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As Program or Education chair of your society, you’ve spent hours carefully crafting a speaker roster for lectures, webinars and special events. But rest assured, it will happen. A speaker will cancel. It might be as mundane as car trouble. Or as recent events have shown, it might be as significant as a political boycott campaign.  
Be Prepared
In the immortal words of the Boy Scout slogan: Be Prepared. Speaker cancellations are a risk for any type of event. In the case of advance notice, it may be a simple matter of asking a future speaker to move their scheduled topic to your open slot. It also offers the opportunity to give a new speaker or unusual topic a try. For those societies fortunate enough to have talented speakers as society members, you may be able to solicit one of them to keep a stock presentation at the ready for a short notice fill in.
Timing is Everything

Last minute cancellations are the most challenging to replace. Audience expectations are set. Some members may have made a special trip just for a particular speaker or topic. For onsite lectures and events, having a back up plan already determined and communicated to potential participants is key. Here are a few options to get your creative gears turning:


  • Host a reddit style “Ask Me Anything” session with the society president or board members present.
  • Host a panel discussion featuring the professional genealogists or repository staff in your society.
  • In the case of an event, host a panel discussion with available speakers.
  • Create your own genealogy game show in the vein of Craig R. Scott’s “Last Genealogist Standing.”
  • Offer a brick wall brainstorming session.

No Substitute

Unfortunately, for some cancellations there is no substitute. Webinars are particularly susceptible to this problem. Though not impossible, it is very difficult to replace a webinar with a nationally recognized speaker at the last minute to the audience’s satisfaction. Map out in advance an apology strategy and how you will communicate to the audience any rescheduling of an event.
By taking the time to address the possibility of cancelations in advance, you’ll be able to seamlessly transition speakers or present your members with a fun and satisfying alternative event. And in the event no alternative can be arranged, you’ll have a strategy in place for preserving your member’s goodwill.
We’d love to hear from you! What strategies has your society employed to cover speaker cancellations? What was the best off-the-cuff cancellation replacement you ever attended?

1 Comment

  1. Jacquie Schattner on May 9, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Our group has one or two people who volunteered to give a presentation at the last minute. I happen to be one of them. I have two presentations that I always have ready to go and give them often, so I am prepared. I was on standby one Saturday, while my own daughter was in labor, but it all worked out.

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