Planning an International Conference
With international collaboration becoming more common, many event planners will be expected to organise at least one international event during their career.
People attend conferences because they want to learn and network, but those that travel to international conferences also do so for the experience. For this reason, international attendees often have higher expectations of the event itself.
This guide looks at the best ways to boost international attendance of your events and the main considerations that need to be managed during the event planning stage.
Ways to boost international attendance
Having international attendees is a great selling point for your event. It provides delegates the opportunity to network with experts outside of their normal circles. Here are our tips on attracting the right people from overseas and boosting international ticket sales.
Start promoting as soon as you can
Every event professional knows that the sooner you start organising an event the better. This is particularly true when organising international events. With so much to consider, we recommend starting planning as early as 18 months before the event itself.
Pick your speakers carefully
Conference speakers need to be of the highest calibre in order to attract attendees from abroad. Look at market trends in your target countries and find related topics that would interest a wide number of attendees. You should also consider an international speaker. Especially one that is very well-known within the field.
Promote the international aspect
Make sure you promote the fact that your conference or event is international. It’s a great selling point and also a compelling nudge for international delegates debating whether or not to attend.
Make the schedule worth their while
Think about why people would attend an international conference overseas and include this within your marketing. At the very least, ensure there are lots of different seminar streams to choose from, dedicated networking time and scheduled pre or post event drinks.
Link up with another related international event in another country and cross-promote each other’s events. It’s a great way to reach the right audience, as well as experience an international conference from the perspective of an international attendee.
Don’t send blanket email invites
Data is your most valuable tool so treat it well. Segment your data lists and speak to different countries specifically. If possible include some information in their native language.
Considerations when hosting events with international attendees
When it comes to planning events targeted towards international attendees, there are a number of considerations that you need to take into account, many of which you may not have thought of.
It goes without saying that the event venue for your conference should be easily accessible from major transport links such as train stations and airports. This is a major consideration for all attendees, but particularly for international delegates.
Ensure the venue has enough space for your scheduled talks, as well as breakout spaces so attendees can network during breaks. You also want to ensure there is designated space for people to observe any religious practices.
Brady Miller, director of special and academic events at Indiana University has the following suggestion when it comes to international event catering:
“Food choices may be heavily influenced by the demographics of your attendees. If many attendees are coming from say, India, one might assume that a majority of them will be Hindus (more than 80% of Indians are).
Consequently, it would be a smarter to avoid beef as the major protein in most meals you may be providing, and you may want to have a larger number of vegetarian meals on hand than a caterer’s standard recommendation.”
Buffets are recommended for international events so that attendees can pick and choose what they want to eat. Because of this, everything needs to be clearly labelled and catering staff should be on hand to answer any questions.
Dollinger Steel Fiftieth Anniversary Guests in Food Line via Flickr
In the case of décor for international events, the key is to keep it simple. Use seating, lighting and branded visuals to decorate the event space rather than props and accessories.
Brady Miller warns, “Many nationalities have particular affiliations with certain flowers. Chrysanthemums are a good example. Depending on where you are in the world, these flowers could be associated either with happiness or nobility or could be associated almost exclusively with death or funerals (many places in Europe). Something as simple as a white lily will have hugely different meanings with different audiences.”
Language and translation
Although English is the usual common-language for international events and conferences, it is important that multi-lingual translators are on hand to ensure that all attendees get the most from the conference. Arrange for translators to be stationed at identifiable points throughout the venue such as the foyer, breakout space and the entrances to large seminar rooms.
When it comes to signage, consider the most common term for the area. For example, signs for the toilet should say WC as this is more international.
– A welcome letter – in a few of the major languages that will be attending would be comforting to your guests
– How to get to the venue from different places
– Recommended places to stay – negotiate a reduced room rate at a nearby hotel
– Include nearby attractions that attendees may wish to visit during their stay
Planning an international conference schedule is an art. As previously discussed, you need to ensure that there are different seminar streams for attendees. This ensures that they have access to a wide range of information throughout the day.
Ensure there is a good mix between conference talks and networking opportunities. This will give attendees the golden opportunity to network with those outside their normal circles, as well as give them the break they need.
If your event takes place over a number of days, ensure that there is time for international attendees to explore the city they are visiting. Remember, attending an international event is as much about the experience of the city as the conference itself.
If you know that some attendees have cultural requirements, such as prayer times or religious holidays, accommodate their needs into your schedule. There’s no point scheduling an international conference on Whit Monday where many Christian countries observe a bank holiday.
We all forget things and if your conference is only one or two days long, it’s likely that attendees will only bring hand luggage. This means that some of the essentials may have been left behind. Offer a stock of pens, pencils and notepads on arrival. Even better, consider giving away these items in branded goodie bags.
Pennsylvania Delegation via Flickr
Celebrate international attendees
Celebrate international attendees and make this a focus of your event. Mention those that have travelled and thank them in the conference’s opening address. You could even have a board with a map so people can pin where they have come from for the event.
Ultimately, the key to organising international events is to understand your audience. Do some research into cultural practices from different countries and religions. And always do your best with the time and budget you have been given by your client.
20 Bedford Way: International conference space
20 Bedford Way is an academic conference venue in Bloomsbury, Central London. The venue is close to major tourist attractions such as the British Museum, British Library and Oxford Street. It also benefits from unrivalled transport links, with major train stations and airports.
With flexible catering, spacious rooms and numerous accommodation options nearby, 20 Bedford Way is the ideal venue for your next international conference. If you are interested in holding an international conference in Bloomsbury contact us on 020 7612 6143 or email us.
Main image: Traveling by train, Nationaal Archief via Flickr