No-Show Speakers: Let the Madness End

At PR News, we get pitches on a daily basis for communications experts to write for our publication, our web site or speak at our webinars or conferences.  It’s usually a very pleasant process. But every now and then we get what we call the MIA speaker — he or she agrees to speak at our conference (even signs an agreement), we promote this speaker in all our marketing efforts and —  let’s call this person MIA — MIA stops returning our calls or emails and at the 11th hour says s/he’ll definitely be there/no worries. In fact, the pattern is that for a very brief period (a half day), they are full engaged with us, feel bad and make lots of promises. And guess what — MIA doesn’t show at the show.  And it’s not because of an emergency or any valid excuse —  it’s just “sorry, can’t make it.”

This a rare occurrence but it sticks with me and my team and we have a very sour taste not only about that speaker but about the organization MIA represents.  We are a forgiving crew here, but it’s hard to want to interview a representative from that company when one of their key execs, in the words of my teenage daughter, “disses” us.  Of course, we get over it and welcome MIA’s “parents” back into the fold. But we never go back to MIA after this journalistic abuse. (We have our pride.) So next time you pitch a speaker or contributor to a media organization, be sure they’re on board with the assignment and understand that it’s more than their reputation that’s on the line.

That said, we’re opening the call for speakers at our Digital PR Summit in October in NY.  Contact me if you’re interested and qualified. And not prone to be MIA.

— Diane Schwartz

  • Ibrey Woodall

    Hi Diane –

    I speak at a lot of conferences on online newsrooms, but have yet to bail on any of them (intentional or not). It just doesn’t seem like a wise move.

    I can only imagine the domino effect that it creates for organizers. I hear your frustration.

    Twitter: @IbreyWoodall

  • Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem

    I have been called in at the last minute to do a keynote when I was a speaker further down the agenda due to a last minute cancellation. Discovering when you have other speakers on your conference roster who can pitch hit at the last minute might be something you can consider asking the speakers you hire. Knowing this is a possibility in advance and having an idea of the cost of adding that last minute presentation knowing your payment offer could also be part of preparing your event.

  • Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound

    I am guessing that you are not paying speakers.

    If you pay speakers, even if it’s a small honorarium, you should have a simple one-page signed letter of agreement (leave the attorneys out of it) that specifies what they are doing for you, what you are paying them, and other details.

    That makes the arrangement more formal and if you ask them to sign, they will be more inclined to keep their commitment. Without payment or a letter of agreement, you often get what you pay for.

    P.S. I am a publicity expert, a former journalist, and a professional speaker who has done many free and for-fee speaking engagements.

  • Matt

    Do you think having a signed agreement for the nonpaid speakers might be helpful? It might stres the importance of respecting the verbal agreement.

    When you think about it, the nonpaid speakers are getting exposure for their product/company — and we all know that exposure is valuable. And if the speaker is mentioned in your marketing efforts, having an MIA reflects negatively on their company.

    It might be worthwhile to suggest speakers have a back-up from their organization who can pinch hit.

    Just a few thoughts from a non-MIA.

  • dschwartz

    Thanks for all the comments on this topic. We do have signed agreements and conversations with our speakers and 95% are outstanding and reliable. There’s just that small percent who don’t understand the implications of their actions.
    I’ve received a lot of personal emails this week from people who promise they won’t be “MIA”!