Attracting a Global Audience to Your ConferenceDecember 1, 2013

It's Anything but Planning as Usual By
December 1, 2013

Attracting a Global Audience to Your Conference

It's Anything but Planning as Usual


Hope,Phelps-KellenMeetings-110x140Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is vice president of meetings and expositions for Kellen Company, an association management company with offices and representation in the United States, Europe, China, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. He can be reached at or 678-303-2962.

You’re planning a Florida conference for global manufacturers next year. Surely the planning can’t be much different than for a similar conference you hosted last quarter for just North American companies, right? After all, it’s all manufacturing, and international is international. Well, it’s not as simple as that.

Remember: “International” is not a country. One size does not fit all. Conference goers’ needs change country by country and region by region, as do expectations. Even for event planning veterans, drawing an international audience is a challenge.

On the plus side, the core building blocks of conference planning will remain the same, regardless of where your attendees are coming from. The most limited resources are always money and time. How you plan and market to an international audience could mean the difference between a successful event and a flop. Below are a few tips:

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

If you aren’t familiar with the countries to which you’re reaching out, you’ll stumble right out of the gate.

  • What are the travel restrictions? Getting from China to the U.S. is much more difficult than, say, coming from Canada. And those are the obvious ones. You’ll lose participants right away if you fail to acknowledge travel hurdles. At the very least, point them where they need to be to ensure easy travel to the event. And ideally, do what you can to walk them through it. It’ll demonstrate your savviness and give your target attendees more confidence in the event.
  • Be sensitive to current affairs. The world is changing, and travel restrictions are constantly in flux. Attracting Egyptian attendees to your event today could be wildly different than the same conference you held just a year ago. Know what’s happening in the part of the world in which you’re marketing, and don’t oversimplify the challenges for your attendees.
  • Moving people is one thing. Shipping boxes overseas is another. Give your attendees fair warning throughout the event marketing and communications process about the obstacles they’ll face. Propose a customs broker to make it easier.
  • Know the quirks. Did you know that China-based credit cards limit how much you can spend in a single transaction outside of that country? Or that in China, Baidu is their Google and that VK is the Facebook of Russia? Don’t let these regional quirks surprise you after you’ve already rolled out your event marketing campaign. Know what you’re getting into so that you can better reach international attendees.
  • Give them the info they’ll need, too. This isn’t just about your planning. It’s about theirs. Provide them with a list of restricted goods, for example. They’ll appreciate the extra steps you’ve taken to make their planning easier.

Make the Event Personal

You must tailor your marketing and make it more personalized for attendees coming from other countries. This isn’t black and white. You can’t take the same marketing strategy for an event for Alabama almond growers and use it to draw German aviation engineers. So how do you let your international attendees know this conference is about them?

  • What voice should you be using? A conference for mostly German engineers could mean more detail-oriented logistics in your marketing, whereas a gathering that would draw Brazilian cooking professionals could be more about the passion and excitement of marketing materials.
  • Know what your attendees prefer taste-wise, but don’t generalize. Make a note in your marketing materials about kosher options, for example, or alert target attendees that, yes, vegetarian options will be available. Put this all in the context that attendees will have options and that you are aware of special requirements.
  • What are the cultural influences that could affect your attendees? Will prayer rooms be needed for events that overlap with the weekend? Should you be sensitive about promoting alcoholic beverages for attendees coming from more restrictive regions of the world?
  • What about timing? Different regions celebrate different holidays. Say it’s peak vacation season in Europe but not in the U.S.; offer deals that accommodate European attendees who might want to dovetail your event with a vacation in California.

Show the Value Proposition

You’ve studied the various cultures of your attendees and have tailored your marketing accordingly. You know the restrictions that could impede attendance from certain parts of the world. You’ve given them the how — now tell them why. Show your attendees who might otherwise be unfamiliar with your event that this is how they should spend their valuable time and limited budget.

  • Market in simple terms the benefits of attending your conference. What knowledge will they leave with? Any certifications? Connections? Business transactions? In any culture, the conference takeaway is THE detail that dwarfs all others.
  • Justify the expense, and use verifiable statistics to support your claims. Time and money are the most limiting factors when it comes to attending a conference. Your attendees likely have a list of potential conferences — some of which are probably a lot closer to home. Spell out in clear terms how your conference offers the most bang for their buck, and push your gathering to the top of their list. Remember that your audience is international and might be forced to make tough travel decisions. Now is your opportunity to guide them to make the right ones.

In summary, be sensitive to cultural and geographical barriers that would dissuade attendees. If you know the obstacles ahead of time, you can help overcome them. Make the conference planning process easier on yourself and on your attendees.  AC&F

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