In today's global marketplace, the ability to plan successful multi-cultural meetings is an important skill to possess. However, planning international meetings requires a good deal of forethought and preparation so the event goes off without a hitch.
An effective global meeting planner recognizes five distinct components to planning a meeting that involves people from around the globe.
The most obvious challenge in global meeting planning is language barriers. While English is often considered the international language of business, don't assume everyone at your meeting will be able to effectively communicate using it. Many people can exchange pleasantries or make general conversation in English, but they may lack the ability to communicate more complex ideas. Avoid communication snafus by:
- Hiring interpreters,
- Sending meeting agendas and topics beforehand,
- Agreeing on the meanings of words, phrases, symbols or pictures before the meeting to avoid confusion resulting from cultural differences,
- Avoid speaking in colloquialisms, jargon or lingo that might not be understood by meeting attendees or vendors.
Concept of Time
Different cultures have different ideas of time. If a meeting is set to begin at 10 a.m., most westerners will arrived precisely at the appointed time, if not a bit early. People from other cultures may view the starting time as a suggestion rather than a requirement. They may also see the ending time as rather flexible and not set in stone as westerners would.
Additionally, the way dates and times are written vary from country to country. In the United States, you use the 12-hour clock to denote the time; in other places, the 24-hour clock is used. Plus, dates in the U.S. are written as MM/DD/YYYY; elsewhere in the world, dates are written as DD/MM/YYYY.
Etiquette varies widely from country to country, so understanding the cultural differences in seemingly mundane activities is vital to international meeting management. For example:
- In some Asian countries, it's not good etiquette to accept someone's business card with your left hand.
- Wild gesticulations, shouting or even storming out of a meeting are accepted behavior in some countries.
- Discussing business over a meal is taboo in some places and status quo in others.
- Tipping is expected in American culture, but not in many places in the world.
- You never call a Japanese business associate by his or her first name.
- A "coffee break" in China includes fruit and pastries as well as tea and coffee.
Be certain to learn about what behavior is accepted and what is frowned upon in the country where your meeting will be held. It's also wise to make attendees who will be traveling to the meeting from another location aware of local social customs beforehand.
Fluctuations in exchange rates can wreak havoc with your global meeting's budget. If you can, negotiate to pay your meeting vendors in US currency. Locking in a currency exchange rate at the beginning of your planning period ensures you know how much the event will cost. Doing so runs the risk of a currency exchange rate variation that would work in your favor, but at least you won't end up paying more than you budgeted.
You should also learn about the country's Value Added Tax. This is similar to sales tax in the U.S. Countries around the world have different rules regarding which items and services are subject to reclaim and what documentation is required on the claim. Research this during the budgeting process, not after the event has concluded. Hiring a VAT reclaim company might make the process easier.
Make sure your meeting attendees are aware of the documentation required for travel to a different country. For example, 70 percent of Americans don't have a passport, which is required for travel to most foreign lands. Getting a passport isn't something you can do overnight, so make sure attendees are aware that they should apply for the document weeks in advance. Meeting participants who do have passports aren't necessarily exempt from preparation. Many countries require visitors to have at least six months remaining on their passport in order to be granted entrance.
And, if foreign nationals are traveling from the U.S. to another country for your meeting, there's a good chance they'll need to investigate what will be required to gain entrance to the country where your meeting is being held. Will they need a VISA? If so, can it be purchased when they arrive or do they need to purchase it weeks in advance? These are important details that can prevent a meeting participant from attending so make certain you communicate with meeting delegates early and often.
When you're planning international meetings, you need to keep some things in mind to ensure success. Language differences, cultural and social variations, exchange rates and taxes and entrance requirements are all important things to consider during the planning process. With adequate communication and forethought, these challenges can be easily overcome so your meeting's goals are attained.
Wanna learn more? Join us at Pharma Forum 2014, March 23-26, 2014 in Orlando, Florida where hundreds of medical meeting professionals will get together to discuss industry best practices and will share insights on how meeting managers can effectively globalize their SMMPs.
(Image courtesy of Kenneth Lu via Flickr)