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 later.
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 could 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.
In light of the uncertainties of the past few years, it’s wise for organizers to ask professional speakers and speaker bureaus to proactively help with mainstage contingency planning. Here are some suggestions.
1. Relax recording policies.
Instead of speakers prohibiting video recording and scheduled replays, get them to give you permission to rebroadcast keynote sessions for 30 days after the conference. Other than associations offering CME credits online, no one is making bank on their virtual offerings.
2. Add value.
When it comes to large conferences, revenue is down and expenses are way up. Ask professional keynote speakers to add value by facilitating VIP conversations, a concurrent session, and/or a pre- or post-event webinar.
3. Get peace of mind.
Add a paragraph in speaker proposals and agreements on the extra steps your speakers 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?
4. Make semi-live your last alternative.
I think watching a recording of a keynote from a general session room is a poor option. Ask your speakers to agree to participate live from a remote location if travel becomes impossible — and to provide permission for the recording to be accessible after the event.
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.
Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.
RELATED: 5 Program Design Changes to Add Value to Your Conference