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A speaker’s worst nightmare: Bad weather, terrorist attacks & flight delays

"As a South African-based speaker speaking in Sydney the morning after 9/11, speaking in London during the 2005 London bombings, and in Nairobi on the day of the April 2015 terrorist attacks at Garissa University; I found ways of getting to all my gigs on time, despite the serious delays. I chartered planes and helicopters, arranged alternative transport when I had car trouble on the road to an event, and even arranged for another passport when I lost one just before an event. As a speaker, if I say I am going to be there, then I’m going to show up. " Stef du Plessis

Here are some tips for event planners and speakers to make sure your speaker makes it to your event on time:

1. Monitor flights in real-time. There are several apps and websites for tracking weather systems and checking flight statuses. Some are SAFlightInfo, FlightAware, FlightView, Domestic Flight South Africa (DFSA) or These resources help you to check flights in real-time, airport delays and closures, and inclement weather. You can set up travel alerts for yourself and your speakers, or share the app information with your speakers in your conference briefing document.

2. Ensure that passports are up to date Speakers, if you’re speaking across border, check that your passport is up to date and has enough pages open for the necessary customs stamps. Event planners, make sure that your speakers or his/her assistant is aware of the necessary visa requirements, and if you’re unsure, phone the relevant embassy to triple check to ensure compliance.

3. Drive or charter If airport delays and closures threaten the arrival of your speaker, or even delegates, consider another form of transportation. Sometimes you can actually get to a destination faster by driving. Being tied to a flight schedule can result in additional delays, and sometimes you can drive around the weather or travel interruptions. Some large corporations have private transportation at their disposal that can be used to safely get a speaker to an event on time.

4. Fly the speaker in the night before, where possible. This is especially important if your meeting’s success depends heavily on your speaker’s presentation. This is the safe approach and although it might cost you an extra night for the speaker, it’ll be well worth the investment to ensure the presenter is there and not stuck in an airport. This strategy will avoid unnecessary stress for you, your speaker and your stakeholders.

4. Keep the programme flexible. Put some basic contingency planning in place for an earlier arrival, or a later arrival. Can the keynote address be swapped around with another part of the programme? Remember that changing a flight ahead of time is much easier than trying to get a speaker out of a shutdown airport.

5. Keep the lines of communication open. If you’re using a speaker bureau, they can act as the liaison between the speaker and you. Good communication can prevent needless worry and last minute panic on both ends. If you’re working directly with the speaker, make sure you have a cellphone number for the speaker and his/her assistant so that you can get in touch when you need to particularly when there is some urgency to do so.


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