World of Speakers E.71 COVID-19: Mitch Jackson | Navigating the Coronavirus as a public speaker


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World of Speakers E.71 COVID-19 Mitch Jackson

Ryan Foland speaks with Mitch Jackson, an expert speaker and lawyer. In this special episode of World of Speakers, Mitch and Ryan discuss COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, and what implications it can have for speakers, events, and attendees. They will explore what your rights are, what to do moving forward, and the importance of remaining human during such troubling times. 

While Mitch Jackson is a lawyer and can give general advice that can help inspire you to find out more, it is important you review, or hire a lawyer to review your specific contracts, waivers, and terms and conditions, and what rights you have in your country.


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Mitch Jackson: Hey everyone, it's Mitch Jackson. 

I am here with Ryan Foland of the World of Speakers. 

We are talking about Coronavirus, conferences, and liability. 

Sharing tips for professional speakers, conference and event planners, and tips for attendees to keep everyone safe and sound in 2020 and beyond. 

I share some of my best tips from both a legal and a business standpoint during today's podcast. 

I hope you grab a pen, paper, laptop, iPad, and join us. 

Take notes, this is good stuff. 

Ryan Foland: Ahoy, and welcome back. 

Today you are going to experience a very special edition of World of Speakers because I have Mitch Jackson, a friend of mine who's a California trial attorney. 

He's an awesome speaker who loves the digital world, and he was my go-to guy when I started getting my contracts cancelled, and it inspired me to invite him back onto the show so we can have a group discussion about Covid-19, a.k.a. the Coronavirus, what's really happening from a legal standpoint. 

We want to dig into it from the perspective of speakers, conferences, as well as the event planners and then attendees. 

Get ready for a show that will take over your brain like the Coronavirus is taking over the world, but in a good way, so you can be prepared. 

Mitch, welcome to the show.

Mitch Jackson: Wow, Ryan, it's really good to be here. 

You're not the only one having speaking contracts cancelled.

I've got clients that have had their speaking contracts cancelled. This raises new business contract clause issues for future speaking engagements. There are liability and breach of contract issues for events, and things attendees need to know. 

I'm excited to be here and maybe share my 34 years of business litigation experience and my experience as a speaker, someone that's fairly well-ingrained in the social and digital world with you and your audience, and maybe share some tips to help everyone get through all this and move forward in a glass is half full type of way. 

Ryan Foland: Awesome, I like it. 

And that glass is sanitized water with people who wash their hands that are grabbing it. We're all drinking together with better antibacterial at our hips. It's all there. 

Now, if you are listening to this and you're curious to get a deeper dive into who Mitch is and his process around speaking, and the business that he's built outside of his regular law practice, he was actually a speaker prior too, so we'll make sure we put the notes to his first episode which was amazing. 

Listen next: World of Speakers E.39: Giving audiences what they want with Mitch Jackson

We learned about how you grew up and your vision of the world, your early adoption of technology. 

And honestly, Mitch, you are the person that I would trust most in this situation because you're not an isolated lawyer who doesn't understand the culture of speakers.

You are a practitioner, you speak a lot, you help lawyers with their speaking as well as a book that you had that just came out, which I was happy to contribute to, which is all about social media. 

You've got it all here and I'm ready to pick your brain, and I want to jump right into it for our listeners to talk about speakers. 

Let's put our speaker caps on — what do we need to worry about, or be concerned with, or prepare ourselves for when it comes to Coronavirus as we address a real issue that's happening? 

And my only caveat here, if you're listening, we're talking about the Coronavirus, but in 6 months there's the Gingervirus and then in another 6 months there's a Lawyervirus like, like, a lot of these same principles are going to be the same, so hopefully this is a great resource for those who are in the speaking profession or people who enjoy going to conferences. 

Mitch, where do we start when it comes to speakers?

Mitch Jackson: Absolutely. 

So this whole issue, it just jumps out at me as a wake-up call for all of our friends who are professional speakers, for anyone in the industry, for companies putting on events, for people attending events, so many business and legal issues that we need to know more about. 

When it comes to speakers, when it comes to becoming — you're a professional speaker, hopefully, you're using speaker engagements/speaker contracts that are properly prepared, but in my mind immediately I thought to myself, 

"I hope everyone has a good indemnification clause in their agreements." 

What this means is it's an agreement that you include in your speaking agreement with the company/agency who hires you to speak, which either includes you being an added insured under their health insurance policy should, god forbid, someone, either you or someone on your team becomes ill for any reason, including infectious diseases like the Coronavirus, or a clause that agrees to reimburse or indemnify you for any out-of-pocket medical expenses you may incur because of contracting any type of disease like the Coronavirus. 

These are all terms that can be included and negotiated in a speaker agreement, and it's something that it doesn't hurt to ask or have your agent negotiate in your contract for you. 

And that way you're covered if something happens. 

So the first thing is to make sure you've got the right types of terms and conditions in your speaker agreements. 

This also, Ryan, just jumps out at me with respect to cancellation clauses. You and I both know, events are being cancelled all over the world, speakers that have booked out to speak at conferences 6, 12, 18 months ago, their speaking engagements are being cancelled, they are not getting paid or they're not getting paid in full. What's their recourse, what are their rights, what are the remedies? 

It's going to come down to what is in the speaking agreement.

So this is a good opportunity for professional speakers to take a look at their cancellation clauses: 

Why can an event cancel you? 

What rights do you have based upon the current health and safety situation of a conference, or the nation, or the world, to cancel your appearance? 

If there is a cancellation, how much notice is needed? 

Is payment still required if there's a cancellation either by the event or by you? 

A lot of events, Ryan, and maybe you can touch upon this a little bit because I think it might affect the branding of certain speakers, a lot of conferences are taking their traditional offline conference onto the digital platforms via a webinar. 

That creates a completely different dynamic, a different branding opportunity, or maybe even an opportunity to dilute your brand by being that speaker that's great onstage but maybe not so great behind a microphone on a live video. 

I also think in cancellation clauses you want to have that condition where you have the right to either accept or refuse the situation where your offline traditional speaking opportunity is unilaterally taken to an online webinar. 

Do you want to do that? 

Do they have the right to do that? 

What is the pay structure for that? 

So these are all things that I think, right off the bat, I would love to see speakers start focusing on in their speaking agreements.

Ryan Foland: Okay, awesome. 

I want to address that branding question and what to do if you are not prepared, but I want to take three steps back when it comes to contracts. 

One question is, let's say that the typical situation is that the event will provide you with a contract. 

And if you don't see that those things are in there, is the best practice for you to ask them to change their contract, or is it better practice for you to then offer an additional contract on your side? 

Tell me about that dynamic from just a legal perspective? 

Because I know some people just get the contract from the event, some people might have their own contract that they have the event sign, and then there are some deals where there's just no contract because it's a handshake or there's a relationship that's there. 

Tell me just about the contractual obligations and what the best practices are there.

Mitch Jackson: Absolutely.

I personally represented clients in all three scenarios, and I've been involved with all three. 

Let me just say that I've handled some large speaking contracts for some very well-known speakers, and also brand ambassador agreements for some of the top brand ambassadors on the planet. 

It's not actually something, Ryan, I enjoy doing. I like litigating cases, so I'm not doing this interview to try to bring in new business.

I'd rather have your listeners hire someone else to do these agreements, just so we're clear, this is just from the heart and it's something I'm interested in. 

I'd rather be in court throwing punches than sitting down and crunching out paperwork. 

Having said that, if an event sends you their speaker agreement and looking at it you feel, based upon what you're hearing during today's podcast, that there needs to be some clarification on the health insurance coverage under their policy or indemnification of your costs and expenses should your team or you become ill, or the cancellation clause issues. 

If it's not clear and concise or something you're comfortable with, there's nothing wrong with proposing an addendum, a clear written addition to the agreement that you send back. 

You say, "Listen, this looks fantastic, but we do need to include provisions A, B, and C, as an addendum," and that's one way to handle the situation when an event provides you with their contract. 

What I like to see are professional speakers that have their own speaking agreements. 

And frankly, at high-end events, most of the high-end events expect a keynote speaker to send them their speaking agreement

It's fine-tuned, it shows a level of professionalism, and that's probably what I see more often than not. 

Smaller events, events put on by friends where you have a handshake, text message back and forth, maybe email, yes two thumbs up, "I'd love to speak at your event." 

I get how business works, and I get that that's the way things are done, but I think this has been an eye-opener for everyone. 

In other words the speaking industry, the event industry has been turned upside down, probably for good reason, because of the Coronavirus. 

I'm not a medical doctor, I'm just a lawyer. But in fact, anything I say today is not legal advice, we're just having a conversation. 

But I think this is probably the tip of the iceberg, I see a lot of other things happening around the world that may easily disrupt speakers' opportunities to be on stage and build their businesses. 

For those reasons have a good speaking agreement, doing a deal with a handshake or tweet, probably you want to confirm that in a written agreement, a written speaking agreement, which by the way, Ryan, probably should include a couple more clauses. 

I was surprised to look over a speaking agreement a couple of weeks ago prepared by somebody else, and it did not have a venue clause, and it did not have an attorney's fees clause. 

The reason these two clauses are important on the topic we're talking about today is, if you do enter into an agreement, whether it's one provided to you by the event, whether it's one you've created and sent to the event for them to review and sign, or it's one you've created after a couple of text messages, make sure you have a “venue clause”. 

What that means is, if there's a dispute as to why this event and your speaking engagement can be cancelled, if there's a dispute as to whether or not you're covered under the health insurance policy of the event corporation, or the reimbursement issues, a venue clause says,

"Listen, even though I'm speaking in New York, we're agreeing that all disputes will be resolved in Orange County California." 

So, it allows you to resolve these disputes in economical fashion at a venue where you get to choose what law applies. 

Oftentimes I don't see a lot of disputes about venue clauses, they're just not in these agreements—and I think more speakers need to have them in the agreements. 

Also, an “attorney's fees clause”, if you have an attorney's fees clause it's a great way to keep everybody honest. 

Oftentimes, a large company will use their muscle to push you to do things that you're not comfortable doing, maybe outside the terms and conditions of the contract. 

Well, if you say, "No" and you stand your ground and you refuse to appear because you don't think it's safe because of an infectious disease, or they may have breached one of the terms and conditions of the contract, attorney's fees clause allows you to hire a good lawyer and protect your rights when you're initiating a claim of protecting yourself from a claim by the company, so that when all’s said and done, you are better than just break even. 

If you want an attorney's fees clause, what that means is you win the case and the other side has to reimburse you for your reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses. 

So those are two additional clauses that I think come in to play with this particular topic, because it gives professional speakers the ability to delineate exactly what the terms and conditions of their speaking agreement are, number one, and then number two, it avoids any misunderstandings between the parties, and number three, if somebody does breach the contract, I think it helps protect speakers.

Ryan Foland: Okay, so to recap real quick for the three scenarios: If you are a speaker who is getting a contract from the event, it's okay for you to suggest an addendum; you're not just going to throw a whole other contract on there. 

That addendum could be the attorney's fee clause, it could include the venue clause, and it could include anything in the indemnification clause where maybe you need some additional coverage to look at something like a virus that may be taking over the world!

The number 2, if you are somebody who is at a level where you're providing a contract, it's about making sure these clauses are in there, and being open to educating the event organizer as to why these things are in there for both parties’ protection. 

And then if you're somebody who is doing a handshake or a tweet deal, see number 2 or number 1, this should be an eye-opener to see the importance of contracts.

Mitch Jackson: Would you like an insider tip?

Ryan Foland: Yes.

Mitch Jackson: An insider tip for speakers is, regardless of who is preparing the contract, to include in it a provision that talks about the health and safety of the speaker and the speaker team. 

One or two sentences just basically confirming the event is taking any and all reasonable precautions to ensure the reasonable safety of all attendees at the event, including the speaker and the speaker's team. 

Something simple like that will help protect you from everything that Ryan and I are talking about and also give your attorney the ability at the last minute to say, 

"Listen, we feel this clause was breached, you haven't taken reasonable precautions so Mr/Ms. So-and-So is not going to be speaking at the event."

Ryan Foland: Now we're talking about there being the protection of the event whatnot, but doesn't this also work if somehow, and I'm just going to knock on wood, but somehow let's say I get the Coronavirus, does this clause cover and protect me if I get sick?

It's not just saying that about the audience, this really encapsulates the real chances that a professional speaker might get this virus?

Mitch Jackson: Absolutely. 

I may not have been clear, it works both ways, it's bidirectional, it's simply a clause that says, "Everybody's going to be doing what they can to protect the health and safety of, in this case, the speaker and the speaker's team at the event.”

You can even include an additional sentence for those speakers where events pick up airline travel, train travel, cruise ship travel, so that the speaker has some discretion as to what type of transportation he or she will be agreeing to use to get from point A to point B. 

I think all of these things are relevant in today's world for obvious reasons. 

I was speaking down in San Diego, I probably would rather just have a private car take me down there then fly down, take a cruise ship or a train from LA to San Diego. 

I just think these are things that we can start thinking about and including in our speaker agreements that, really two months ago, a lot of people weren't thinking about. 

Moving forward, I think the more options you have that are reasonable and probably necessary for health and safety concerns, I think that's good for everybody. 

Now one thing we haven't talked about, you speakers out there, make sure you're speaking in the capacity of a limited liability company or corporation. In other words, your speaking company is actually a corporate entity. 

You need to check with an attorney in your state to see what works best for you. 

So when you're entering into these agreements with events, it's actually your company, your corporation—your limited liability company that is entering into the agreement with these events. 

And the reason I'm pointing that out is that most people don't do this and they should. 

If you do end up having to walk away from a speaking engagement that you're just not comfortable with, i.e., for whatever reason it's just not going to happen, the only liability that's being created is between that event and your corporate entity. 

You're protecting your personal assets, your personal exposure to all of the things that you've worked your whole life to build, you're separating your personal assets from your business liabilities. 

Everything we're talking about with respect to speakers entering into these agreements I'd like to see as a speaker entity. 

For those of you that aren't set up as a corporation or a limited liability company in 2020, maybe this would be a great year to take that next step, become a business entity and then do business as a business entity on or on behalf of, for example, “Ryan Foland”, that's the way you would do it.

Ryan Foland: Right. 

It's interesting too because part of being a speaker at an event, they typically leverage your brand and they are advertising that this person's likeness will be on stage, and that's helping to sell tickets and create awareness and buzz.

Then all of a sudden you're like, "Peace out, I'm not interested," or, "I'm leaving, I'm not comfortable," and if you don't have that protection, you don't have those clauses, could they come after you personally if you're not protected by an LLC of an entity on behalf of a person?

Mitch Jackson: Absolutely, and that's why everything we just talked about, you want to make sure that you're doing it through your company, through your corporation, through your limited liability company. 

A good example is there are some parts of the United States today, as we do this podcast, where the Coronavirus is more prevalent than other areas of the United States.

And if I was asked to speak in one of those cities today or this week, personally, I'd probably cancel. I just don't think it's safe. 

So having said that, if there's really no breach of the agreement other than my own concerns for my safety or the safety of my team, if for some reason the event in one of these high exposure cities decides that they don't want to be as understanding as I'm asking them to be, and they turn around and they want to bring a claim against me for any business losses, that claim would be limited to just my company and would in all likelihood be covered by liability insurance coverage that my company has taken out to protect me from these types of claims. 

Ryan Foland: Okay, so building on this, for those speakers who are really upset about getting cancellations, they had income that was earmarked, they put themselves out there, they told their friends, family, and fans that they were speaking at this large event that's still months out and it got cancelled, what are their rights? 

And I want to preface this where we're really talking about legal and law and all these clauses, but at the end of the day, we're just being like, 

"Hey, it's cool, let's all agree that we're good to go, whether there are signed contracts or not," like is there room for speakers to kind of throw lawsuits out there? 

I mean, I'm not saying that they should, but there's this element of what's in the contract versus, 

"Hey, let's all realize this is a worldwide problem." 

What do you think the environment is going to be like? 

Do speakers really have any way that they can come after these event organizers? 

I am not saying that they should, but that's kind of a feeling. 

So what do you tell a speaker who's like, "I just lost the $10K that I had earmarked because I was going to speak at this event. I'm going to sue them for $10K. There's nothing in the contract that says that I can't."

I'm not saying do that for the people that have canceled on me. 

I've been super cool because I look at this in the long term—I'm not going to sue anybody. 

Mitch Jackson: Absolutely.

Ryan Foland: But talk to me about that, I mean that's a real question on some people's minds.

Mitch Jackson: That's kind of what got me involved in the most recent post I shared, I think it was last Thursday or Friday evening. 

So it's going to come down to what the terms and conditions are in your speaking agreements.

 If there's been no breach of the terms and conditions in your speaking agreements, assuming you have a written agreement, then you probably would have the right to bring a claim if you felt that was in your best interest to do so. 

Now, I'm not just a lawyer, I like to think of myself as a businessman, as an entrepreneur, somebody that really values relationships, so I would simply encourage everyone to think long term.

What's the long term play? 

What's the right thing to do ethically? 

What's the right health and safety decision to make? 

What's the right relationship-building decision to make over the long term? 

I would take all of those things into consideration before going too far down that path.

But once again, that's why we're doing the show today.

What I'm seeing, Ryan, is most speakers aren't prepared for what's happening in today's world. 

Because of that, their agreements aren't set up the right way to allow them to make the decision in a way that, if they go down that path, they're going to win, or at least that I can go down that path but I've decided not to. “Let's go ahead and get me booked for next year and make next year's event twice as big, twice as exciting, twice as valuable for everybody involved.” 

Yeah, real concern.

One thing we didn't talk about, the speakers may want to look at some type of business interruption, business loss of earnings type of coverage. Check with your insurance company and see whether or not you've got any type of coverage, or you can purchase any type of coverage to cover your cancelled speaking events. That would apply to infectious disease, that would apply to natural disasters, that would apply to anything else that might come up and interfere with your ability to get on stage.

There are different types of insurance policies out there depending on where you live and what you do. 

This might be a good wake-up call to see whether or not it's worth spending that kind of money each year to cover your potential loss of earnings.

Ryan Foland: Interesting. 

So I want to jump in a little bit on the thought process before you would jump to sue, and I really like your approach as a businessman, as someone who's a relationship builder, and also I want to mention, a brand builder. 

You don't want to be the type of person that's flagged as a total wreck to work with. 

I think we're all in the same boat, so it's like, are you going to be part of the solution or part of the problem? 

I've had a couple of personal conversations with some of the event planners and they are not in a good spot. They are stressed, it's not their option, they do not want this to happen. 

And so I would encourage you to think about the damage to your brand, possibly, as being somebody who's really getting abusive and angry about XYZ. 

So my own personal thing is for the events that I've been involved with that have been canceled, I'm being as cool as I can about it. 

And like you said, 

What's going on next year?

Can we turn this into a webinar?

What if we do something virtual?

How can I still add value? 

I think there's long term brand opportunity for those, in how you deal with this. 

And we all know the speaking world is impacted, but now it's a unique chance for people to build even better relationships for the future and the long term.

So I think that's all great stuff. 

Mitch Jackson: I think, Ryan, you hit the nail right on the head, and that is when you mentioned webinars. 

This might be a wake-up call for the speaking industry with respect to how events are planned, scheduled, and put on. 

I have a feeling we're going to start seeing a Plan B placed into the speaking agreements if something happens where we can't put on a live event as planned, then it's agreed between all parties were going to go down path B, which will be some type of virtual produced, online/digital presentation.

I think event planners and companies are going to be contracting with speakers and getting speakers to agree, "If we don't do the live event, we're all going to agree to do the digital event." 

I think this may be changing the speaking industry from this point forward. 

Smart professional speakers will understand that they'll build long term relationships, but they'll also incorporate all of the different contingencies in their speaking agreements so that they're the ones who are empowered to make the decisions, and not the big corporate entities that hire them. 

And I think that can be done.

Ryan Foland: All right, so this is some new stuff, and I have just developed a new word, okay, “Plan W”

So you talk about plan B, everybody knows plan B. 

But if you take B and you rotate it 90 degrees clockwise and then you erase the top horizontal line, it becomes plan W. 

Plan W for a planned webinar as a backup, do you like that?

Mitch Jackson: I do like that, I do like that, but I also think what they're going to need to do is, I think this opens up a brand new industry for properly produced digital shows, not boring webinars. 

I think we've had some mutual friends talk about this already online, but there's a new way to produce digital shows that I think will complement real-world events that don't happen for whatever reason. 

The other reasons could be a terrorist threat, another reason could be some other type of infectious disease, another reason could be political in nature, they're all types of issues out there right now that are causing disruption among large groups of people. 

I think all of these things could potentially result in an event being canceled or corporation just basically saying, 

"Listen, this is just not the right time for one or more reasons, so we're not going to put the event on." 

I do like the way Arnold Schwarzenegger went on Twitter with his video and talked about continuing, not necessarily cancelling, but continuing his big sports event with hundreds of thousands of athletes from around the world, and how he was upfront and how he talked about why they were continuing the event. 

I think that's the next maybe conversation during this podcast, is things that conferences and event planners need to take into consideration. 

As we work our way through that, Ryan, some of the things we talk about will spark an idea in a speaker and it kind of all flows together.

Ryan Foland: Yeah it does, and it makes me think of I was hired to speak in Jamaica this past year, and outside of my control, there wasn't a virus, but they just didn't sell enough tickets. 

And at the last minute, after I already had my ticket booked and had it all planned, they said, "Oh, we're going to cancel the event." 

And I was like, "Why would you cancel the event? Just take the people you have and I'll stream it in." 

But it wasn't like a computer webinar, I went to a professional green screen studio and I had it professionally live-streamed with the full cast in the background of my PowerPoint, so it looks like I'm full figure talking in front of professional audio and everything—and it was awesome.

Mitch Jackson: I love that. 

Ryan Foland: So let's talk about how conferences, instead of just pulling the plug because that's maybe their instinct, what do conferences and really the world of event planners need to know from a legal standpoint?

I don't know if you want to dive into contracts or just the concepts of continuing, but let's talk about that other half of the equation.

Mitch Jackson: There are three or four talking-points that I think conference and event planners need to take into consideration, and if the speakers understand this, as a speaker you can approach the conference with this in mind. In fact, you may even want to suggest some of these alternatives, some of these ideas. 

But I think number one, when conferences or events are selling tickets, whether it's online or through their sales funnel, what they can do is, they can include legal waivers of liability in their sales, and what state you're in will dictate what type of waiver. 

But conferences and event planners can actually sell their services, sell their tickets, and basically say, 

"Listen, by purchasing a ticket to our event, or if you are a speaker by agreeing to come to the event, you're waiving any and all liability claims from the Coronavirus," for example, or from any infectious disease. 

I think waivers are a very powerful tool, if used properly, for event planners to incorporate into what they're doing.

I think waivers with respect to employees of companies putting on events, volunteers working on the ground at events, or any other people that are physically at these events, if companies and events used written waivers properly drafted, that's going to help them reduce their liability, which is going to bring down their insurance liability rates, which is going to allow them to put on more events even when it's in a grey area and they're not really sure if they should move forward with the events. 

The other thing is, these conferences need to look at the type of insurance liability coverage that they have, and they also may want to reach out to a “premise liability” or infectious disease expert to help review what venue they want to have the event at, how they're planning on putting on the event, how they're planning on offering different cleansing stations at the event, materials to advise people as to what they should or should not touch, drink, or do while they're at the event., Nick Rishwain, if you know Nick, but it's an online portal where you can actually reach out and find an infectious disease or premises liability expert to hold your hand and walk you through the event. 

I think events that do this are the ones that are positioning themselves for long term success.

Going back to speakers, if you're a professional speaker and you get a phone call or an email or a text from a company thinking about canceling their event, if you run through these bullet points with that company, it might be enough for them to say, 

"You know what, let's go ahead and move forward with the event in light of recent developments, in light of what we know now about whatever the problem is. 

We weren't aware of how powerful waivers are, we weren't aware that we could actually include employees, volunteers, and other third parties under our liability policies. 

You know what, Ryan, let's go ahead and have you, as planned, keynoting at the event if you still like to join us? I think we're gonna be okay from a business standpoint." 

So those are three or four things, I think, that events and conferences can do to help protect themselves from any unnecessary legal challenges.

Ryan Foland: Now a quick question on that, from a timing standpoint: Are you able to go back and apply these waivers? 

Are you talking only moving forward? 

Let's say tickets are already sold.

Mitch Jackson: No, I got you. 

So legally the answer is “yes”, you could go back and ask and require people to sign certain waivers, certain assumptions of risk documents. 

They'll have the right to say, "No thank you," and they'll have the right to say, "That's not something I want to do." 

And from a practical standpoint it just doesn't work, right? 

So these are things that I think people will want to start looking at from this point forward, and something you might want to think about, it's a new mindset when it comes to putting on events.

Ryan Foland: So it's more for like people if you're talking about events coming up, and maybe they're sketched-out because they don't want to get involved with having to potentially cancel, you can say, 

"Look, I listened to this guy Mitch, he was saying you can look into these waivers, you can get strong contracts so that if you do have the option, you could go forward with people who've opted in, essentially,”

And at least it's another option on the table.

Because what about the new? There are always new events that are starting and everybody's looking to grow. I mean exposure through events, and I can see how there are events that people are planning that maybe they're in the early stages where they are freaking out, but you're saying with the right waivers and protection and legal jargon and communication, and experts weighing in on how to reduce the liability of infectious disease spreading, they can still have it. 

Mitch Jackson: They can, and it's going to take careful planning, it's going to take expedited steps right now for events that are, you and I both know a couple of large events coming up over the next couple of months, and some are related to tech and digital, and others that are related to music or tennis, or even the Olympics coming up. 

So it's just a matter of is this something you want to try to incorporate into what you have set for 2020, or do you want to sit down and make sure that for the 2021 event you've got your T's crossed and your I's dotted. 

The reason I'm bringing them up today is, these are just things that some speakers may want to bring up to their friends, maybe on a smaller level, who are putting on events, who aren't interested in canceling right now, we still want to move forward, we still want to have this event. 

I think speakers listening to this podcast, they could reach out and maybe suggest some of these options to help make that event a more viable, enjoyable experience for everybody involved. 

Oftentimes people will think, "Well I thought about waivers, I thought about having liability insurance, I never really thought about having a premises liability or an infectious disease liability expert come in, for $1.5K or $2K, whatever they charge, just to overview the venue and make sure that we're good to go."

Oftentimes by doing that, you're showing the world that you care. 

You're letting the world know you've had someone come in and say, "You know what, two thumbs up, this is going to be a safe event," especially from this particular issue, and the considerations we need to make with that issue.

I just think that goes a long way. It shows that you're thinking about your attendees, whether they are speakers, audience members, your employees, your volunteers. 

I also think it's probably the smart thing to do because a good safety expert can come in and immediately find ten things that need to be changed, simple things that need to be changed that will help ensure the safety of everyone there.

Ryan Foland: Okay, here's a pop question for organizers and event planners that are deciding to potentially cancel: Is it best that they give a heads-up to the speakers and say, 

"Hey, we haven't cancelled yet, but before you freak out, we're letting you know what our current status is." 

Or is it better for them to just hold off and be silent until they know for sure, and then contact the speaker? 

Because I've had them both. I have an email and they are like, 

"Hey, I know you're curious right now, these are the precautions that we're taking as of an hour ago… but we'll let you know." 

So from an event planner, do you let them know as a heads-up or do you just kind of wait until it's a “yes” or “no”?

Mitch Jackson: I always think communication is the best relationship-building tool, the best business tool in the world. 

So my answer to your question is not really a legal answer, it's just a human to human answer, it’s: the more communication the better.

And if there's a chance that you're you're not going to be putting on your event in 2020 because of, let's just say, the Coronavirus which brings us here today, I think the earlier you reach out to everyone involved, whether it's a speaker, whether it's a sponsor, attendees, and let them know, I think short term, yeah it's going to hurt, people are going to cancel, these people are going to make other plans, people aren't going to sit around and wait for you to make that final decision as the event planner, but I think in the long run people will appreciate that you reached out to them right away. 

I know I would, and I think that's probably the best way to go. 

But once again, it does come down to, what are the terms and conditions of your speaking agreement? 

If you have a 60-day cancellation clause in your agreement, which means the event planner needs to reach out to you within 60 days of the event to confirm or cancel should they decide to do so, or you have the ability to reach out 60 days before the event to cancel, or 90 days or whatever it might be, those terms apply, those are going to dictate and control the relationship between the parties. So it's a combination of all the above.

Ryan Foland: Well good, I like that answer. 

So to all of you event planners and conferences out there, and you're scared to reach out to your speakers, your sponsors, and your attendees, we're just giving you the excuse that it might hurt a little bit but it's better for the long run. 

And for the couple of conferences that I haven't heard from, if you're listening, let me know! 

Mitch Jackson: No kidding.

Ryan Foland: Okay, so this is great. 

I like that you brought in the audience and I want to transition here in the final part of this special show, and I want to throw a shout out to SpeakerHub because one of the things is that they have been so supportive about this podcast. It's a great platform, and when I was like,

"Hey, I want to do a special episode on the Coronavirus," they were like, "Oh my god, yes." 

So if you don't know about SpeakerHub, there are resources for speakers, and here is an example of an up-to-date resource for you and your Coronavirus in conference chaos. 

So talking about the audience members because oftentimes speakers also are audience members, and as we build our speaking business we like to go to conferences. 

What do we need to know from an audience perspective?

Mitch Jackson: I think the first thing, Ryan, is, I would inquire about what safety and health precautions are the event taking to help ensure my safety? 

Where is it posted on the website, what are they going to be doing? 

And let's just use the Coronavirus as an example, but any type of infectious disease: What steps are you taking to make this a safe and enjoyable environment for me as an attendee? 

Now you can ask that same question when you're negotiating your speaker agreement, right, so that you make sure they incorporate those five things they promised you, a safe and sanitized green room, snacks before the event prepared by people with gloves... 

The same thing applies for attendees.

Right, like the green room thing, you'd be surprised at some of the things that we have to negotiate for celebrities in the green room before going on stage. It goes down to the color of their M&M's — it's a whole ‘nother world. 

But see, that applies in today's world for speakers because of these situations.

You want to be as specific as you can, depending of course on the event.

So for attendees, check into the safety precautions, find out as an attendee, are you covered as a participant in this event under the event's “umbrella liability policy”, and does that include any type of health insurance or reimbursement for medical expenses? 

So you show up, you come down with the virus, you incur $20K in medical bills. 

You're simply an attendee at an event where you spent $225 for a ticket—are your medical bills reimbursable under the “general liability policy” of the company putting on the event?

It doesn't hurt to ask, to find out what the answers to these questions are. 

Sometimes you'll ask a question and the CEO or a board of directors of these companies will say, 

"You know what, that's a great question, we need to expand our liability coverage for this event to cover medical bills, god forbid, funeral expenses, should something happen." 

I think I would ask those types of questions. 

I'd also look into what will my own personal health insurance cover if I show up at an event and something happens. I become infected. Am I covered under my personal health insurance? 

Are there any exclusions? Are there any waivers that the insurance company has placed on my insurance health coverage premised around infectious disease, Coronavirus, me taking a cruise ship, me intentionally getting on a cruise ship to do a, "I want to hang out with all the Pat Boone fans," right, it's cruise ship, because I just read about this where there is booking in a couple of months, I guess, and do I want to put myself on that cruise ship, and if I do, is there an exclusion under my personal health insurance policy? 

I also want to look as an attendee at, what does the ticket, what do the sales pages, what do they limit? 

Are they requiring me to waive my rights if I purchase a ticket to go to this event? 

We talked about waivers earlier, but it's a two-edged sword. 

Once again, as an attendee, when I purchased that ticket, what am I agreeing to? What am I waiving? What risk, what benefits am I looking at by participating in the event? 

So all these things kind of work together, and I think once you see the full 360° picture of what things speakers should look at, what things conference holders should pay attention to, 

And as an attendee, what are some of the issues you might want to look at. 

I think it makes sense that we all just need to be more careful about the questions we ask, the protection we're expecting, and in what we complacently write in our written speaker agreements that help protect us and move forward with building our speaking careers, and through that, adding as much value as we can to the audiences that we find ourselves standing in front of.

Ryan Foland: Yeah, it's a lot to process. 

And the other option is the digital, right. I mean, you're a front runner of digital adoption, and you've been on the front of most of these waves as they've come in, and this smells like this might be a new digital wave as an attendee if you can apply your ticket to a virtual ticket if the event can do high production and make it so that it's still engaging and not just a bunch of talking heads. You know, it'll be really interesting to see where this all pans out, but it's definitely a mess right now. 

Mitch Jackson: It's challenging right now, and I think that's why I find it so fascinating and that's why I just jumped on my blog, I think it was Thursday evening about 8:30 at night and just pounded out this quick blog post, which I've updated a couple of times, Ryan. 

It's interesting, you know, oftentimes, and you already know this, adversity brings opportunity. 

Failure just allows you to modify, pivot a bit, and go in a completely different direction. 

I think this is an opportunity for us to take a step back, especially those in the speaking world, and look at the contracts that you're using. Am I using an up-to-date contract? 

The answer is no to 95% of professional speakers out there. I'm just telling you because I see these contracts, and that's okay. So you have to take that next step and say, 

"Okay, what do we need to change so that we're protected over not only the next 12 months but the next 12 years?"

I think for events and conferences, they also need to start exploring what are some of our options and opportunities out there. 

When these large conferences shut down, the amount of money, the amount of revenue it's costing these companies, it's almost unimaginable, it's devastating in some cases.

Ryan Foland: I think that's staggering.

Mitch Jackson: It's staggering, right. 

And so if you're on the board of directors, if you are the CEO of your own company, it's incumbent upon you to do a risk-benefit analysis as to, “What do we want to do next year? Do we want to keep having these live conferences or do we want to pivot and go a different direction?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that the issues that you and I discussed today are real, from a 

  • business standpoint, 

  • health and safety standpoint, 

  • and from a legal standpoint. 

And anyone that's been taking notes and incorporates these ideas into what they're doing and what they're building out, they are going to be much further ahead than a typical speaker that hasn't heard this podcast and continues to do the same things the same way. 

Yeah, it's just not going to work out. 

Things are changing quickly, and so I'm hoping that some of the things we talked about, planted some seeds, shared a few new ideas for some of the great speakers out there. 

It helps everyone just dominate from the stage and just have a prosperous decade ahead of them.

Ryan Foland: I totally agree. 

The one thing that I've been thinking about this whole time is this is really an opportunity to show that you are human. 

And in my book "Ditch the Act", we talk about how being vulnerable can actually be a strength. 

And if you're a speaker who has something that's cancelled, or you're an organizer and you're going through this really difficult, challenging time, be okay with sharing this process. It's not something that people are going to look down upon you for, it's something that they're going to connect with you over. 

Because people aren't as concerned with the success of your event, they're concerned with how they see themselves in the story of your event. 

I think collectively, we're all in this together and so this is a chance, and I just ask you if instead of lashing out, and I'm asking you the speaker, the audience member, and the organizers, instead of lashing out or being angry, we don't have a lot of control of things in life, especially the Coronavirus, but you do have an opportunity to control your attitude and what you actually do, like how you take action. 

I encourage you to be human, don't lash out, let's not be angry at anybody, let's use this as an excuse to show people that we're actually a lot more like each other than different.

I think this can really be a chance for the speaking community to come together and not pit against each other but really build upon this, like you said, for the next 10, for the next 100 years—it's happening now. 

So I think even though it's a hard, deep, heavy topic, I see this as an opportunity for us to connect, be more human, and really just share how we're all processing it so we can learn from each other. 

And Mitch, you did an awesome job, just laying out a lot of information for us. 

If they want to check out this blog or you as a resource, because I'm sure you're going to continue to step up as an authority on this, how do they get in touch with you, where do you want them to follow you so that they can take this as a starting point of learning more as things progress?

Mitch Jackson: Well, first of all, Ryan, thanks for having me on, I really appreciate it and thanks for asking. 

I think it's just easiest for everyone to connect with me at

I'm all over social media as Mitch Jackson. 

And you talk about showing your human side, I respect companies and events who are publicly and transparently discussing the challenges right now, “What are we going to do?”, right? 

Not so much with some of these events that aren't. In other words, there are some events that haven't even talked about this issue and I have a problem with that, it kind of tells me where their priorities are. 

I think this is an issue for me where there needs to be a conversation, we do need to pivot, we need to be transparent, and companies that are remaining silent about all of these very serious health and safety concerns, I think that's going to come back and bite them in the butt when all’s said and done. 

I mean, honestly, being human means being transparent and having a conversation, so I'm with you on that. 

Ryan Foland: Alright, so it's all about the plan W at this point, which is a rotated plan B. 

And no matter what your plan, plan to be human, because we're all in this together and like Mitch said, this can be a piece of the most important part of any relationship, which is communication. 

So on behalf of myself, on behalf of SpeakerHub, on behalf of everyone: 

  • wash your hands, 

  • stay safe, 

  • be informed, 

  • double-check your contracts,

  • and don't get down about this.

When one door shuts or a whole bunch of door shuts, we just need to build an entirely new platform with new virtual doors. 

Mitch, it's been awesome, thanks so much, I'm so excited to continue to see what you're doing for everybody and for me to do my part. It's a tough time but it's exciting. 

Mitch Jackson: We'll get through it together, and Ryan, the pleasure was all mine. Thanks, everybody. 

Ryan Foland: Alright buddy. 

Well there you heard it, ladies and gentlemen. If you liked this episode, or if there's amazing information in there that you think other people would appreciate, share it. You can subscribe, you can write a review, all that kind of stuff, but let's get this information out there so that the speaking community can be more informed and we can all make collective decisions. 

Don't forget to be human, and don't forget to wash your hands. 


A bit about World of Speakers

World of Speakers is a bi-weekly podcast that helps people find their own voice, and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business. This special series of episodes has been created to help speakers navigate during the coronavirus crisis. 

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