While planners aren’t necessarily content experts in their association’s field, they are integral to the delivery of education. Typically, they collaborate with the organization’s committee members and educational designers to determine the ideal venue, speakers, format, schedule and other elements of the sessions, taking into account the audience demographics. And increasingly, audiences include more international attendees as associations hold more meetings globally and welcome more international delegates to domestic meetings.
A sign of the times is that associations, in general, are expanding their global presences, according to Erin Goblirsch, manager of SmithBucklin’s, Education & Learning Services division. “That’s just the world we live in these days, but also there are more opportunities to reach a wider audience,” Goblirsch notes. “Virtual conferences are contributing to expanding global presence. And even if you have an event that is happening domestically and is targeted domestically, there are still likely international attendees. So it’s important to keep that mindset of who the audience is and how you are catering content to a more diverse group of attendees.”
“We also work with the CVB to help identify individuals and organizations who can contribute their expertise to our attendees.” Christopher Kirbabas, Director of Programs
The most direct way to reach new international audiences is of course to stage more international meetings, particularly in regions where membership is growing or shows promise of growing. Among the many U.S.-based associations where this initiative is a priority are the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and RIMS, the Risk Management Society. “SAH continues to look for new international destinations for our annual conference after our 2017 Glasgow, Scotland conference,” says Christopher Kirbabas, director of programs. “SAH has an opportunity to increase our global presence and continue to introduce new international audiences to SAH, our mission and to others who share a passion for the built environment.” While RIMS’ Annual Conference has not yet left North America and will likely not do so for many years, “we have developed new global events that are regional in nature,” says Stuart Ruff-Lyon, CMP, DES, vice president, events and exhibitions. “We are holding risk forums in China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Colombia in 2019. We are heavily focused on India and China. We see tremendous growth opportunities in these countries, and we are proud to help develop the risk management disciplines in these regions.”
If an event held internationally will see robust local attendance, the educational offerings should naturally reflect the interests and professional profiles of that audience. The association’s committee is an invaluable resource in this regard, especially the members who are familiar with the local contingent. “The education committee is critical to planning content because they are the subject-matter experts,” Goblirsch says. “It helps to have a committee that really embodies who the attendees are going to be as far as age, industry sector, where they’re from in the world, etc. You can really test ideas within the committee and ask, ‘Is this going to work? Is this something you would attend?’ I rely on at least a couple of people from the host committee who know the attendees on the ground.”
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), for example, relies on its regional committees and task forces to help determine session content for its international meetings, which are held in cities throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. “The higher-level executives from the big industry partners such as Disney, Universal and Europa-Park and representatives from different amusement facilities that make up our committees and task forces help us identify topics relevant to the region,” explains Michael Shelton, director of program management in the IAAPA Education Department. While IAAPA offers certification-related core courses in every region with the same base content and delivery, some of the educational content must be region-specific, based on the nature of the local amusement park industry. “Certain things that apply in America may not apply in other regions. The topic that we vary the most on content-wise would be safety. We do have a Safety Institute that is a core curriculum course, but there are different laws and rules in each region specific to how safety is administered and how different regions need to follow procedures.”
Similarly, RIMS’ planning team relies on regional advisory groups to help customize content for its international conferences, while still representing topics of global interest among the membership, such as enterprise risk management. “We always tailor our event content to regionalize our education. We examine the needs of the prospective audience, and work hard to build programs that will help risk professionals advance the risk management profession and the discipline,” Ruff-Lyon explains. “We use our regional advisory groups to weigh-in on our call-for-proposals process on our international regional meetings’ agendas. The groups review session submissions and simultaneously propose other ideas and speakers for our agendas. We also rely on our local sponsors to suggest content and propose speakers. Really, we wouldn’t have successful programs in non-North American regions without our advisory groups and local partners/sponsors.” In order to advance the profession in areas where it is less developed, RIMS is offering more introductory courses outside of the United States and “creating new online digital events that are regionalized and introductory,” he adds.
Content that is geared toward the local attendees can also emerge directly from the call for proposals process, particularly if the desire for such topics is emphasized in the CFP. “When SAH opens our Call for Sessions every October, we encourage session submissions with topics that explore the built environment of the city and region that we are in,” Kirbabas says. “Of the final 36 sessions chosen, we typically will get one or two sessions that highlight local topics. SAH also offers a Saturday morning seminar that highlights a city-specific topic or project that is of interest to locals.”
Involving local speakers is a major component of SAH’s regionalized education. Its local planning committees help source architectural historians and other industry stakeholders in the meeting destination.
“We also work with the CVB to help identify individuals and organizations who can contribute their expertise to our attendees,” Kirbabas says. “We engage with local experts to be speakers, panelists or tour leaders of our 20 or more tours conducted throughout the four-day conference. Based on the subject, we invite local historians, preservationists, architects, government officials and other experts to do a deep dive to understand the history and context of the seminar subject and gain better understanding from the varied stakeholders.”
For several reasons, leveraging local speakers can be advantageous. “I think they help bring a level of authenticity to an event,” Goblirsch says. “It may not be economical for a nonprofit association to fly speakers in from around the world. And one reason people travel to conferences is to have the opportunity to hear new speakers with different perspectives. We try to find local experts to share their knowledge, such as professors from nearby universities.”
Not only content, but also the session format sometimes needs to be appropriated to the local audience based on their cultural preferences. According to Goblirsch, who specializes in educational design, “whether or not there are trending formats, it’s really important to consider your audience and their culture. Do they want to participate or would they rather sit back and listen? So even if something like PechaKucha, a storytelling presentation style where 20 slides are shown successively, with 20 seconds of commentary on each, is super popular, it may not be right for an audience or speakers who expect a traditional presentation format with statistic-heavy content.”
Highly interactive sessions, where the attendee is regularly participating, are often considered ideal these days. “The interactive piece has been very consistent over the years,” Shelton says. “We have an industry that loves to share information and knowledge; they love to talk about what each park is doing in their location.”
‘Talking head’ style presentations, on the other hand, are often disparaged as passé. Yet again, cultural considerations, as opposed to ‘what’s trendy,’ should inform the formatting choice. “In North America, our expectation generally is interaction, and more often than not attendees are more comfortable having roundtable conversations,” Goblirsch says. “But if you’re planning an event that’s highly attended by Asia-Pacific attendees, they prefer to learn by listening and asking questions. They’re culturally more comfortable giving and receiving information. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t suggest trying something new and different.”
In this age of busy professionals seeking quickly digestible information, shorter-length sessions are likely to be popular across cultures. IAAPA has begun offering “micro sessions” designed to maintain attention. “They’re much more focused on one specific topic instead of having four or five presenters over an hour-and-a-half period,” Shelton explains. “We stay current on trends in the industry and adult learning, so the session formatting decisions are a combination of what we hear from our attendees and trying to meet their needs professionally.”
Translation services are needed for some IAAPA international meetings, such as those in China.
“Although the session may be in English, one of the panelists may speak a little English but he wants to answer in simplified Chinese,” explains KC Doreste, CMP, director, meetings and special events at IAAPA. She has adopted a few best practices in sourcing translators, including ensuring they can do simultaneous ‘real time’ translation. “We also have the devices that can switch from channel 1 to channel 2, so that way if you don’t understand them you can go to the other channel and they’ll be translated. So the better the translator and the better the equipment, the bigger the reward. In the past we’ve flown with the teams that have done this, but we’ve learned that local translation companies usually are better because they understand their equipment and the technical demands in the particular convention center.”
In addition to overcoming the occasional language barrier, the basics of planning educational programs in other countries include a sensitivity to local scheduling customs.
David Tharp, executive director of the International Association for Food Protection, observes that “Sometimes it is appropriate to begin sessions at 8 a.m. ending at 5 p.m., and other times it may be better to begin at 9 a.m. or even 9:30 a.m. and run until 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. It is best for us to rely on the local organizing body to provide direction on these decisions.”
Latin American and certain European audiences tend to prefer a later start.
“In Europe they might not eat dinner until 9 or 10 p.m., so having sessions that start at the crack of dawn the next morning may not be a good idea,” Goblirsch advises. The schedule should also be compatible with the long midday lunch breaks that are the custom in some cultures such as Spain. “Some businesses close in the afternoon and you may want to have a break in your day to reflect that because the hotel or convention center may also practice those customs,” she adds.
Some audiences may prefer more breaks, as the RIMS planning team has learned through experience. “For example, we know not to serve a heavy breakfast in India, and instead add more tea breaks to our schedule,” Ruff-Lyon says.
Educational designers know that the setting where learning takes places impacts engagement and retention, and for that reason it’s valuable to take learners out of the conference room on occasion. Thus, tailoring the educational experience should involve leveraging the destination’s off-site venues to imbue the program with local character and improve learning outcomes. IAAPA, for example, has held sessions at venues such as Shanghai Disney Resort and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. “We don’t want to keep them in a room all day long, especially when they’re in training meetings for three days,” Doreste says. Educational tours of local amusement parks are another way IAAPA varies the setting for its participants.
Goblirsch has a similar philosophy: “We know that adults learn differently than children, and part of that is giving them the opportunity to have different experiences. So whenever possible, I try to embrace the benefits of the destination and give people the opportunity to explore while also learning.”
For example, when staging the educational program for a travel association meeting in Bangkok, her team held “educational immersions” at three off-site locations, and attendees selected the one that best suited them:
• Thailand Creative & Design Center. Thailand Creative & Design Center was founded to integrate the ingeniousness of Thai society and culture with modern knowledge and technology. TCDC includes exhibitions, talks, workshops and a resource center designed to inspire creativity.
• Soy Sauce Factory, which has been renamed 56th Studio. This is a creative space that focuses on art and design exhibitions from emerging young artists from all over the world. The venue is a combination of design studios, gallery space and pop-up eatery.
• P. Tendercool, which was created by Duangrit Bunnag, Thailand’s most famous architect. P. Tendercool is a 43,000-sf rustic gallery studio that shows cross-cultural creations of unique furniture and home décor from talented local workmanship.
Educational programs held at such venues bring attendees closer to the local culture and ultimately send a more memorable message. Ideally, then the design of the learning program will reflect not only the local membership base in terms of their professional interests and business culture, but also the destination itself and the resources it offers the group.| AC&F |