So you think you can run a good event, right? Well, try running one in a foreign country. A different language, unfamiliar work dynamics, and incomprehensible customs... try and manage that!
As researchers Nicole Ferdinand and Nigel Williams note in their chapter 'Event staging' from the book The Routledge Handbook of Events, people expect event managers to perform a wide range of skills and roles simultaneously and effortlessly, such as entrepreneur, technician, project manager, quality inspector, etc. But add to these requirements the context of running a successful event away from home and you’ll triple the complexity of these tasks. Planning and managing events in a foreign country can be a tough experience. And here's why:
Reason #1. You don't have your support system
Where’s the technician you’d normally call every five minutes to ask when he will install the equipment? Where's the IT professional you’d call demanding for an immediate solution to the Wi-Fi problem? Where’s the security staff you’ve worked with so often that you already know their protocol? None of these relationships exist when you plan an event in a foreign country.
Reason #2. You're not familiar with the culture
Let’s say your event starts on Wednesday and you’re trying to get your programs printed by Tuesday evening. What you haven’t taken into account is that Tuesday is a national holiday and all businesses will be closed. Now you have to wait until right before the event starts on Wednesday morning to get your programs printed, putting you in a crisis situation.
Reason #3. You can't communicate clearly or quickly
You don’t speak Hindi, Dutch, or Spanish, though you have a good grasp of business English. Have you ever tried to speak a foreign language (even if you are proficient) when you are stressed and trying to deliver your message as quickly as possible?
In other words, it's safe to say that running a powerful event in a foreign country without losing your mind can be as hard as driving a spaceship.
However, if you are brave enough and haven’t cancelled your flight ticket yet, fear not! The following steps detail everything you need to know about planning a successful event abroad (that people will WANT to attend).
Step #1. Become familiar with the destination
Weeks before your flight, educate yourself about the country where you'll run the event. Make a list of general questions you have to take into account. Is this country/city safe? What are the economic and political issues? Is there sufficient public transportation, and if so, how does it work? What are the gastronomical particularities of this country? Are there any religious aspects that may influence your event? For example, if you’re planning an event in Dubai during Ramadan, you'll have to evaluate how this can impact your event.
Step #2. Explore the event location and its surroundings
Whenever you arrive to the destination, don’t waste your time. Focus immediately on exploring the environment. Check out the venue and the distances from other urban locations. Determine if there’s easy access to the venue and if attendees will be able to use public transportation.
Step #3. Analyze the local map of event planning services
You can't run an event without the help of multiple suppliers. Before the trip, make a list of local companies that could cover the following planning aspects: audiovisual services, catering, security, cleaning, visual design, event equipment rentals, translation services (if necessary), etc. Contact them and schedule online meetings. If you have an agreement, schedule face-to-face meetings for once you arrive at your destination. It’s always better to have everything prepared in advance than to wake up in a new place without knowing whose services to engage.
Step #4. Know who your attendees are
It doesn’t matter if you plan an event locally or in a foreign country. Without knowing your attendees’ needs and characteristics, you won’t be able to run an event they'll enjoy. The question here is if your audience is international or local. If you're planning an event for locals, what are their cultural sensitivities? What are they expecting from your event? What is the added value you can bring to the table? How can you plan an event that transcends the cultural aspects?
Step #5. Build a good local professional network
You can't run an event in a different country without the help of a local team. You need people to rely on. Surround yourself with local planners or advisers who will help you figure out the planning particularities of their country. Ask for their help to find out how things work. Contact tourism boards and work together with local agencies.
Planning an event in a foreign country can be more than challenging, but it can also be exciting. You'll grow your professional skills and gain new experiences that will enhance your self-confidence. Be conscious and aware about the steps you take when planning an event abroad. But also, don’t forget to enjoy it.