Suppose that two collaborators sent a paper to a conference which was very far away (say, from US to Australia). After the paper was accepted, one of the authors took the flight to the venue, and died on the way.

Conferences generally require someone to present their work for their paper to appear in proceedings. However, in this situation, it is nobody's fault.

Is there a rule or a specific implementation for such cases?

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    I'm really inclined to close this as "too specific". The number of times this has happened is probably incredibly small.
    – eykanal
    Mar 7, 2018 at 13:58
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    Who do you think would set those rules? There is no "World Organization of Conferences", so no general rules exist. Now conference organizers are not out there to "get you". So as long as there is no bad intend (you don't have to die for that, getting the common flu is enough) I suspect that by far the most conferences would be accomodating. Mar 7, 2018 at 14:01
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    @eykanal what if we replaced dieing with getting the flu? I suspect that each medium to large conference would have multiple cases of that. Mar 7, 2018 at 14:03
  • 44
    What are you planning OP?
    – pafnuti
    Mar 7, 2018 at 17:35
  • 6
    Weekend At Bernie's style fun, obviously.
    – Valorum
    Mar 7, 2018 at 23:08

3 Answers 3


In essence, a speaker who dies on the way to the conference is no different from a speaker who has to cancel because of a reason other than death, like a family emergency, illness, injury, logistical problem,... and there are already articles on this subject.

I am going to quote relevant parts here from https://www.mpiweb.org/blog/article/4-ways-to-handle-event-speaker-no-shows because this is effectively what you're faced with: a no-show.

  1. Always have a “Plan B.”

When planning your event, create a list of speakers you have worked with in the past and keep their contact information in your event file. When you have an existing relationship with a speaker they will usually be very willing to jump in to help you if their schedule is open. Keep in mind the geography of where your event will be held and make the list accordingly based on where speakers live. When interviewing speakers to hire for your conference, ask them about their plans in case of an emergency. While you never want to get that call from your speaker saying they are too ill to speak to your audience, if they have already found a fantastic solution it will make your day much better. (Speakers who are members of the National Speakers Association can tap into this network no matter where in the world they are scheduled to speak.) A few years back I received a call from a speaker who was scheduled to present at a conference in my hometown who had a bad case of food poisoning. There was no way he could go on stage, but he remembered I lived in Austin, Texas. Since I was available the speaker had a possible solution before the organizer even knew there was an issue.

  1. Look to your event agenda

A multi-day industry event will have a full docket of speakers who will already be present at your conference. Look to see whose program could be upgraded from a breakout to a keynote. If it is a breakout session you need to fill, see if the keynote speaker has additional content that can be delivered as a “booster shot” for those who might want more from his or her main stage program (some speakers will charge you for the extra presentation, but most will be happy to step in and help you out in your time of need). A friend of mine who was scheduled as the opening keynote speaker at an event was recently asked a week ahead time to stay for two days and also deliver the closing keynote because the final speaker had a family emergency. Problem solved, and they created consistency in the opening and closing bookend presentations.

  1. Create an interactive expert panel

Your audience is full of brilliant people. Select two or three topical questions that are cutting-edge and involve timely issues within your industry. Enlist your master of ceremonies or a leader in your organization to be the facilitator and explain openly and honestly about how the speaker could not be there. Proclaim this to be a fantastic and unique opportunity to crowd source knowledge and best practices. Have a panel of two or three people talk about the issues and allow the attendees in the crowd to share their input. Make the audience the heroes and have a high-level, interactive discussion.

  1. Make it a networking opportunity

Turn the speaker-less session into a “Networking Speed-Dating Bonanza” by encouraging people to make more contacts. A main reason people attend live events is for the networking opportunities, and most meeting organizers admit that no matter how much time they schedule for people to mingle, people often want more chances to meet others on site. Make this space in your agenda a facilitated experience to foster powerful connections. Do not be timid or overly apologetic in explaining the changes to the agenda. Leadership by the meeting organizers is paramount to success in a situation where you need to adjust your program on the fly. Confidently communicate to the attendees that the keynote speaker canceled, and be honest about the reason. Let them know that with their support and participation the meeting will still have an equal or greater impact than was planned.

Beyond the issue of dealing with the no-show itself, there are also some other things specific to the situation of a death. Academia usually is a pretty tight community, so there are bound to be other people at the conference who know the deceased in some way.

  • It is probably a good idea to start the time slot of their presentation with a moment of silence.
  • If multiple people died (as happened in the XX International Aids conference in 2014 after MH17 was shot down), a candlelight vigil or other memorial event can be appropriate, as well as dedicating part of the opening ceremony to honor those that died. Both of these things were done by the aforementioned conference.
  • You may want to give those stricken with grief a way to deal with that grief, like providing grief counseling to whoever needs it.
  • Provide condolence books onsite for those who wish to dedicate a few words to the dead. After the conference, send these books to the relatives of the deceased along with whatever else is appropriate for the culture of the deceased (usually flowers, but this may vary).
  • If the payment for the presentation hadn't yet been delivered to the deceased before his death, it's usually appreciated by the family to donate this to a charity. An obituary for the deceased may mention which charity, but if that's not the case, a charity related to the conference subject is probably the most appropriate.
  • While this answer is generally informative, it is not really an answer of the question. The OP did not ask what an appropriate reaction could be, but if there is a general rule. Mar 7, 2018 at 15:11
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    @J.FabianMeier The user posted 2 separate questions: 1) what happens if a speaker dies; 2) is there a rule for when speakers die? Since question 2 has the answer "no such general rule exists", I answered question 1.
    – Nzall
    Mar 7, 2018 at 15:45
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    I think, the question was "my coauthor won't give the talk because he died on the way to conference, will our article get included in the proceedings?"
    – Džuris
    Mar 7, 2018 at 16:04

It is up to the conference committee to decide in exceptional circumstances. This is probably all that can be said about this.

  • 1
    Maybe someone who has faced a similar situation might say more, though.
    – padawan
    Mar 7, 2018 at 12:06
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    there was some flight with Dutch academics, that went to conference in Australia, plane was shot above Ukraine. Does anyone know what happend with it? @padawan
    – SSimon
    Mar 7, 2018 at 12:08
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    Still, any conference might decide different on this. But actually, it is not fundamentally different from any other incident that prevents you from taking part, like illness, Eyjafjallajökull, ... Mar 7, 2018 at 12:11
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    "Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools" - there are always exceptions...
    – Solar Mike
    Mar 7, 2018 at 12:24
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    This only matters in CS where conference proceedings are prestigious, so examples from other fields aren’t going to be relevant. Mar 7, 2018 at 12:49

In my experience, it is more important for the organizers that at least one author of every paper registers for the conference and pays the registration fee. Of course, it is expected that at least one author also comes to present the paper, but it is not always possible, due to personal accidents, visa issues, etc. Also, I think conference proceedings are published before the conference, and I don't think it is possible to remove a paper, when during or just before the conference it turns out that none of the authors can attend.

  • 4
    So you're saying that as long as someone pays the registration fee, the organizers don't care what happens at the conference? Mar 7, 2018 at 13:50
  • There are all kinds of conferences, some publish before, some after, some even allow you to submit your paper after you have held your presentation. Mar 7, 2018 at 14:03
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    That's definitely not the case for AIAA, which has a "No paper, no podium and no podium, no paper" policy. They definitely take the paper offline if somebody doesn't show up to present it. So your answer is certainly not universally true.
    – tpg2114
    Mar 7, 2018 at 14:28
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    @tpg2114 Then, this confirms J. Fabian Meier's answer that everything depends on conference organizers. But personally, I was more familiar with the situation where conference organizers and proceedings publisher are different bodies (e.g., many CS conferences publish proceedings in Springer's LNCS). In this case, after some point the orgs aren't supposed to have control over the proceedings volume, and this point seems to happen before the conference date. At least, all parts of the process that are visible to the authors do: copyright transfer, accepting the publisher's version, etc.
    – Alexey B.
    Mar 7, 2018 at 15:30
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    The "no podium" applies if you believe the speaker never intended to appear. If they die en route, clearly it's exceptional circumstances and will be forgiven. If they get the flu, it's a bit harder, since of course they can "claim" to get the flu without ever really planning to go. One thing conferences can do is to make sure the same person or institution isn't always conveniently unavailable. Mar 7, 2018 at 23:42

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