If planning a meeting is already a unique challenge for you, don’t despair at the task of holding an international one. It can be difficult to arrange, what with language barriers, time zone changes and jetlag, foreign vendors and suppliers and currency exchange rates, but our guidelines are here to help you get everything sorted out.
How to plan a meeting with international attendees
Give yourself more time for planning an international meeting in comparison to a regular one. Everything will take longer: negotiations, setting up contracts, travel planning and booking of the venue and transportation. At the same time, your international attendees will also appreciate more advance notice for everything. Let them know as early as possible so they can make arrangements to meet the latest requirements and regulations regarding international travel. Even if all participants are traveling from the USA, not all of them might hold citizen status. Therefore different visa requirements for entering the meeting country might apply. Also be aware of transit visa regulations for any non-direct travel. However, to accommodate for jet lag, starting early is not advised for your meeting schedule. At least on the first day, delegates might need to ease into things. For one day meetings, fit jet lag into the travel schedule so your international meeting doesn’t become a naptime.
Save time – and face
Save yourself and everyone else some time by providing a checklist and answers to frequently asked questions, for example on the registration website. These should cover international travel issues, currency and exchange rates, shipping and customs restrictions, travel times, language barriers, overall costs and personal security issues. A checklist of what to bring will be beneficial for all participants: power adapters or converters for electronics, international calling plans, useful travel apps and last but not least the passport should find their way onto your list. You can also compile a list of cultural differences and faux pas not to commit to save people embarrassment. Did you know? It is normal in Germany to ask you out for a business lunch while expecting you to pay for your own meal. In contrast, Japanese hosts will consider it rude if you don’t accept food from them. A tip can be an insult in one country and more than a courtesy in another. Check international protocol on KissBowShakeHands.
Ideally, your destination country is English friendly, but depending on the size of your international meeting, you might soon find that you will have to provide some sort of language services for your attendees. For some, a simple translation and phrase book might suffice, while others will need or even expect full-on interpretation services. Find out way in advance what is necessary and appropriate, and work with your venue or a provider to hire an interpreter as needed. Make sure to have arrangements for situations outside of the meeting’s schedule, such as going out to dinner.
Keep it simple
Don’t overwhelm your international attendees with too much going on and simplify wherever you can. This applies to your itinerary, and probably doubly so to the lunch menu. Short and concise descriptions help international participants, especially when they’re not fluent in English. If you material is translated into other languages, your translator will thank you for avoiding overly flowery language. Presentations and materials in standard, basic English will avoid things being lost in translation.
Experience the local
When traveling abroad, your attendees will likely expect a unique experience. Be sure to include details typical to the destination to also make your international meeting a local one. Meals, food and drinks are usually the easiest fixed points of a meeting to infuse with a local flavour, but also consider traditional customs, local attractions and treats as possibilities for extracurricular activities around your meeting. Everyone is there for business, but special touches like these can instil a feeling of vacation, positive vibes and great memories. If participants definitely expect you to take care of their needs apart from business and want you to plan time for activities, sightseeing or excursions, get advice or contract services from a destination management company to make everyone’s experience more unique.
You will have to manage both your own expectations as well as those of your participants. When holding a meeting abroad, you will not bring a meeting from your country there, you will have a foreign meeting. Some countries don’t commonly use chairs for seating, others have non-QWERTY keyboards. Any equipment or material you rent or find at your destination might differ in unexpected ways. Try to clear these things up in advance, either with a pre-event trip to your meeting site or a local contact you can trust. When it comes to your attendees’ expectations, the most common concern is food, as it can relate to beliefs, allergies or other deep-rooted preferences.
Keep it going
For your international meeting, everything will be higher: expectations, cost, risks – but also rewards. Use the occasion to follow up with your participants with meeting material relevant to them. Presentations, recorded video and pictures are worth sharing with the group, and don’t forget the moments of socialising captured around your meeting – but make sure these are shared in appropriate ways and manners.
Expect the unexpected
Find the perfect balance between meticulous planning and staying flexible enough to make on-the-spot rearrangements. There are always things that can happen that no amount of planning can fix. Stay positive and assume authority. Our Survival Kit for Event Planners might come in hand, and if you have a more dire outlook on things, here’s how to handle crisis situations on an international meeting.
To sum it up: plan ahead with extra time, educate your meeting participants, and stay ahead with anticipating difficulties – and your international meeting is all set to go. Also read up on more resources for planning international meetings and our tips for dealing with international guests.
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