretch in the week or few days before the big day. But then you get word that your leading keynote speaker has to cancel. Now what?

New York event planners are masters at contingency planning and problem-solving. And when a guest or keynote speaker bails at the last minute, you can change gears and follow these tips to find quick and valuable replacements. Considering all it takes is a positive COVID test to impact your upcoming event speaking lineup, having strategies like these in place is paramount.

Taking the Steps to Avoid Cancellations 

Sometimes, cancellations are out of your control. But you’ll definitely want to lay the groundwork to reduce those risks of cancellations you can control. For example, having an “arrival protocol” that involves a series of keynote speaker reminders, concierge services, and travel confirmations is a great start. Do what you can to invite your speaking guests or headliners a day ahead of time to avoid delays that may arise with flights or travel.

Plan Ahead with Backup Speakers

Whether you work with a keynote speaker organization or rely on referral networking to find your stage talent, have more than one option lined up for your event. And be transparent with your corporate clients about taking these contingency steps. It’s better to have two or three potential speakers for the event than one who cancels at the last minute.

Prepare to Pivot Your Marketing

When you’re planning an event, especially one with a big-name keynote speaker on the ticket, you’ll naturally lead your marketing efforts with those headlines. But be cautious and have a marketing backup plan in place, should that keynote speaker bail. You don’t want the event itself to hinge on the speaker alone. And you’ll need to be able to pivot your messaging to introduce the second speaker without losing attendance. Lean into the positives about your primary guest speaker. But don’t put all your marketing eggs in that one-speaker basket.

Be Honest with Your Client and Audience

In the event the keynote speaker cancels the day of the big event, leaving you in a lurch for replacement, be honest. You can scramble to make some calls and bring in a backup, but you might have to fill in the presentation gaps on your own. Here’s where you’ll lean on your emcee, DJ, or secondary speakers. And prepare your client to have company officials who might be able to take the stage if it makes sense to do so. But the key point is to be transparent with your audience about the keynote speaker canceling. And don’t be disparaging in any way toward the speaker.

You can’t always predict or control cancellations for your corporate events. But you can plan ahead, so you’re in the best position to rebound from those cancellations. Consider these strategies for last-minute problems. And for more insights, make sure you get to this year’s Event Planner Expo!


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