Meet in an ultra-modern conference room with a view of Big Ben, host a reception in a Parisian palace, gather the Continent's top guns in technology in Frankfurt or its economic experts in Brussels. A meeting in Europe can position your organization on a global level by attracting a new and cosmopolitan audience. Experts in every field can be tapped as speakers, and the world's great universities, hospitals, and legislative and legal bodies can provide exceptional opportunities for attendees with special interests. Expense and expediency might make some meeting planners pause at the prospect of organizing a meeting in Europe. But with careful planning and an innovative approach to marketing, you can minimize the problems and maximize the advantages of meeting "Eurostyle."
Vive la Difference Whether you are planning a conference in Portland or Paris, your goal is the same--to create an event that is well attended, well organized, productive, and cost-effective. You'll find that the logistics involved in reaching these goals are much the same, although there are a few minor variations. For example, in the U.S., the local convention and visitors bureau usually controls and coordinates all bookings for the center and provides registration assistance. In Europe these services are arranged directly by the conference center (which is what Europeans call convention centers).
And if you are organizing a large meeting, you probably will be dealing with a conference center. There are few large convention hotels in Europe, and meetings of more than 500 are usually held in purpose-built conference centers. By using a conference center with several hotels within walking distance, you offer your delegates several options in accommodations--a strong selling point.
While logistics are much the same, there are cultural differences. This not the time to duplicate your last American meeting. What worked well last year in Miami may bomb in Milan. Most Europeans appreciate the opportunity to learn from American experience and expertise, but some adaptations must be made to accommodate European needs and sensibilities. For example, early-rising Americans will attend a 7:45 a.m. networking breakfast--but Europeans usually prefer to breakfast at their hotel. And aesthetics play an important role even in something as basic as selling exhibit space. The "pipe and drape" setup is seldom used by Europeans, who are used to the more sophisticated "shell scheme." booths.
Marketing Makes the Difference Perhaps the biggest differences lie in the approach you must take to sell your conference to a European audience. Unlike Americans, Europeans don't yet have the conference habit ingrained. They need to be convinced that your conference is worth attending.
Europeans are visually oriented--a fact that's reflected in their art, architecture, and design. Appearances count and Europeans will assess the potential value of your event by the quality of your marketing materials. The logo, the language, the paper, and the overall design concept should send a message of quality, professionalism, and innovation. Don't skimp on marketing materials. Without attractive and effective collateral, Europeans simply won't register for your conference.
A Common Language The language issue is important and should be settled early in the planning process. We recommend setting an official language for the conference and then making whatever arrangements necessary for interpretation. Because English has become the language of international business, many overseas conferences no longer offer interpreter services.
Should you find it necessary to offer this assistance, be consistent. Translate everything, from your initial brochure to registration material and signage. Have a native speaker in your industry review the translation. Don't cut corners--get the best people and equipment available. It's more cost-effective and efficient to select a venue that already has simultaneous translation equipment installed.
There are many ways to control the cost of convening in Europe. Airfares, particularly from East Coast gateways, are competitive and negotiable. In most European cities, you needn't worry about complex labor rules, which can impact productivity. And, you won't need a tipping budget--many European conference centers have a "no tip" policy.
* In Switzerland, give your business card to the secretary when arriving for an appointment and present another business card to your contact. If your firm has been in business a long time, put the year it was established on your card.
* In England, it may be acceptable to be ten minutes late, but not ten minutes early.
* Punctuality is expected in France, but there is a more relaxed attitude about time in the south of France. The best time to schedule a meeting is 11 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. If you don't speak French, apologize. Expect intense eye contact and far-ranging conversations.
* Germans live by the clock. Arriving even two minutes late may be taken as an insult. The best times for business appointments are between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Don't expect negotiations to proceed quickly. Germans take time to develop close business relationships. Once they get to know you, they can be very convivial.
* Punctuality is not the norm in Spain. Expect social discussion before getting down to business, and lengthy negotiations. Most offices are closed between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. as lunch, the main meal of the day, starts around 2 p.m.