Last fall, two of our consulting clients were scheduled to have their annual conferences in Orlando. In late September, Hurricane Ian pummeled central Florida, triggering a significant number of flight cancellations. Group No. 1 had no choice but to cancel its in-person event.
Fortunately, this association had already planned a digital version of the conference to be held four weeks after the in-person event. This virtual extension quickly became the back-up plan for the in-person conference. The opening keynoter was rescheduled to kick off the now enhanced digital conference, still set for a month after the canceled in-person event.
In November, it was Hurricane Nicole’s turn to put a damper on client No. 2’s plans. This time, a good percentage of the attendees were able to travel and got to experience a hurricane from the comfort of their hotel room. This association had already planned a hybrid offering that included livestreaming general sessions and select concurrents. Attendees who were unable to travel were able to switch their registration to the digital cohort.
Due to flight cancellations, the opening general session speakers were not able to arrive in time. The association acted fast and was able to pull off a very effective virtual fireside chat with the two speakers, conducted live with an on-site interviewer. It served as a very successful plan B.
These two associations had solid contingency plans in place that enabled them to react quickly and effectively. Their success depended on the flexibility of their speakers.
Five Asks for Professional Speakers
Reflecting on the uncertainties of the past few years, it’s wise for organizers to ask professional speakers and speaker bureaus to proactively help with main-stage contingency planning. Here are some suggestions.
- Relax recording policies. Instead of speakers prohibiting video recording and scheduled replays, have them provide permission for you to rebroadcast keynote sessions for 30 days after the conference. Other than those associations that are offering CME credits online, no one is making bank on their virtual offerings.
- Add value. When it comes to large conferences, revenue is down and expenses are way up. Ask professional keynote speakers to explore opportunities to add value by facilitating VIP conversations, presenting a concurrent session, or giving a pre- or post-event webinar.
- Give you peace of mind. For speaker proposals and agreements, add a paragraph on the extra steps your speakers can or will take to help you with contingency planning. Can they arrive a day early? Do they have a strong network of speakers that they can activate to sub in in case of an emergency? Are they up to date on vaccines and flu shots?
- Make semi-live your last alternative. In my opinion, watching a recording of a keynote from a general session room is a poor option. Ask your speakers to agree to a contingency plan where they participate live in a session from a remote location which is recorded for access after the event as a back-up plan.
- Customize Whether your speaker is in-person or being streamed in, canned keynote presentations are inauthentic and hit a brick wall with audiences now more than ever before. The speakers who can deliver the greatest impact will outline the extra steps they plan to take to really understand your participants and their current pain points. This should include advance calls with some of your stakeholders. Speakers who do their homework and weave in real stories from your industry will be seen as credible and earn the trust of your audience — as well as referrals.
What kind of contingency plans do you have in place for your main-stage speakers? If and when speakers push back, what are some solutions?
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2023.
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