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As LIVE events begin to return, how can speakers legally protect themselves?

As LIVE events begin to return, how can speakers legally protect themselves?

Whether it's protecting yourself physically amidst travel and onsite during the covid-19 pandemic OR protecting your business from force majeure cancelations, professional speakers must know how to be safe, smart and business-minded. Being easy-to-work-with doesn't mean you have to sacrifice business or leave $$$ on the table.

This question below was recently posted on the Facebook group for the National Speakers Association. The responses were a waterfall of interesting insights and perspectives. I disagreed with many of them.

Original post:

Hello fellow speakers! Curious if any of you have added a clause to your speaking agreement that the company producing the event will indemnify you against any legal actions taken by participants who contract covid-19 or other illness? Also, what if they end up canceling the event? Should you still request payment? Return the deposit? Thank you for your thoughts!

My answer:

Hi _________,

My responses are going to differ from many that have posted on your thread. I'm also going to respond with more detail because these issues are so extremely important. I'll even share sample verbiage for my speaking agreement that protects me.

I'm neither an attorney or a health doctor, so my insights below are simply "from my experience" over the past year presenting for quite a few hybrid events as well as pushing back on "force majeure" cancellations that have helped me keep my business afloat.

Since the pandemic struck hard in 2020 I have been asked to speak at several hybrid events where I was physically required to be in a room with <50 people. I've also had several force majeure cancellations where I still was able to keep my deposit payment and work with the client to help them produce a well-attended virtual event. Before speaking full-time, I hosted events at college campuses with speakers ... providing context for you since I have worn both hats.

(1) Regarding physical safety of guests, if you're the invited guest speaker, then the event planner(s) and host facility really have this responsibility for safety amongst guests- not you. For them to host events, they have all sorts of safety protocols that must be followed. If they do not, they are liable. It will also be absolutely horrible marketing for them if someone/people become sick. That'll be the last event they ever plan and they'll likely be out of business soon thereafter.

Regarding your own physical safety, you need to do what you feel most comfortable with while also communicating that with the person who hired you. For example, should you wear a mask while speaking or take it off once you walk on the podium/stage. How much distance should you have before and after your speech? Do you plan to walk near anyone in the audience during your speech? As a presenter, you must also abide by safety protocols for that host facility and state.

I'm speaking this weekend in Oklahoma for a 500+ person event in an arena. They can fit that many people inside physically distanced, but they also asked me to keep my mask ON while presenting on stage. I will abide.

The hybrid event I spoke at in Kentucky last month asked me to take my mask OFF when walking on stage. I did so and made sure I stayed far and clear from anyone in the audience.

(2) Regarding how to protect yourself from event cancellations and/or postponements, this is definitely where I see speakers making mistakes. First off, I added a clause in all my speaking agreements designed to protect my business from cancellations and/or postponements claiming force majeure.

Anyone planning an event right now knows what they're dealing with as compared to this time last year. Last year pretty much everyone was caught off guard and trying to survive. We didn't know what we were dealing with. Now we do. So groups organizing in-person events now know they are taking a risk to meet in-person. "It's one thing to plan an event. It's another to get butts in seats."

I was much more willing last year to postpone or even return a deposit check. I returned two deposit checks hoping they would rebook me for being "easy to work with" ... well, that hasn't happened yet. They didn't have empathy for my speaking business ... they only had empathy and concern for theirs. After sending back two returned deposit checks, I pushed back very delicately on the 3rd "request." My positioning was to find the win/win and shared they still had the option to produce a virtual event. I had a virtual studio they could take advantage of! And if they chose not to, I would credit them for a future speaking engagement to be held within one year.

The result? They either produced a virtual event OR credited me. I never returned another check.

Two of the virtual events ended up having record-breaking virtual registrations! Win/win achieved, yes?

My virtual studio was the gamechanger so I'd encourage you to consider having one if you don't. Click here for my studio info and equipment list:

I'll post my clause for you/others below, but please note, you need to consult your own legal/tax counsel. NEVER has my contract been rejected - "yet." However, I'm 110% confident someone on this thread will comment that it would never hold up in court. I'd never let it get to court though ... I do my best to work with reasonable people - as long as they are reasonable = :) ... below is my exact verbiage direct from my revised 2021 sample speaking agreement:

Cancellations/Postponements If Contracting Entity desires to cancel or postpone this Agreement, they agree to provide minimum forty-five (45) days written notice to Speaker of cancellation/postponement before Speaker’s scheduled session. Any fee payments made to the Speaker will be retained by Speaker as a credit for a future event for up to one year.

Should Contracting Entity cancel this agreement within forty-five (45) days before Speaker’s first scheduled session, they will be responsible for all fees due to Speaker and reimbursement for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred not recoverable by Speaker (“reimbursement”). Credit will only be applied toward a future event unless agreed upon by both parties due to circumstances.

In the event of a force majeure, including but not limited to, epidemics, pandemics, war, travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, acts of God, terrorism, government shut-down, weather, labor unrest, or any event beyond the reasonable control of either party, either party may cancel this Agreement. If services of Speaker are canceled due to force majeure, any fees paid to Speaker will be retained by the speaker as a credit for a future event for Contracting Entity up until one year, and any reimbursement to Speaker for non-recoverable expenses shall be due to Speaker.

If Speaker must cancel this Agreement for any reason - which has never happened in 20+ years and 1,000+ speaking engagements - due to health, unforeseen injury, family emergency or another unexpected incapacity, resulting in the inability of Speaker to present or circumstances that would prevent Speaker from traveling, no fees, or reimbursement shall be due to Speaker. Further, any fee payments, such as a deposit, will be returned to Contracting Entity. The Speaker will also work diligently to find a replacement speaker for the Contracting Entity to ensure a seamless transition for the event.


If you're a member of "The Vault", you can download my entire speaking agreement template. I've uploaded it into the folder titled, "Proposals, Contracts and Invoices" ... download it today!

If you're not a member of "The Vault," I'd encourage you to check it out. I created "The Vault" to provide you with the templates, scripts, samples and resources that I use in my own speaking business. I've totaled it up, and it's worth over $20,000 in value! Stop wasting time creating things on your own and not having professional materials. Use what I'm providing to STAND OUT!


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