Organising a great lineup of speakers for your business or conference event will undoubtedly get bums on seats — but what happens when your star speaker starts putting everyone to sleep? Or simply doesn’t deliver what they promised? Hosting an interesting and engaging event is key in keeping your attendees coming back for more, and it’s easy to feel out of control when it’s not you in front of the microphone.

Fortunately, the mistakes conference speakers make are surprisingly common — and there are simple ways to get on top of things before they turn into a disaster. Here are the 5 most common conference disasters, including  tips for getting ahead of speaker hiccups and optimising your attendee’s experience:

1. A speaker goes OTT on the PowerPoint slides

Ever felt like you were being drowned in information while watching a PowerPoint presentation? Or worse still, half way through the speaker realises they left the “screeching car tyre” sound on every transition? Slides are a great presentation tool, but they can also be incredibly cringeworthy!

How to avoid disaster:

The simplest way to avoid a mess of a presentation is to set clear guidelines with your speakers. Establish a recommended format for presentations (e.g. “2-3 dot points per slide in Arial, 14 pt”) and you could even provide them with a template design to keep presentations consistent. Most importantly, ask for a copy of their presentation and arrange to review a few days prior to the event so that you have time to view the content — and your speaker has time to make or see your changes if necessary.

2. A speaker lacks the expertise you were promised

Here’s a curly one. You’ve locked in an expert only to discover that maybe they over inflated their credentials a little and you’re worried that you won’t deliver value for money to your attendees.

How to avoid disaster:

Again, previewing presentations or asking for topic outlines can help avoid this before it happens. If you’re hosting a question and answer session for your speakers, you may even wish to help prep them with some sample questions that your facilitator/host will ask so that you’re sure they are prepared. If you have a fairly ‘green’ speaker on your lineup, you may consider putting questions to a panel of speakers rather than putting any one person on the spot.

3. A speaker goes rogue

When you hand off the microphone, there’s always a risk that a speak could go off-topic, swear, or say something downright offensive. You can see the shock on people’s faces and the journalists scribbling in their notebooks.

How to avoid disaster:

Unfortunately having a preview of a presentation deck won’t prevent this one! You do however have a couple of options here; decide whether you let them carry on, or cut the mic and butt in with an apology. You know your event is going to get some attention for this, but probably not in a good way.

Having a handle on your event data and audience demographics is a good way to mitigate this issue. If you can supply your speaker with a good understanding of who they are presenting to and why they’re attending, there’s less chance they’ll say something that could offend that group. If you have guidelines in place for speakers at your conference, you may consider including some talking points that are off limits (i.e. politics, religion!) to help reduce the risk that they’ll go off topic.

4. Their laptop or presentation file doesn’t work

This is one of the most common panic-inducing occurrences for event managers. When the ‘gremlins’ get inside the tech it can cause no end of problems. At best, your event looks badly organised as you faff about for 10-minutes trying to get it all up and running, and at worst, the session is near on ruined as the speaker shouts to be heard and desperately tries to recall the details of charts and graphs from the missing visuals.

How to avoid disaster:

Like any good performance, rehearsal is key! Venue walk-throughs with plenty of time to tackle last minute issues and assess the quality of things like AV and lighting will help you be prepared. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of connectors and adapters for both Mac and PC in your event toolkit (a good extension cord is another must!). Ideally, if you have presentations, they should all be sent to you prior to the event to run off a single (tried, tested and charged) laptop with a master slide deck, rather than letting each speaker manage their own tech. This helps with smooth transitions between speakers as well as reducing tech fails. Test and test again before you fill the room.

5. A speaker drops out

If you’ve secured a top-name VIP speaker, naturally you’re going to shout about their keynote from the rooftops. Which is all well and good…until they drop out. Your attendees are bound to be disappointed. How do you dress up your last-minute replacement so people don’t tune out? What if people ask for their money back?

How to avoid disaster:

Communicate to your attendees — don’t leave them in the dark and hope they won’t mind once they arrive. It’s also a good idea to have a refunds policy in place so that you’re prepared to cope with disappointed attendees. If you’re given enough notice by your original speaker, you could consider asking for a pre-recording of their keynote to screen at your event alongside your new speaker.

By taking a bit of extra time and planning upfront, you don’t need to leave the fate of your event in the hands of your speakers. If you have any questions about how Eventbrite can help provide the right tools for your conference or business event, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or download The 2017 Guide to Event Technology for Conferences and Exhibitions.