It’s something no event management professional wants to deal with: a key partner or guest speaker has bailed out on your conference with little to no warning. You’re left high and dry, desperately seeking out a replacement (or, failing that, going into full damage-control mode.) While most veteran event planners have likely dealt with unreliable guests, an incident like this could easily seem insurmountable to a less-experienced planner.
So what’s a good show-runner to do about a flake?
The first, most important rule is not to let this get to you. Admittedly, it’s next to impossible to address this problem without getting at least a bit stressed out. That said, you should not, under any circumstances, launch into full panic mode, nor should you descend into an unstoppable fury. Approaching the crisis with a clear mind and a cool head is the best way to help your self. Being calm and collected will go a long way towards solving the problem. Put your energy toward discovering your solution, rather than fuming about what is out of your control.
Find Out Why
Don’t simply assume the worst. There could be a whole host of reasons why your speaker/associate isn’t there when you need them. Maybe they got into a car accident, had a family emergency or ended up stuck in their own logistical nightmare. Or maybe they saw something about your event they didn’t like, and made themselves scarce as alarm bells sounded in their head. Your first order of business should be to get in touch with the flake in question, and find out why they backed out. Maybe you can address their concerns in a way that brings them back on board.
Takeaway: getting a speaker back on board is the best, and most efficient solution, but know when to cut your losses.
Contact Your Backups (You have a list!)
Depending on how much time you were given after discovering the no-show, you might be able to secure a replacement for whoever’s missing. During your planning phase it’s likely you made a list of potential speakers, some of whom you never invited. Now is the time to use them. Of course, chances are whoever flaked out on you hasn’t left you much time to make any alternative plans. If that’s the case, it’s time for some damage control.
Let Your Attendees Know What’s Going On
Regardless of where you are in the business world, establishing communication with the consumer is vital. That’s doubly true if you’re running an event. You need to keep your attendees updated on what’s happening with the absent party, and what that means for their itinerary. If there’s a keynote you aren’t going to be running, let them know, issue an apology, and assure them you’re in the process of working out a new activity for the time slot.
Takeaway: attendees should appreciate your candor, even if they’re a bit irritated that the event’s not going off as planned.
Contact Your Lawyers
If the flake in question signed a contract stipulating they’d be at your event, and there appear to be no mitigating circumstances to their absence, it’s time for the really unpleasant part. Depending on how much their absence crippled your event, you may need to get your lawyers involved. If it’s a guest speaker flaking out on you, it’s probably not worth the effort; their breach was likely a minor one, at best. If, however, you ended up short a vital service or staff such as engineers, facilities management or caterers, if an organization breached their contract with you, you might be entitled to sue for damages.
Takeaway: consider the scenario of an absentee speaker or service provider when writing up your contracts. Protect yourself.
You can hope for the best, but you may work with a flake someday (chances are high.) Stay calm, look through your contingency plan, call in your back up team and communicate with your audience. That is our best advice.