EVEN meeting planners who are comfortable and confident with audiovisual equipment at their U.S. meetings get heart palpitations when considering AV in locations abroad. Their concerns are justified. It takes about twice as much effort and attention to detail to coordinate AV requirements for a foreign conference. Here are some reasons why, and some suggestions to make your life easier.
The Language Barrier One or more of your foreign technical crew is likely to speak some English, but often can't speak it as well as you would like or as you have been led to believe. If your show is complicated, hire a translator. The money will be well spent. Specify that you need a translator who understands audiovisual and technical terms, although a general translator is better than no one. If some of the crew can speak limited English, you may be able to get by hiring a translator only for setup and rehearsal. The easy way out is to hire a tech crew that has at least one native English speaker. This way, you get a translator and crew member for one price. At a meeting in Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to have a crew member who spoke English. However, I had to build a three-second lead into all my cues for the show so he could translate the calls into Chinese.
Overseas Power Most of the world runs on 220V/50Hz power, much of which is not as stable as the power we're used to in the U.S. (Brownouts are not as common as they used to be, but during summer, large cities often experience power fluctuations.) You may have equipment that is designed to be dual voltage, but the electrical plugs in your host country may be different than the plugs you use at home. (On site, the plug adapters you need always seem to be sold out.)
Equipment Standards Vary For video playback, the NTSC system is standard in the U.S. However, in most of the rest of the world, the standard is either PAL or SECAM. Some VHS players will play back more than one standard. These are fine for workshops, but VHS is normally not adequate for general sessions. Consequently, you will either need to rent a higher quality Beta SP-NTSC deck (which can be difficult to find and expensive to rent) or convert your tapes to PAL or SECAM before you leave. This latter option is normally the wiser one. Equipment is easier to find and less costly.
Slide projectors overseas are often SAV, Simda, or European Kodak. Even though they work with standard Kodak trays (80 slots), the lenses have different barrels and the dissolve connections are different than those of U.S. Kodak Ektagraphic projectors. If you want to take your own lenses or dissolves, you'll need adapters.
The French, in particular, seem to make everything different from the rest of the world. If you plan on using modems in France, be aware that the phone adapter you'll need (a T-like device) is almost impossible to find once you're there.
Never Assume Anything I once ordered Clear-Com communications equipment for use in our general sessions in Switzerland. These headsets with built-in microphones allow the show director to communicate with the crew. When I arrived at the conference center, sure enough, every crew station had its own communication device-a telephone. I could call only one crew member at a time, and the phone would ring!
And by the way, in many foreign countries, particularly in Asia, a nod means "I can hear you," not "I agree with you and will do what you are asking."
Quality Staging As with a U.S. meeting, to find a quality staging company overseas, ask your hotel and destination management company, and check your Insurance Conference Planners Association "Exchange" information to see who has been to the area recently; call them to find out who they used. I also recommend checking with the Association for Multi-Media, International, which has international members who could give you leads to good staging companies, photographers, and other local suppliers. AMI can be reached at (813) 960-1692, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.kaizen.net/ami.
Government Regulations Don't forget that local governments may have requirements that affect your conference. In Monaco, for example, if you're using professional equipment to shoot videos of your attendees for a candid module, you need to get government approval to do so. If you're having musical entertainment in France, be aware that the SACEM Rights (authors' and composers' fees) will be applied to your total F&B bill. A group of strolling musicians, for example, would have an added 3.3 percent music-use fee.
Foreign conferences are wonderful incentives for your agents. Don't assume that using AV overseas is an insurmountable difficulty. It just takes more attention than usual, and a little extra effort.