Every meeting planner’s first step in organizing a conference outside the
U.S. should be answering a simple question: Why?

The answer might be:
•  To drive growth for your organization, in membership or in reach and influence
•  To be in step with competitors who are expanding to a particular region
•  To meet the needs of members
•  To drive product growth or customer growth in new markets
• To reward high achievers
• Because a board member spoke to someone who recently met in, say, Brazil and thinks it would be great for your organization

Whichever reason underlies your international meeting decision, says Carol McGury, executive vice president, event and education services, at SmithBucklin, which has co-headquarters offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., be sure it’s based on data. (That last bullet point? Not data-based.)

“Don’t do it just to do it,” McGury says. “Understand who you’re serving. Understand the expectations of your internal and external set of customers. Really build out your international strategy, and your event will be that much more successful.”

How to Find the Why
“Data drives the answer to ‘why,’” McGury says. Maybe you’ve analyzed where your future customers will come from, therefore you need to hold a meeting in Shanghai. Or, you’ve analyzed your attendance and 50 percent of delegates are coming to your U.S. meeting from outside the U.S., so you want to consider building out a regional meeting model.

To expand on the latter example, say you discover that the largest segment from a single region is 20 percent, and they’re coming from South America. But say you’ve also analyzed the industry your organization serves, and you know that its growth is centered in Europe. Now you’ve got data that justifies an international program, but should the meeting be in Latin America or in Europe?

Next step: more data!

Conduct surveys of attendees to find out if they will come to a new, international event, and where they would prefer to travel. And consider what will happen to your U.S. conference as well. Will attendees go to two events?

Ask questions like, “If we have an event in São Paolo, will you come?” But don’t stop there. McGury points out that you need qualitative data in addition to quantitative data. You need to talk to customers and ask what they’d be looking for in a new event. If they say they’d attend, ask why. “Have data lined up that supports your international decision.”