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When in-person meetings aren't an option: Three tips for smooth communication with international volunteers and vendors

Having executed several international meetings for various association clients in the past ten years, I have learned that clear communication is key to getting a project moving along smoothly.

I would be lucky to meet the board of directors, executive committee members or vendors in person twice a year. Once is more realistic. So, what to do when you rely so much in communicating via email or a phone conference to an audience with varying cultures, time zones and language? Here are a few tips.

Know your audience. When setting up a conference call, specify the time zones of your meeting participants. So, 8 a.m. CST is 9 a.m. EST, 2 p.m. GMT, 3 p.m. CET and so on. This helps your meeting participants respond quickly to your invitation or poll without having to convert the time themselves. If you are polling participants through Doodle, know that Doodle automatically sets the correct time-zone for each participant. Your time options will display according to where they are located (per their IP address or Doodle account setting). When participants open the Doodle request, they’ll see a time-zone drop menu above the poll. They can change their time zone here if it is incorrect. Advise your participants to check this before replying.

Clarify. There are various nuances in culture and local slang. Take time when reading email or listening on a call to fully understand what has just been said. If you are not sure what your volunteer or vendor is telling you, try rephrasing it and ask if you understood it correctly.

Keep it simple. When sending email communications, use simple, straight-forward language. Avoid long sentences. Avoid slang or idiomatic expressions. It’s not a “cool” idea but a good one.

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