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Holding a meeting overseas? Be flexible.


I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world because of my profession of putting together special events and various types of meetings for international associations. I’ve met so many people, experienced different cultures and seen marvelous landscapes. I’ve also met hard-working convention services staff, tour operators and logistics experts — all with the focused desire of helping a meeting planner’s event to be successful. I’ve learned a few things along the way. I learned that trivial things like paper, holidays and break time mattered.  No, it’s not written in any meeting planning books or convention services manual. Here are a few I’ve learned from experience.

If you prepared hand-outs of a presentation and need extra copies, know that the 8.5” x 11” letter-sized paper we’re so used to is not universal. It is rare in some parts of Europe and the Middle East. They use A4 paper. So, be OK with having different sized hand-outs. Better yet, bring enough copies or print onsite.

Especially in the Middle East, some countries have generous vacation leaves and holidays to as much as 60 days a year. If you send a question to your local contact, don’t be surprised that it doesn’t’ get answered for some weeks. Allow plenty of time in your timeline, clarify and communicate expectations ahead of time.

They say that U.S. workers log in the most work hours among other industrialized countries. We eat our lunch at our desks and seldom take breaks. Early on, when I set up vendor meetings abroad, I packed them by the minute in the hope I could get work done quicker and return home sooner. I learned that I need to be culturally sensitive and avoid scheduling too fast of a lunch meeting or too early of an afternoon meeting. I’ve discovered that taking it easy is one way to encourage vendors to work hard on your behalf.

The key is being flexible and adaptable. When faced by a disruption in schedule or process, relax and smile. As Julius Caesar said, “experience is the teacher of all things.”

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