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Speaker No-Show: Turning Disaster into Delight

Today's guest post is by speaker, author, and one of my favorite Aussies Neen James.

The lights came up as the person who was about to interview a living legend slowly walked onto the stage at an industry conference. Our anticipation turned to apprehension as we watched his body language and facial expressions. Something wasn’t right. He turned to face us, and, with great sadness, told us that the special guest we had all been looking forward to hearing from was too ill to make it to the conference.

It’s an understatement to say we were disappointed. Not only for ourselves when we heard that we would not be able to learn from this person’s experience and advice, but we also felt upset for the interviewer, who had obviously invested significant hours to prepare for this event.

Then something wonderful happened. After the interviewer shared his personal disappointment at the turn of events, he put his contingency plan into action. He showed a remarkable tribute video about the person who was unable to make the show—and that person got a standing ovation, perhaps the first he’d ever received in absentia. The interviewer then interviewed another high-profile industry person with such fun and flair that he turned what could have been a disaster into a delight. Talk about grace under pressure!

Related: 5 Ways to Ensure that the Show Will Go On

The key was that he had a contingency plan, born out of liaison with the conference chair, the meeting planner, the CEO, and many others on the team. The result was a session that was talked about for weeks to follow, both among attendees who were in the audience and on social media, where the interviewer was called a “class act,” a “role model,” the “epitome of class,” and a “true professional.”

As someone who was there, I’d add the word “exceptional.” Every attendee in that ballroom witnessed how to elegantly handle a tough situation with grace, compassion, and eloquence.

As busy meeting professionals working with professional and industry speakers, do you have contingency plans you can put into action if your talent is delayed by travel or unable to make the session due to illness?

Neen James, MBA, CSP, a high-energy Aussie with a lot of sass, is an attention expert, keynote speaker, and lover of fabulous shoes who delivers engaging programs designed to educate and entertain audiences with real-world strategies that apply at work and home. The author of Folding Time and her latest book, Attention, she believes leaders profit by paying attention. Find out more at

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