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December 29, 2014

Sub-Saharan Africa: Planning Your Event in Africa – An A-Z Guide (Part 1)

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From venue selection and logistics, to budget, marketing and more, event planning can be a harrowing ordeal if not done correctly. Most companies or associations tend to hire a Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) or at the very least, a company with some experience in event management. But whether or not you’re speaking to the experts, there are a few basic things that everyone needs to know before planning their event on the African continent.

A – Accessibility

This is one of the first things anyone will need to consider when planning an event in Africa. Although there are usually private taxis, airport shuttles and other modes of public transportation between the central business district of any major city in Africa and its respective international airport, it is prudent to always double check a convention’s accessibility. Easy access to accommodation options is also important, especially since most delegates will want to know where they can stay well ahead of the event.

B – Budget

Another important part of the planning process, nothing can be done without an initial budget plan. If you’re unsure of what to allocate where, it always helps consulting an industry expert, or even fellow event organisers to see how they have budgeted – just to get an idea of where you should be headed.

C – Communication

In this fast-paced, digital era, communication is always key. Says Xavier Gallery, an event planner who also works in web development: “The transfer of accurate information is vital in the presentation of the final product. This includes communication between the planner and the facility coordinator, as well as the planner and the attendees. A breakdown in either one of these channels can create unnecessary problems.” He goes on to say that some of the most common shortcomings in this area are failures to provide the likes of driving directions, venue signage or vital contact information. “The most efficient planners assume ignorance with these issues and plan accordingly,” he says.

D – Delegate Numbers

The number of delegates you expect in attendance will have a direct impact on all of the above – from choosing a venue with maximum accessibility to the overall budget and marketing strategies. Any organiser wants as many delegates at their event as possible, and there are a number of ways to boost this such as choosing a location that appeals to your demographic, getting the support of a national or local bureau or looking to related industries. Chelsea May, Marketing and Communication Manager at MCI Australia says that sometimes it’s as simple as asking. “Tap into different markets within the industry and spread the word about the event by simply asking other relevant associations and organisations to promote the event through their communication channels,” she says.

E – Eye for Design

Although this is seldom considered important, it’s imperative that an event planner has an idea of what a visually-pleasing event would look like and how to execute it. “[You] should know how to set up a creative, classy and attractive scene which will please clients and their guests,” Lisa Mooney of Demand Media says.

F - Flexibility

One of the top qualities any event planner should have is flexibility. “Be creative and flexible,” says James Minella, an Event Operations Director. “I think these two go together because in the event business things are always changing, which requires you be flexible to develop a solution – and solution comes about as a result of your creativity.” Susan Patrick, a seasoned Meeting & Event Planner agrees, “There are always going to be ‘fires to put out’, things that change, and people who don’t do what they say they are going to do.”

G – Galas and Functions

With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to plan an official opening ceremony, a gala or an award ceremony that runs in conjunction with your event. “When we think about awards ceremonies, the Academy Awards come to mind,” the Community Tool Box writes in an article on holding award ceremonies. “Not all awards ceremonies have thousands of guests gathered in a gala atmosphere, but all award ceremonies surely have their stars and memorable moments. Usually, there's more to an awards presentation or activity than meets the eye.” Elements to consider when planning this section of an event include money, location – especially if the event is not taking place at the conference venue – and the types of awards to fit the occasion. Number of guests, food, waiters and support staff, tables and chair arrangements, key speakers and the order of presentation should also be considered.

H – Hiring Staff

Accordig to Siyabona Africa, it’s important to appoint an “A Team” to begin preparation on your event as early as possible, and no less than six months in advance. “Create a conference plan and appoint a team of conference organisers. Allocate each person specific portfolios with deadlines,” they write. Speakers and entertainers or MCs also need to be squeaky clean and politically correct, therefore it’s suggested that you as for CVs and contact references – even personally interviewing and auditioning when possible. Some of the key staff needed for a business conference or expo include the following:

  • Event Manager

  • Planning Team

  • Presentation Team

  • Publication / Website Production Team

  • PR Team

  • Onsite Management Team

  • Finance / Sponsorship Committee

  • Registration Management Team

  • Exhibit / Tradeshow Liaison

  • Technical Support Staff for AV, support, trouble shooting, etc.

I – Interpretation

Africa is a continent with incredibly high linguistic diversity and despite the fact that most people speak English, French or Portuguese, there are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 African languages. And, although French and Portuguese interpretations are common at conferences, the continent has been branching out and looking for other mother tongue options like Zulu, Xhosa and Swahili. As such, it is imperative that any conference researches the major languages spoken in its host country and plans accordingly to accommodate these delegates.

According to Philip Zeitman, managing Director at Folio, a translation and interpretation company that has been working in the industry since 1989, these arrangements should be made well in advance. He says that event planners need to understand the difference between translators and interpreters – often mistook for being the same thing. Translators generally work in the written form of the language, poring over dictionaries and thesauruses to find the best descriptive word, while interpreters tend to summarize the meaning verbally so that people can understand what speakers are saying from a general viewpoint. Interpreters also tend to work in pairs, a fact that is often overlooked by conference organisers.

“Translators and interpreters are all tertiary educated and it’s important to have mother tongue speakers,” Zeitman explains. “You [as a South African] can’t go up to Kenya and learn Swahili and speak it professionally. Above the mother tongue language, you must be tertiary educated in the other language. Your mother tongue will always be your best language, the one in which you can make jokes, use idioms, and even write like a child – like a doctor who specialises in ear, nose and throat. So you will have a speciality language, and even within that you would specialise in certain fields, for example, a legal, medical or commercial translator.”

When it comes to interpreting, however, different rules come into play. “With interpretation we have no control over what the conference will be,” Zeitman says. One also needs to have a strong, vibrant personality to be a successful interpreter, especially since the time you have to figure out correct words is limited. “The interpreter in our experience makes a rather bad translator. They tend to sum up and get to the point – which is exactly what a translator should not do. He doesn't look at the deeper meaning of that word because there's no time to do it. So they are two different species.” Folio currently has a core set of project managers and thousands of freelancers across the world, meaning they can offer one of the most comprehensive translation and interpretation services to any business event.


J – Juggling Act

“An event planner is often more like a juggler than anything else,” says Sandra Green, a Toronto-based event planning provider. “It’s common for multiple projects to be on the agenda on any given day at any given time.” Focusing on one element of an event is a big no-no, otherwise the event will never be completely planned.

K – Kinetic

Any event, whether an African event or international one, will require the organiser to have a well of mental and physical energy to draw from in order to deal with all sorts of things – from basic problem solving to running about the exhibition floor. Passion for the job is one way of ensuring you stay sprightly and engaged, while looking after your physical health always helps, too.

L – Leisure

When the conference is over and the meetings have all been attended, delegates often like to kick back and enjoy the myriad of sights and sounds around them. Enter leisure activities. Planning an afro-centric leisure experience might come in the form of a post- or pre-event trip to a renowned national park to see South Africa’s Big 5, or it might be a glitzy evening out in the city, complete with gourmet restaurants and historical, art, or cultural tours. Leisure activities will naturally vary according to the event’s location, but ensuring your guests have an unforgettable experience is all down to great planning.

M – Motivated and Motivational

Event organisers often work with a host of different people, from service professionals to clients. A good planner will be able to keep themselves motivated, as well as those working with them. “For an individual to be able to work effectively within a group, the group should be composed of individuals with proper attitude towards work. A positive working environment is one factor of having a productive team of event organizers,” says Arwin Adriano of the Event Checklist.  

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