As a Meeting Planner, one of the first things I learned when I came to PMG is that no two meetings are the same. Although incredibly similar, each meeting we plan has its own set of nuances that make it unique. The same is true for planning a conference that takes place outside of the US. Although similar, there are additional considerations such as international currency exchange, a different contract and pricing structure, and local traditions that should be taken into account while planning. Just like in-person meetings, there is no cookie-cutter method for planning a virtual conference, especially when there is an international audience.
SEE IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY! A virtual conference may make it challenging to foster the networking experiences that in-person meetings thrive on, but one of the greatest advantages of a virtual platform is the elimination of travel time and costs for attendees. Travel cost is one of the most prohibitory factors for attending in-person meetings. By eliminating travel cost, attending your meeting becomes much more obtainable for many attendees, primarily those from developing countries. You now have the unique opportunity to reach a broader audience than ever before!
So what considerations need to be made when developing a virtual conference for international attendees? These are just a few that have the biggest impact.
- The most obvious is TIME ZONES. If any portion of your conference is live, you need to consider at what times the events take place in other countries. It is not possible to find a ‘convenient’ time across all continents (it will inevitably be 2:00 AM for someone!) so you will need to get creative with solving this problem if you have attendees from all continents. Pre-Recording or recording live sessions to be available on demand at a later date, repeating the same session twice in one day to cover multiple time zones, or simply running the event live in a selected time zone that is convenient for the largest portion of your audience and discounting the registration fee for those that it’s inconvenient for are all things our clients have considered.
- LANGUAGE BARRIERS are another consideration. Most in-person meetings are either presented in a universal language such as English or offer translation booths or equipment in the session rooms. If you are hoping to capitalize on the opportunity to reach a broader, global audience, you may want to consider translation services. Most teleconferencing options such as Zoom have the option to connect to a translation software that can translate the presentation into another language in closed captions (isn’t technology wonderful?!) If you are looking to translate into multiple languages, consider recording the sessions and using a third-party translation company that will add translated closed captions over the video. Don’t forget that if you are hoping to expand your audience to include multiple languages, you have to consider how these attendees will register and get information in addition to the sessions themselves!
- Lastly, consider AUDIENCE TRADITIONS OR HOLIDAYS. Finding the perfect set of dates for an in-person conference can be difficult and can be driven by the availability of the selected venue. A virtual meeting removes the physical restraints of a venue such as space availability. Maybe your original conference dates fall over a secondary holiday such as Memorial Day or Mother’s Day because that is all the venue had available. Many countries outside the US get a later start to their day. Is there an opportunity to shift the start time so it is later in European countries and earlier in the US? Is there an opportunity to adjust by a day to avoid scheduling over a holiday? Even the smallest adjustment to the schedule could make all the difference in participation for your event.
So how do you sort through the never-ending considerations and options? My advice - Go back to the basics- Meeting Planning 101. Ask yourself (and your clients!)- What is the main goal you hope to achieve with this event? Is your main goal to disseminate information on a global scale? Maybe recording sessions that can be consumed by your attendees when it’s convenient for them is a good option. Is maintaining the opportunity for live discourse among attendees the most important to you? Then pre-recording sessions that eliminate Q&A time may not be the best option for you.
Always remember there is more than one way to cook a casserole! Don’t assume that what was successful for one client will be for another. Trust your instincts, use what you know, and then get creative to achieve your (or your client’s) goals!
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