What to do if Your Keynote Speaker Doesn't Show Up

motivational speaker for womens conference

It's every event planner's worst nightmare. The keynote speaker is a no show. (Is there a pit forming in the pit of your stomach? I know it's in mine too!)

Unfortunately, it does happen. Guest speakers can get hit by a slew of unfortunate events -  sickness, missed flights, accidents, emergencies - if it can happen to you, it can happen to them.

Of the 1.9 million meetings that happen across North America, most events have something go wrong. Also of note is the top reasons that people attend events are the guest speakers and industry content. However, you don't want​ a keynote speaker no show ​to ​impact​ your event.

I've seen what happens when a keynote speaker doesn't show up for whatever reason, and the event planner is scrambling, looking for a solution.

It's not pretty.

It's important to know though that although you can't control everything, you can come close. 

Here are a few ways to save your event if your keynote speaker doesn't show up:

    • Have a clause in the speaking contract that if the keynote speaker is ill or has to cancel to give at least 24-hour notice.
    • Have the guest speakers call or text the organizer upon arrival to ensure she is on location the night before.
    • Include a contractual clause that if the guest speaker is unable to make the event for personal reasons, the deposit will be refunded or credited towards future events.
    • Have a back-up keynote speaker in mind. Or see if the canceling keynote speaker has an alternative recommendation. If not, contact a speakers bureau or a local NSA Chapter to find a replacement.
    • Have a backup activity in the wings. If all else fails, have something energizing and engaging, an event suitable for a general plenary session. Here are some leadership team building activities that could work well. 
    • Remember, you have planned a great event with great guest speakers. Fall back on your current agenda. Can you ask another guest speaker to fill the keynote speaker role?
    • Create a networking space on the agenda. Most delegates feel that they don't get enough networking time, so this may be perfect
    • Please don't make a big deal about it. It's important to apologize for unforeseeable challenges, but don't let it dampen the mood of your entire event! Meeting leaders need to keep a sense of humor during challenging times. Events are fun and positive, and something delegates look forward to all year. One keynote speaker shouldn't have the ability to make it all fall apart.
    • Create a last-minute panel to discuss important industry trends


Years ago, I was a closing keynote speaker for a women's conference, and the opening top motivational speaker didn't show up. It's not that he had something better to do, but he had fallen ill.image.gif

Unfortunately, he waited too long to let the event planner know, and two hours before his speech, they were scrambling to find a replacement. I was a five-hour flight away.

Unable to find an alternative, they presented a yoga session that had only a handful of participants. Other than the tantalizing opportunity to sleep in, conference delegates were disappointed.

The opening motivational speaker sets the tone for the whole conference, and a speaker who cancels (regardless of the reason) can sabotage an event and cause numbers to dwindle at future meetings.

Ensure the success of your event

If the motivational speaker for the women's conference had given more notice, the planning committee could have come up with several innovative options. Remember to plan for the unexpected, including a last-minute program change.

If you are looking to hire a motivational speaker for your next event, I'd love to answer any questions you might have or discuss how we can work together to make it a success.

Having a keynote speaker fail to show with little notice doesn't happen often, but when it does, if you are not prepared, it can be a disaster. 


I hope that never happens to you!

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