I don’t know of anyone who has not had to cancel something at sometime in their life. It’s like that old saying about the “best laid plans of mice and men.”
Some cancellations create small adjustments and minor inconveniences while others can create shock waves like an L.A. tremor. Some people don’t think twice about eating a portion of a non-refundable plane ticket that they suddenly couldn’t use, while others will rant and rave for weeks about the loss.
For most planner and speakers, these situations are more on the “shock wave” of the scale. So what happens when you cancel out on a meeting? Well, hotels and speakers are very similar. For the most part, they only have their time to sell, and that is a very important point to remember. When you cancel your meeting far enough in advance, the odds are substantial that both hotel and speaker can re-book other clients. Keep in mind that on the average it is harder for the hotel to re-book than the speaker.
In the production chain of putting together a conference, the first item that follows the selection of the dates is usually the site location. Thus, where a convention might pick a site two years in advance, they may not get around to speaker selections for another ten to twelve months or even later. Since hotels and conference centers vary tremendously in how they handle cancellations, we will not discuss that aspect but rather look at what happens with the speaker.
If you have to cancel a speaker less than six months before the meeting time, check your contract for the potential penalties. Most speakers and their bureaus require a deposit fee to be made at the time of signing. Bureaus commit their speaker to the planner in exchange for a deposit on his or her fee. If cancellation does occur, it is common to have a sliding penalty scale that moves upward as the date approaches. Sometimes a bureau can apply a portion of the fee to a new contract if the planner intends to reschedule and especially when multiple dates are involved.
We realize that no one likes to spend money for services they didn’t use, but as one planner told us, “I felt a lot better about the cancellation fee when I put myself in the speaker’s shoes and asked myself how would I feel if my boss decided to cancel my next paycheck through no fault of mine?” The thing to keep in mind is the fact that both speaker and a bureau want to continue doing business with you in the future, so they are going to be as flexible as humanly possible within reason. The last thing a professional speaker or a reputable bureau is going to do is stick it to a client because something suddenly came into play that was out of their control.