Life Time: Say What?
The international event market is a substantial opportunity for planners—if you know how to do it rightby Melissa C. Gillespie | Published in December 2009 international | Departments
The international event market is a substantial opportunity for planners—if you know how to do it right
English is the official language of business. Or is it? If you’re an event planner based in Anywhere, U.S.A., this may be your perception. It certainly used to be mine—until I started working in the global event environment. The scenery is dramatically different when attendees cross borders.
Demand demands attention
As the number of international visitors at U.S. tradeshows grows and businesses expand into new international markets, so does the challenge of communicating with non-English-speakers. In 2008, nearly 2 million people traveled overseas to the United States for conferences and conventions; 6.3 million for business purposes. More than 675,000 travel abroad from the United States for conventions and tradeshows.
Christine Luxton, conference manager at the Localization Institute, saw an uptick in event registrations in 2009 and has witnessed a large number of non-U.S. attendees at events. “We had a strong foreign attendance at our most recent event in Santa Clara, California, where 35 percent of our attendees came from outside the United States,” she says. “I believe that the cost savings does appeal to those attendees whose currencies are stronger than the dollar.”
Business is global
Online or offline, chances are your industry, brand and target audience are crossing borders. The very nature of international business demands that in-house event planners anticipate the needs of their non-English speakers.
Take, for example, the logistics one large international designer clothing company faced when it brought its designers and employees to the United States for an annual company meeting. During the event, the trendy teams, composed of executives and designers from France, Spain, China and the United States, were introduced to the new lines, latest trends, company financials and more.
Translating for attendees
Because attendees flew into the United States from Germany, China, France and more, presentations and collateral were presented in English, German, Chinese and French. On-site interpreting services were provided for live speeches, fashion shows and demonstrations.
To manage the linguistic needs of its multinational team, the in-house meeting organizers arranged for participants to wear headsets and listen to the speeches, which were translated by interpreters into the attendee’s language of choice. They avoided confusion of overlapping languages in the background by setting up PLEXIGLAS® enclosures to create a sound barrier between the interpreters and the audience.
Managing time schedules
When organizing an event, consider your guest and attendee time zone variations. If you’re booking travel, plan buffer times for rest and relaxation prior to the meeting (assume a full day’s rest), and offer to plan local entertainment post-meeting. Tip: My associates in Europe, Latin America and many other countries love our shopping malls!
Consider the differences in meeting or session start times, breaks and the length of time allocated for lunches. A recent Localization World Conference I attended in Santa Clara, CA, which drew several hundred attendees from many countries, started a bit later in the morning, lunch ran from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and the evening networking trip to the winery began at 7 p.m. This slight shift from the “typical” 8 a.m. start time, lunch at noon and 5 p.m. networking social helps globalize the event across business cultures.
Multinational visitors may have different dietary needs, which may contribute to a higher food and beverage budget. Don’t think you have to create a menu that reflects your attendees’ cultures, however. “We try to pick food that is distinct or common to the region where we are holding the event,” says Luxton. “People who travel internationally want the experience of local food.
Luxton says she makes sure that meals include suitable options for people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, however: “For example, I arrange for alternative entrees of vegetables and fish for those cultures that do not eat red meat.”
Don’t assume that English and Western cultural traits are the de facto norms of business. Ask questions and thoroughly research your attendee demographic. If you are taking your show on the road, research the languages of the attendees and translate business cards, collateral and materials accordingly.
A good starting point is the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, part of the International Trade Administration of the Department of Commerce. Other information resources include trade associations, foreign consulates, bi-national chambers of commerce and the internet.