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January 27, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Planning Your Event in Africa – An A-Z Guide (Part 2)

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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. Take a look at Part One of the series, and learn new terms below. 

N – Negotiation

We use negotiation all the time, but this is never more important than in the African events industry. Most of sub-Saharan Africa – and North Africa, too – are very familiar with the concept; haggling prices are a regular, day-to-day occurrence in most local market places outside South Africa. Event planners are expected to negotiate with venues, suppliers and the likes in order to pull off an extraordinary event, often with an ordinary budget. Practically Perfect PA gives planners an idea of what to do if this isn’t your strongest suite:

  1. Make a list of all your priorities, including must-haves to added extras.

  2. Don’t let the supplier rush you into making any decision – this can be detrimental to your event, especially if you’re not sure of the items, or not 100% happy with the offer.

  3. If your event is taking place in a hotel venue, remember that they can profit from the rooms you book for delegates – use this as leverage when considering conference rooms or catering.

  4. Catering and Audio Visuals can come with a few hidden extra costs. Make sure you negotiate for exactly what you need.

  5. Venues often have additional facilities available at additional costs and because some of these may be underused, you might be able to get them discounted for your delegates.

  6. It’s always worth mentioning that you’re looking at other suppliers – and you should! Healthy and fair competition make for competitive rates…although sticking with a regular supplier is just as good, especially if you’re considered a valued customer.

O – Omnipresence

It goes without saying that any event planner needs to be everywhere, all the time. This can become difficult for the best of planners, which is why organisational skills are so important in this line of work. “One of the main challenges everyone who organises events has is taking control and demonstrating that there is a process behind organising events,” says William Thomson of Gallus Events. He suggests a simple structure to adhere to help avoid typical planning traps:

  1. Set measurable objectives

  2. Draft budget or costs

  3. Research the market

  4. Secure key factors first

  5. Initially market an event or do detailed research to tailor the offering

  6. Secure the remaining parts of the event

  7. Get involved in the details

  8. Run the event

  9. Tie up the event

P – Programme

The phrase ‘running on African time’ is known all too well, but that’s no excuse for having extensive delays. Not only does this lower the quality of an event in the eyes of the attendees, but it is also a signifier of bad management. Sticking to the programme gives delegates a sense of where they are, while scheduling apps are a huge help for both attendees and event organisers in staying on top of things. “You should also be organized so you don’t waste time looking for things and reinventing forms and files,” says James Minella, an Event Operations Director.

Q – Quality over Quantity

We all know that a quality event goes a long way – both for the brand and for the country or city in which it is held, particularly with large-scale conferences and trade shows. As Functions for Africa says, “A great event planning company will have secured many big names through the years, and will often keep these clients as regulars for many years through their expertise, knowledge and ability to produce top quality service and events every time.” Lauren H Vogel, of Demand Generation, reiterates this with a simple piece of advice: “Visit the venue the day before your event. Envision how you want attendees to experience the event. What signs need to be in place to avoid confusion? Where should you station staff? Basically, you want to understand what your guests will see from the time they walk into the venue to the registration table to the actual event. Feel matters. And the only way to anticipate how your event will feel is to walk a mile in your guests’ shoes.”

R – Registration

The internet age has changed ticketing technology significantly in recent years, but there are still only two ways in which to do conference registration: manually and digitally. Most event planning gurus suggest having both options, and this is particularly pertinent on the African continent as there are still many regions where internet connectivity is sub-par. To avoid the rather unlikely possibility that your potential delegates cannot book online, ensure that a manual registration option is available, both on event days, and online or via fax or post.

S – Speakers

Choosing the right speakers for an event on the continent largely depends on how well you know your audience. Most large conferences have a mixture of international and regional speakers from various African countries, although this is also determined by your budget and conference subject. According to Paul McConnon from Unique Speaker Bureau, a company that books conference speakers, the introduction and use of a “detailed brief of the conference objectives, cultural fit of the speaker” and other issues are raised so that all expectations are met. “Many speakers have positioned themselves for direct bookings, however, for an objective point of view and for proper speaker management a good bureau is still the way to go,” Mc Connon explains, “Experienced event planners have found value in building a trusted relationship with a good bureau that in essence has created a niche service for the event and conferencing industry.”

T – Technology

“We are increasingly seeing the use of technology to communicate with visitors,” Gary Corin, of Specialised Exhibitions Montgomery told The Event last year. “This is from both an exhibitor and organiser perspective. Research feedback from our exhibitors shows that more electronic invites were sent out than ever before.” Suffices to say that we all need to keep in touch with the times, whether an old hand or new. Not only is Africa a mobile-centric continent, but it also has millions of people on social media. But using the latest tech doesn’t only mean keeping delegates updated online – it should also permeate your entire event. Audio visuals play a huge part in creating a dazzling conference or expo, while video conferencing or ‘hybrid’ events, scheduling apps, and a host of other interactive options are also available for those who want to push the boundaries of eventing.

U – Unambiguous

Because the continent of Africa has thousands of ethnic groups, some with their own languages and cultures, being unambiguous and clear about everything is terribly important in a conference setting. There is much that can be lost in translation between cultures, and when one caters to so many nationalities all under one roof, a simple and easy response or solution goes a long way to ensuring all runs smoothly. All directions and signage must be translated into all main languages at any event.

V – Victuals

Better known as catering, victuals play a huge part in ensuring an event is a success. Food can often make or break the memorable quality of a function more than some of the other elements – especially if your event is a banquet! According to Event Focus, it is of “utmost importance that you hire a professional caterer for your function”. Choosing the style you want your food served in and catering to allergies or food preferences is also important, so communication is key in ensuring everyone is satisfied.

W – WiFi

It may seem trivial, but free or discounted WiFi has fast-become one of the pillars of a successful conference or expo. Not only are delegates – often from abroad – able to communicate with each other at minimal cost, but media are able to stay in touch with the outside world, and events benefit significantly from social media hype by all attendees. According to Corbin Ball Associates, planners are pressing venues for free event WiFi and are making this a key criterion for venue selection. Ian Bull, Head of Sales Business Development for the Wireless Technology Group for Cisco, says there is “significant growth potential for Wi-Fi using micro cells and Wi-Fi Hotspot 2.0 technology. Even very large venues with thousands of simultaneous users can be managed in a way that good quality wireless internet signal can be provided.”

X – Xenial

This pretty little word essentially means ‘of or concerning hospitality towards guests’. And there’s no continent that’s better at hospitality than Africa. Generally a very warm and relational place, quality hospitality is a given – but there’s always room to go the extra mile. “Customer satisfaction is more than just a smile when you greet a customer,” says Flavio Martins of Business 2 Community. “Knowing the customer base is at the heart of it. A customer booking a stay at a beachside resort has different expectations than a customer staying in a convention hotel. When you learn to master the needs of the customer and to deliver consistently and effectively on those needs you begin to create overwhelming customer loyalty.”

Y – Youth

Tapping into Africa’s youth is becoming a fundamental part of business events these days. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that over 65% of the continent’s entire population is below the age of 35 – making the so-called ‘millenials’ a valuable commodity in the 21st century. Tapping into this market is difficult but doable, and realising that the youth will essentially be us in the future is the first step towards including them. “Young travellers today are the family and corporate travellers of tomorrow so it’s really important for us to work in this space,” says Tim Lowther, Manager Leisure Market & Special Segments in Emirates Global Sales. The World Youth and Student Travel Conference reiterate his words saying last November, “The youth sector provides a significant contribution to total tourism receipts and will play an important role in the future…”

Z – Zeal

Zeal or passion for the job is one of the main things that any event planner needs – whether working in Africa or internationally. As Chris Catoggio, an independent events service professional says, “A successful event manager needs to be enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. Enthusiasm and passion brings about creativity and generates excitement.”

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