Want to Plan an International Event? Here’s How!
How did you get into international event planning?
I began planning large-scale events as the Live Events Manager at the National Academy of Sports Medicine in 2017. A year into the role, we had some foreign opportunities pop up, and soon after, I was planning my first international event in London.
We are the leader in fitness education. Upskilling and training professionals who will then instruct other professionals make up the majority of our live events. This particular group in London was so excited to have us and was so grateful for the opportunity. I then knew these types of international events were my new calling.
After that, we went to Seoul, South Korea, and now, we are planning events all over the world with dozens behind us and many more to come. It has also led me into a new role focused on international business development, with a great majority of our success coming from these international live events.
What mistakes did you make that you would caution new professional event planners about?
My first few international events, I made more mistakes than I did proper maneuvers, I believe! My team and I are still learning with every new event in every new country. Just when you think you have the international space figured out, you’re reminded that the world is a complicated, big, big place.
My first piece of advice is to embrace discomfort. Planning outside your home country takes risk, but believe in what you have, and embrace the discomfort of change. If you have an event scheme that works in the U.S., it is likely it will work elsewhere, too. That is, provided you’ve done your homework and made the proper event customizations!
Customs, policies, and culture norms vary considerably. Seek out a variety of resources, as well. There are more helpful tools out there than you might think. And lastly, cover your bases. Ensure you know your attendees and the barriers that may prevent you from delivering a great quality event!
Can you go into more detail about what those resources are and how people can find them?
First comes risk management. Check for travel advisories and potential conflicts through the U.S. Department of State website spanning the time frame of your event. Domestically, you want as much time as possible to secure the venue, book attendees, drive sponsorships, etc. Internationally, you may need more time to account for additional risks depending on the event or scope of the contract.
My team and I have built a strong relationship with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Through their introductions and recommendations, we have a considerable risk management plan. When dealing with a new vendor or distributor, especially in a country with a good bit of risk, we’ll take out a policy through the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). They’re part of the official credit agency of the United States. It is very inexpensive to carry a policy with them and mitigates the risk of non-payment from a foreign partner. In other words, if you are planning a banquet overseas, and your equipment vendor does not pay your invoice in the given time frame, you would be covered with a policy through this organization.
Apart from risk management, the other resources that exist are ones to help your flourish. Every industry has a body or organization that focuses on helping domestics companies make foreign connections. In the fitness industry there are quite a few but the three I work with primary are IHRSA, FIBO, and EuropeActive. Aggregately across multiple industries, and join a variety of event planning associations to network.
The best international trade and networking group I have found is NAFSA. If international partnerships and distribution is the direction you want to go, I would highly recommend you look into NAFSA.
Finally, check out grants you may be eligible for. Both private and government groups create incentives for domestic businesses to venture off internationally.
What do you enjoy most about planning international events?
I know when we first looked into international events, the feeling of being completely overwhelmed is all I could focus on. However, if you continue to push past this feeling into the unknown, you’ll discover a side to your business that you never thought possible.
The most rewarding aspect of planning international events is the same as when I plan domestic events. The smiles of attendees and the satisfaction of months of hard work coming to fruition is all the reward I need. When I plan events on the international scale, the satisfaction multiplies. People might say “hello” differently or have different diets, but a well-functioning, successful event brings the same level of happiness to an event planner regardless of where one is in the world.
The perspective I have gained from event planning internationally is priceless. I would recommend any adventurous event planner or business owner to give it a go. Start small, use your resources, and remember that there will be pull-your-hair-out moments—if we didn’t get a thrill out of that, we’d be in a different industry!