What would you do if, on the day of your big conference, your keynote speaker fell into a crocodile? Would you boldly take to the stage before your delegates and announce that their visit had been a waste of time because the speaker was now incapacitated and that they should all go home? No of course you wouldn’t, you’d need a replacement speaker pronto.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Speakers are very often booked months in advance, an entire advertising campaign may have been built around them, the leaflet will have their gleaming mug on the front, and masses will be flocking from all corners of the land. So what do you really do if they are incapacitated all of a sudden? Is there Speaker Insurance, for instance?
This is where we encounter a split in the crowd. There are some of you, I’ve no doubt, that will have a Google’s worth of contacts on your phone and would be sure that you could call on a last minute favour.
There will be others, I suspect, who are not quite so organised. They will have banked on Johnny Speaker being cryogenically frozen the moment the booking was confirmed and then delivered directly to the venue by courier in bubble wrap. The concept of them not turning up is simply unfathomable.
If you’re a conference organiser worth your salt, you really should always have a back-up plan. A s-B-eaker, if you like.
The other week I was to chair a panel at the mia conference. The night before the event I thought what they might do if I decided to bail and spend the day shopping in Oxford Street and eating McDonald’s, and presumed that they’d simply call in another journalist with relative ease. I should say that I had no intention of buying jeans or Big Macs and was very much looking forward to being Mr. Important on stage. But what if?
Well, this week I was scheduled for no less than four engagements. I was to speak, I was to attend a Premier League football match in executive hospitality, I was to interview a prominent show organiser on camera, and attend a huge conference on the coast. I was looking forward to it.
On Sunday night, however, the first signs that something was afoot began to surface. After biting into a delicious piece of barbecued cow I felt an unwelcome tickle on one of my teeth. As the evening went by the tickle became a fistfight. By midnight, though, it was like the Battle of Agincourt. And, being British, I was losing. Badly.
The pain was unspeakable. So on Monday morning I popped into the Chamber of Terror – the dental surgery – and had it confirmed that Mr. Tooth was in need of some work.
Later that day my face swelled up, making it look as if I’d experimented to see how many size-5 footballs I could fit into my mouth. The answer seemingly suggests it is 78.
It was clear that my engagements were going to need to be put on hold. The only thing worse than the agony of my puss-filled face was the guilt on bailing on the appointments – which had all been booked well over a month ago. Rescheduling isn’t so straightforward as there are deadlines and other such things.
Had it been a bout of man-flu, a broken finger, or a poor haircut, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have soldiered on. The Tooth of Death, though? Aside from actually being eaten by a crocodile, there is little else that can put you so far out of action. The painkillers I was on helped keep the agony down, but played havoc with my mind. Every time I tried to type a word on the keyboard an elephant in a stove pipe hat kept flicking my ear – I was out of it.
The situation is now improving, mercifully, and I am well and truly humbled that those on whom I had to cancel were all so understanding; they are a true testament to the industry. Unlike man-flu or a broken finger, everyone has sympathy for someone with a toothache – or tooth mega-death-blood-storm, as I had.
If you are organising a conference and your keynote speaker drops out, that’s the stuff of nightmares. If, though, they dropped out because of dental pain, be assured they’re having a worse day than you.