How to Tackle Your First International Meeting Like a Pro

December 13, 2015

Jason Popp

Jason Popp- Jason Popp is Executive Vice President, International at GES. With more than 20 years of global business experience and 10 years with GES, he leads businesses outside of North America.

My first international meeting is etched in my memory — and not in a good way.

I was a young expat in Budapest, Hungary. For the first time, I had the responsibility of organizing an international press conference to introduce a new product to the market. My mind swarmed with everything I’d learned about event planning. I was sure I had done it all. I made a Gantt chart, thought through every moment of the conference schedule and made enough contingency plans to paper the walls.

I lived and breathed that plan. But what I learned as the conference began and quickly veered off track was that only experiencing the unexpected could teach me how to pull off a successful meeting.

Here’s what I learned the hard way (so you don’t have to):

1. Plan for the unexpected.
Because I planned my first international event so meticulously, I arranged for an indoor venue in case of rain. What I hadn’t anticipated was that our star speaker, Formula One driver Mika Häkkinen, would have a difficult-to-understand Finnish accent and that our translator could only understand “classic” English. Things will happen that no amount of planning can fix, so stay on your toes and smile. A positive, flexible attitude is worth a thousand contingency plans.

2. Simplify.
When a restaurant’s menu is 50 pages long, it can take the fun out of choosing a meal. It’s overwhelming. The same goes for a conference with too much going on. Keep the itinerary simple and on-theme. Also, remember that many international delegates won’t speak fluent English — keep flowery or slang-filled language out of presentations and materials.

3. Keep a local flavor.
Give attendees a unique travel experience by including details that are typical to the host country. Maybe you could serve a meal made with local
ingredients, host an outing to a local attraction, participate in a traditional custom unique to the area or give away a goody bag of local treats. Special touches will give attendees a real vacation feeling, and they’ll be much more likely to forgive odd logistical oversights. Plus, they’ll leave with positive local memories and be more likely to return to the host country.

4. Accommodate jet lag.
A conference can become naptime if jet lag isn’t incorporated into the schedule. Bear in mind that delegates might need to take a conference’s first day easier than the rest. They might also respond well to outdoor time or a room with lots of natural light to help them stay awake.

5. Keep the event going.
An international event is a high-cost, high-risk and high-reward occasion — so get the most out of it. Follow up with attendees via email or Skype. Keep sending out relevant materials. Capture videos and pictures at the event and share them with the group. It’s never too early to start drumming up excitement for the next event.

Above all, focus on the point of your event: bringing people together from different cultures, giving them unique and inspiring experiences and enabling them to strive toward common goals. In doing so, you’ll be able to tackle your first international meeting like a seasoned veteran.

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