I recently learned that one of my executive speakers had suddenly lost his battle with cancer. This was terribly sad news as he hadn’t made many people aware of his disease and left behind two young children.  After I absorbed the information and sent my condolences to his colleagues I had a horrible realization – I had scheduled that executive to give a keynote address at a conference which was less than two months away!

While I thankfully doubt that many of you have experienced a similar situation, there is a good chance that you have had to cancel a speaking engagement due to unforseen circumstances – either personally or on behalf of someone else. This is never an easy task, regardless of the reasons for the cancellation, but what makes a huge difference is how the task is handled.  Below I’ve outlined the steps I take to ensure that this process is as painless as possible for all involved.

  1. Alert the conference manager of the cancellation as soon as you can. The sooner they know, the sooner they can adjust the conference agenda or find another speaker to fill in the empty time slot.
  2. Be honest. If your company CEO has ‘suggested’ you attend a customer meeting, don’t make up a story about a personal family crisis. The world is too connected to get away with dramatic fibbing.
  3. Offer solutions.  If you know an executive from your own company – or another company, even – who might be able to speak in your stead, let the conference know.  Better yet, offer to make an introduction.
  4. If you do offer substitute, be sure they are someone of similar stature, someone who knows the subject matter well, and someone who has public speaking experience.  Suggesting an inexperienced speaker or someone who is unfamiliar with the topic is far worse than leaving them without a speaker.

I hope you never have to use this advise.  If you do, however, by following these steps you can help turn around a difficult situation.