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:

Meet the Authors: Darryl Cheng and Marianne Willburn

Join us on Thursday, September 2 at 7pm ET for a discussion with GardenComm members Darryl Cheng and Marianne Willburn as they discuss their latest books. Darryl’s The New Plant Parent offers a scientific yet practical approach to houseplant care, while Marianne delivers plant-gardener relationship advice in Tropical Plants and How to Love Them.

Darryl will share with us how he grew a social media audience on Instagram to over half a million strong and what he learned while writing and photographing his book. Marianne will discuss the challenge of breathing new life into an ‘old’ topic for fresh audiences – and how to make that topic interesting and accessible without sacrificing valuable information or Authenticity. We’ll also have plenty of time for questions for the audience.

“Meet the Authors” provides a platform for readers and writers to connect with their favorite garden authors. What better way to learn about the writing, publishing, and marketing process than from fellow authors? In addition, “Meet the Authors” events provide an opportunity for members to learn about their fellow GardenComm member’s work. Audience members may discover a new guest for their podcasts or find a partner for their latest project.”

We asked Darryl about what he does and how long he has worked in the horticultural industry. He shared that he started by documenting his journey with houseplants on social media (tumblr then Instagram) – writing about what he was doing with care in his precise engineering style. He eventually published a book entitled ‘The New Plant Parent’ and started giving talks about a more holistic approach to houseplant care.

Darryl also shared that Houseplant care has traditionally been vague and seemingly based on luck. His goal is to bring more science and realistic expectations to maximize the hobby of houseplants.

Register here to learn more from our authors at the September 2 virtual program. If you can’t make it, it will be recorded and sent to all paid registrants.

Speaker Spotlight: C.L. Fornari

C.L. Fornari, The Garden Lady, recalls that as a young adult all she ever wanted to do was “to go in the studio and make stuff. I was a gardener from college on, so it was only natural that the subject of much of my artwork was plants and gardens.”

She has worked as a garden communicator since 1995 “when The Force pulled me out of the art studio and into garden writing. After my first book (The Cape Cod Garden) was published, the promotion led me to speaking, and ultimately to my radio program, podcasting and seven more books.”

When asked what the first garden-related experience she could remember was, C. L. said, “I was blessed to grow up as a free-range child. At that time, children were pushed outside and told not to come back in until it was mealtime. We made our fun in the natural world. I ate flowers without knowing what was edible. We constructed forts out of sticks in the woods, and spent hours up in trees. In second grade, my friend and I took empty flower pots from behind the garage of our rented house, filled them with dirt, and then scampered around the neighborhood picking flowers out of other people’s gardens. We stuck those stems in the dirt and then sold them as potted plants, door to door, often to the same people who we’d stolen them from. Fortunately, in the years since, I’ve learned about the importance of both root systems and ethics.”

The one piece of advice she would give to a new gardener is “View each experience with a plant as a grand adventure, and do it for joy.” But more appropriately for this talk: “If I could give one piece of advice to a new speaker, I would tell them to craft your talks out loud, not by writing them. Then practice out loud, many times.”

If you’re a plant or garden expert, chances are you’ll be called upon to speak in front of people. Speaking will sell your books and add to your bottom line, and the best way to build a speaking business is to polish your presentation skills. This seminar will talk about a few key ways you can improve what you do at the podium (in person or virtual) and give you a checklist of ways to promote yourself as a speaker. From practice to pricing, join C.L. Fornari as we unpack the business of speaking. Her presentation, “Building a Speaking Business – In Person and Virtually,” runs from 2 to 3 pm on Friday, August 13.  

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Debra Prinzing

Debra Prinzing is the owner of Slow Flowers LLC & BLOOM Imprint LLC, which include her Slow Flowers-branded projects. She has been working in horticulture communications since the late 1990s, first as the events and marketing manager for a local independent garden center in the Seattle area, followed by numerous freelance writing positions for daily newspapers, national magazines and now, through my own media companies.

When we asked her about a mistake she made in her garden that turned into an unexpected learning experience, she said, “It’s all a learning experience! Our family joke is that my biggest mistake was asking my spouse to weed. One weeding session that resulted in his removal of young dahlia plants led to a new rule: Only Debra Can Weed! I am definitely paying that price for being a control freak.”

Debra has two distinct early garden memories. “My first-ever gardening memories came from childhood seeing the flowers that my maternal and paternal grandfathers grew in their Midwest gardens. My mother’s father, Daniel J. Ford, grew beautiful dahlias in Hammond, Indiana, and they were taller than I was, an indelible memory. My father’s father, Fred Prinzing, grew what he called “pee-oh-knees” (peonies) alongside rhubarb plants along the gravel driveway of his Villa Park, Illinois, backyard.”

The one piece of advice she would give to a new gardener is, “Lose yourself in the moment. The chores will always be there, but focus on the wonder.”

If you think there’s a book in you, but you don’t know how to get started, Debra and her co-presenters, Robin Avni and Teri Speight, have the checklist to help you launch. They are convinced that visual and verbal storytelling need to be integrated into any successful gardening book. Their presentation, “Growing the Verbal + Visual Narrative” is on Saturday, August 14 from 1 to 2 p.m.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Katie Elzer-Peters

Katie Elzer-Peters, owner of The Garden of Words, LLC – Business Marketing and Tech for Busy People, has worked in the Green Industry for 20 years. Her marketing firm specializes primarily in email marketing and website design.

Words are her specialty, and, as she says, “They’re not all that interesting to look at on a website. What words need to do is get people to take action. Smile, click, “like,” “share,” buy, cry, go, be. I used words to grow a website from a medium-sized blog to one of the biggest industry voices, moving it from a low five-figure yearly income to a six-figure income.” Her favorite words? “I never open email newsletters, but I always open yours.”

A lifetime gardener, she has learned from what other people might call mistakes and turned them lessons. “I have planted things too close together! I then had to dig things up and re-establish them. What I learned is that oftentimes, you can re-adjust things and then keep moving forward.”

Her first gardening memory was from when she was six years old, “I remember getting in trouble for putting my sandbox sand in my mom’s flowerbed. I told her it improves drainage. (LOL! We now know that isn’t necessarily the case.).

If she had only one piece of advice to give to a new gardener, it would be, “If you kill a plant, read up on it and then try growing it again!”

Have you wished you had six other pairs of hands? Come to Katie’s workshop and learn how to hire, train, and manage remote help for administrative tasks, technology, and more!

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Karen Chapman


Karen Chapman is the owner of Le jardinet. She is a lifelong gardener, a self-confessed plant-a-holic and travel everywhere with a large tarp in the back of the car for impromptu plant purchases. She has been a professional designer for over 15 years, initially focusing on container installations before applying that same attention to detail to landscape design, balancing her design work with teaching, writing, travel and photography.

When we asked her about a mistake she made in her garden that turned into an unexpected learning experience, she said, “I learned the hard way that “groundcover” is a verb not just a noun, and quite literally means that the unassuming little plant I thought was cute at the nursery may be a vicious thug in disguise.”

Her memories of the garden go back to her childhood in England. “Much of my childhood was spent in a garden, whether making daisy chains on the lawn, picking English bluebells in my grandad’s garden or being fascinated by the dark red color of beetroot leaves.

The one piece of advice she would give to a new gardener would be, “Experiment and have fun!”

In this session, you will discover how I turned my latest book into a profitable online course, downloadable plans, on-site workshops, magazine articles, stock photo images, an email list magnet, and PowerPoint presentations for professionals and homeowners. Learn what worked and what didn’t. Then brainstorm how YOU can do something similar.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is the author of six books about the natural world. Her first book, From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden, was published 20 years ago.

For over a decade, Amy Stewart wrote books about the horticultural world, but they were really stories about people who happened to be involved with plants. When she made the switch to writing novels, it meant venturing into storytelling in a new and different way.

In her session, “Moving from Nonfiction to Fiction,” which runs on Friday, August 13 from 2 to 3 p.m., Amy will talk about how she made the switch, and she’ll answer your questions about both the business and the creative side of transitioning from nonfiction to fiction. For more information on Amy, visit her website.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Kathy Jentz

Kathy Jentz is the editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine – the magazine for gardening enthusiasts in the MidAtlantic region. She is also the editor of Water Garden Journal for IWGS (International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society) as well as a social media coach. A garden communicator for over 15 years, her background is as a professional journalist.

When we asked her about a mistake she made in her garden that turned into an unexpected learning experience, she said, “When I started, I went to many plant swaps and if anyone said a plant was an “aggressive spreader” I snapped it up as I had a lot of turf grass lawn to replace with planting beds. Now, I am that person at the plant swaps giving out many pots of “aggressive spreaders” to eager newbie gardeners.”

Kathy’s garden memories go back to early childhood. “I remember picking blueberry picking in Alaska as a toddler. A butterfly landed on my knee and I freaked out, but now looking back I see what a blessing that was.”

Her best advice to a new gardener is “Don’t be afraid to fail; real gardeners kill many plants on their gardening journey.”

In her presentation, “Press Releases for Garden Communicators”, which runs from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 14, Kathy will share what she has learned in her somewhat unconventional approach. She says that she has been accused of being a “media whore” by jealous neighbors, who have noticed she has popped up in stories on every local TV and radio station and local newspaper at one time or another. She prefers to think of herself as a “savvy media maven.”

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Susan Poizner

Susan Poizner, Founder of Orchard People Fruit Tree Care Education is an award-winning author, journalist, filmmaker, and urban orchardist. She has been a fruit tree care educator since 2013 and currently teaches fruit production at Niagara College in Ontario, Canada. 

With a goal to make fruit tree care easy, Susan created where people can find a blog, podcast, books, and online courses. On the site, she expresses the challenges that beginning orchardists may face.

“If only growing fruit trees was easy. Many of us plant our trees thinking that all we need to do is water them and wait for the harvest. But fruit trees can experience problems including poor fruit quality, pests, and disease.”

She began creating various e-learning materials for people who are starting their own orchards because it was “exactly what I needed when I planted my first fruit trees in 2009.”

It’s hard to imagine an expert like Susan making a mistake, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? We asked her about a gardening mistake she made that led her to where she is today, she responded,

“One of my biggest gardening “mistakes” was planting fruit trees in 2009! I planted nine fruit trees in a community orchard in my local park that year. But the problem was that I didn’t know that fruit trees needed special pruning, feeding and care. This led to a series of fruit tree pest and disease challenges. 

If I had learned about correct fruit tree care BEFORE planting our trees, I would have selected cultivars that are easier to grow. I also would have pruned and cared for them correctly, right from the start! In the end, I learned a lot from my mistakes and shared the lessons I learned in my award-winning fruit tree care book, Growing Urban Orchards.” 

Going back ever farther in her gardening life, Susan recalls her first garden-related experience; growing tomato plants. She had just gotten married and her husband wanted to plant veggies in their garden. She was skeptical at first and thought it would be messy but as she watched those plants grow, she fell in love with the magic of gardening. She says, “It’s beautiful. It’s challenging. It is rewarding. And, as a bonus, you can often eat what you grow!”

If she could only give one piece of advice to a new gardener, she would say to just dig in and give it a try! She suggests starting by growing annuals. Because they are largely transient, there is more room for trial and error. 

But when it comes to planting perennial plants, she advises to be sure to do your research first. “Perennial plants and trees are like babies. If you neglect them in the early years, they can get stressed and have health challenges in the years to follow.” She continues, “But if you care for perennial plants and trees correctly in the early years, they will have a long and healthy life.”

Susan will be sharing the skills she has honed creating online courses on day two of the GardenComm Virtual conference in a program called “Creating eLearning FAST”. 

Susan says that today, more and more people are turning to online learning, and it’s a profitable teaching tool that every garden communicator should be considering. However, she also finds that many garden communicators are hesitant, saying that they feel like in order to create a successful online course they need top-notch skills in technical areas like cinematography and sound mixing.

In this workshop, Susan will share how to create successful online courses quickly using familiar tools, like PowerPoint as well as other easy options for filming, recording and editing an online course.

Susan says, “Your goal here is to stop procrastinating, and just to roll up your sleeves and get started! I look forward to teaching you how to create eLearning fast!”

Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Speaker Spotlight: Callie Works-Leary

In February of 2021, D Magazine printed an article called The Online Effort to Educate North Texas Gardeners that best describes one of our GardenComm 2021 Virtual Conference speakers in the Friday, August 13 lineup, Callie Works-Leary, of The Dallas Garden School.

“The Dallas Garden started as just an Instagram account, a separate social media page where founder Callie Works-Leary could talk soil and seeds and fertilizer without inundating her friends-and-family followers with all the dirty (literally) details of her gardening exploits.

Launched last April, the IG page was where the longtime home gardener and former greenhouse plant propagator could share her expert tips on everything from how to grow tomatoes on a patio to when you should get your cucumbers in the ground—all with a focus on growing in North Texas’ unique climate.

“I just kept getting wonderful feedback,” Works-Leary said, “from people who were saying, ‘Thank you so much. It’s so hard for me to find information online that is specific to our area.’ ”

The dearth of digital resources for North Texas gardeners—combined with a shelter-in-place order that shut down in-person gardening classes, prompted people all over town to try their thumb at pandemic gardening— meant more and more Dallasites were desperate for information on what to plant where and when.

“I thought this was such a unique opportunity to reach out to a new generation of gardeners,” says Works-Leary, who grew up in Dallas and is a certified Texas Master Gardener.”

Her interest in plants began in childhood when she remembers picking chamomile flowers from her mother’s garden and making it into tea. “Growing something that is useful is magical and empowering.” she says, “My purpose is to give others the necessary tools to achieve the same sense of fulfillment.”

After an early career in marketing and product development, Callie Works-Leary founded The Dallas Garden School to educate young North Texas gardeners through multichannel, digital content.

Her work in the horticulture industry began with a research internship at The Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens and included work in propagation and private consulting.

She now specializes in urban food production, cut flowers, perennials, and community gardening.

Despite her success in food garden production, Callie shared an experience that most any of us can identify with when it comes to not having quite enough hours in the day to get everything done. She said, “Last summer, I left a large onion harvest to dry for a day or two in the garden. Because our community garden is a target for produce thieves, I protected the onions from prying eyes by loosely covering with floating row cover. Next day, I came back to find that the row cover had trapped enough heat to cook every single onion cooked inside their own skins!”

Callie uses Instagram’s tools to create all types of video and visual horticultural content. She says that engagement is the number one thing that the Instagram algorithm uses to decide how many people see your content. Boosting engagement will boost your reach and ultimately boost your following. Her virtual conference program taking place on Friday, August 13 at 2p ET is titled “Maximizing Your Reach on Instagram: Reels, Stories, Guides, and IGTV.” In it, you will discover ways to reach new audiences using Instagram’s latest options, you will learn the difference between Reels and IGTV, and you’ll find out when it’s most effective to use Stories vs. Guides. She’ll teach you how to improve your own engagement with real-world examples of what works, especially for gardening audiences.

Her advice to gardeners is advice we can use in many facets of our lives: “If you treat everything you do in the garden as an experiment, then you can’t fail because the feedback you get from something going wrong is ten times more valuable than the feedback you get from something going right.”

Click here for all the 2021 Virtual Conference information. Be sure to look at the tabs at the top of the pages for all the detailed education and enrichment sessions.

In addition to her conference presentation, Callie will also be presenting a virtual program to the GardenComm community on June 17. All details can be found here. We hope you will register for both of these amazing progams.