When the announcement is made that a trade show or conference program is going overseas and it's your baby, the first question is usually, "Why me?" The second question should be, "Where in the world do I get started?"

If trade show organization or participation is your responsibility, your questions might concern the venue, contractors, rules and regs, and getting your "stuff" there. Conference organizers see yellow flagsin learning about the meeting facility, audiovisual suppliers, signage, and printing- production challenges. You need to find a local (overseas) advisor who can steer you around the land mines and to the most reliable stand builder, AV technician, or knowledgeable exposition/congress guru. But there are plenty of qualified people ready to help you, and the problem is more likely to be deciding whom to listen to and whom to ignore as the advice comes rushing in via fax and e-mail.

Start at Home Because they are literally everywhere in the world, the U.S. government's representatives abroad are a logical starting place. Every American embassy and most consulates have a resident commercial officer who is part of the U.S. Commercial Service (the overseas arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce). Part of his or her mission is to know the local business landscape and that involves familiarity with trade shows, trade show venues, and exhibition organizers. The commercial officer certainly will know the convention/congress centers, hotels, or resort destinations qualified to accommodate your meeting.

How can you find the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that serves your destination? Call the local Department of Commerce District Office. You can look on the World Wide Web at Department of State's Web site, www.state.gov/www/guide.html/, or at www.doc.gov/.

And Look Abroad Consider contacting the Union des Foires International (UFI), the worldwide certification agency for trade fairs (fax: 33-1-42 27 19 29). Headquartered in Paris, UFI has a membership that includes most of the more important trade shows around the world. The UFI can put you touch with show organizers, hall owners, and contractors on all five continents.

If organizing a congress is your assignment, Meeting Professionals International, headquartered in Dallas (fax: 972/702-3070), should be high on your contact list, followed by the International Association of Professional Congress Organizers, with its main office in Brussels (fax: 32-2-640-4731). The InterEXPO Secretariat in The Hague (fax: 31-7-347-5071) will gladly steer you to any of its 24 members in 20 different countries, all specialists in organizing national pavilions or solo trade show presentations. You can also get valuable assistance from the chamber of commerce of the destination country and/or city; the airline, and the stateside embassy or national trade office.

The European association of stand contractors, called the International Federation of Exhibition Services, near Brussels (fax: 32-2-378-1275), can suggest competent suppliers of your display and presentation needs. Another essential player on your meeting or trade show planning team is the freight-forwarder. The International Exhibition Logistics Association has headquarters in Geneva and members around the world (tel: 41-22-43 88 00).

Virtually every geographical region and subdivision is represented by an agency or association dedicated to attracting your attention and winning your conference. To name a few: The European Federation of Conference Towns in Brussels: (fax: 32-2-735-4840); the Confederation of Latin American Associations of Congress Organisers in Buenos Aires (fax: 54-1-382-5560); the Association Internationale des Palais de Congres in Lisbon (fax: 351-1-360-1463), and the Meetings Industry Association of Australia (fax: 61-2-9904 9933). Among the best organized groups set up to assist meeting and exhibition planners is the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (fax: 65-273-1358).

When contacting an overseas source, be particularly attuned to the possibility for misunderstanding. The usual caveats apply: Use simple declarative sentences, and avoid "Americanisms," sports references, political allusions, or double entendres. Give your correspondent as much preliminary information as possible.

Yet, given all these possible sources of information, I have found that the best and most reliable source of local information is one's association memberin the venue you are focusing on. Lacking a local member, a sister organization can fill this role.