Cancellation Clauses: Can speakers protect themselves from sudden losses of income?

By C.L. Fornari

Editor’s note: As speaking gigs reappear on GardenComm members’ calendars in the coming year, we’re running C.L. Fornari’s piece from May-June 2020 On the QT to remind us how we can protect ourselves should the pandemic continue and events are cancelled.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers all over the world have had their contracted events canceled. This is especially true for those who present programs about plants and gardens, since spring is our busiest speaking season. Any garden communicator who speaks publicly has seen a sudden loss of anticipated income, and this has prompted many to look closely at the cancellation clauses in their contracts.

A cancellation clause serves to protect a speaker’s bottom line as well as clarify the expectation that the venue has contracted for an appearance in good faith. After all, if a speaker has held a date for a particular group, all other inquiries for that same day or time will be turned down. It’s only natural that presenters want some assurance that since they may have turned other business away, the venue won’t lightly cancel an appearance.

Either the speaker or the venue can put clauses about cancellations in a written agreement. Contracts made in northern parts of the country often contain language about when an event might get scratched because of winter weather. It’s common, for example, for garden clubs to say that if their local schools are closed due to snow or flooding, the meeting will not take place. Yet it’s not just the client who spells out what might happen in the event of a cancellation. It’s also typical for a speaker’s standard contract to include wording about fees and deposits should an event not be held.


A typical speaker’s contract often includes a deposit requirement asking for a percentage of the fee to be sent upon the contract signing. This deposit might be kept should an event not go forward. An example of typical wording would be the following:

In the event the client makes any change to the program date as shown above, the deposit sum of $XXX will be retained by XYZ Speaker and applied to any future presentations for a period of one year from the date the speaker was notified of the change. In addition, if the change is made within 30 days of the program date, the client shall be responsible for reimbursing all travel expenses or other costs incurred by the speaker related to the presentation.

Other cancellation clauses include language that asks for payment of the full speaking fee should an event get canceled at the last minute. Typical language in a standard contract might be:

  • 100% of the speaking fee if canceled less than 30 days from the event.
  • 50% of the fee if canceled 31 to 60 days before the event.
  • 25% of the fee if canceled 61 to 90 days before the event.

If cancellation/postponement is unavoidable and the speaker can book another appearance in that time slot, XYZ Speaker will refund your fee minus any out-of-pocket expenses that have been incurred on your behalf.

Many contracts do specify that if a canceled appearance is rescheduled within a certain amount of time, that a percentage of the deposit or fee will be applied to the newly scheduled event.


In times of national emergencies, however, most of these clauses are rendered inapplicable. Frequently there will be a sentence indicating that this agreement doesn’t apply to cancellations due to acts of God or major disasters. There is also a certain understanding, often not recorded in a contract, that for natural or unavoidable catastrophes all parties are exempt from fulfilling their obligations. In cases such as a pandemic where local, state or national governments issue shelter-in-place orders or instructions not to gather in large groups, holding a planned meeting actually becomes against the law.

But aside from such force majeur situations, does a cancellation clause that stipulates the payment of a fee or retention of the deposit really protect a speaker? Realistically, if the venue decides not to hold the event and not to honor the terms in the contract, are you, as a speaker, likely to retain a lawyer and sue? Probably not.

Lois Creamer, speaking consultant and author of Book More Business ~ Make Money Speaking, says that her contract doesn’t even contain the word “cancel.” She asks for a 50% deposit upon the agreement signing, and the contract then uses the following wording:

“In the unlikely event that you would need to reschedule our work, this fee will be applied toward a mutually agreed upon date to take place within one year of the date of this agreement. Any fees for a reschedule will be “fee in effect” at the time.”


Creamer uses this policy because it’s her belief that the most important thing isn’t any one engagement, but the speaker/client relationship. In most cases, should a speaker insist on keeping a deposit or demand the full fee because of a cancellation, it’s unlikely that the client will book a presentation from them in the future. That client would also not be likely to recommend the speaker to another organization. She encourages presenters to be realistic, but also to consider what the cancellation wording in their contracts says about them and their businesses.

As many GardenComm members saw the handwriting on the wall for COVID-19 in early March 2020, they began contacting clients and offering to reschedule. This generated good will and promoted the “we’re all in this together” understanding that will keep those relationships solid and promote bookings in the future. So although many have lost a significant chunk of their planned income this spring, they are at least planting seeds for events to come.

For those negotiating contracts for the coming year the bottom line is that the document should contain cancellation language that is clear and fair to both parties. Yet ultimately, a flexible approach is going to cultivate stronger relationships moving forward.

C.L. Fornari, GardenComm Vice President, is a writer, speaker and podcast/radio host. She has PDFs of four common speaker’s contracts that include various forms of cancellation clauses that she is happy to share with others. Email her if you’d like to receive them:


Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

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