My top tips on running an event in Africa

Expert Opinion

Africa’s reputation as an attractive international Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) destination has grown significantly during recent years due to the world-class venues, cost-saving benefits and the unique experiences that it has to offer. That’s why I felt so excited when my team was nominated to run a big conference in East Africa, one of the prettiest places I have ever been.

However, although Tanzania is a growing country with more and more very advanced venues and hotels, for me events seemed to be run in a totally different style on the African continent. At the beginning of my first African event experience, I felt flummoxed on several occasions by cultural differences in the way of working, and by the feeling that I was not as in control of all the different cogs which were spinning around me as I am used to being, but by the end of the event, once I had learned the local ways and got into the swing of things – I can honestly say it was one of the most successful events I have ever worked on, both for the organisers and the delegates. I want to share my hard-earned wisdom here so that you and your delegates can enjoy your next event in Africa as much as I did.

Suggestion number 1: No matter what the venue’s F&B manager promises you, make sure he or she has got the necessary capacity to deliver your catering requirements, and don’t be afraid to get involved – if you have some spare time even count the plates and do the maths yourself – but above all don’t panic if things don’t go exactly to plan. During our event in Tanzania, despite our F&B manager’s repeated assurances that all would be alright on the night, any event manager’s worse nightmare came true: we ran out of plates and cups while 800 parched delegates were queuing up for their coffee break. While my colleagues and I got more and more inwardly anxious that some sort of hungry delegate riot would break out, the F&B manager stepped up, assured us he had everything under control and then disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later he re-emerged triumphantly bearing one single china teapot and an accomplished, proud smile. “It’s OK everyone!” he proclaimed joyfully to the 800-strong queue of delegates, holding up his one teapot for them all to see, “I made a pot of coffee!” Funnily enough the sincerity and cheer of this F&B manager won everyone over, and rather than a riot breaking out, his bright idea managed to make all of the delegates, and consequently my colleagues, laugh and relax.

Suggestion number 2: Plan well ahead and always have a Plan B (and maybe even a C and a D). As every event planner knows, there is always something that can go wrong. For example you may sit with incompatible AV equipment, problems with customs may delay your couriers or even government officials could decide to take over your delegates pre-paid hotel rooms at 10pm with no warning – you may laugh, but these things all happened to us during our event in Tanzania. This is why partnering with someone local who knows the ins and outs of doing business on the ground is of a huge importance, as well as having a positive attitude and a complete alphabet of different back-up plans.

Suggestion number 3: Adjust your clock to the African time and get into the idea that schedules run in a much slower rhythm there. Especially if you are expecting the host country’s President or any high official person to open your conference, make sure you are prepared for some delay (in my case was an hour) to your whole day’s programme and don’t panic when you have to rearrange the schedule at the last minute – remember, as long as the delegates are happy you should be too.

Suggestion number 4: Use local mobile phones and do not rely on your blackberries. Although Africa is a leader in the adoption of mobile technology, international networks can find it hard to work with roaming connections. Roaming charges can also lead to a very heavy phone bill at the end of the month, that could cost three times more than hiring or even buying local phones.

Suggestion number 5:
Be mindful of technology. While Africa has seen elephantine development over the last years it can still be tricky when it comes to live event webcasting or instant presentation uploads. As Keith Burton, head of African Agenda says, “Internet speeds here have not caught up with the rest of the world, and many areas are still entirely without sufficient internet connectivity.’’ For this reason I would suggest to always rely on strong IT reinforcements in your base and keep your innovative technological activity on-site to minimum levels.

Last and most important suggestion: Relax and enjoy yourself! Although any event organiser’s ideal event would run like perfect clockwork, if the delegates and the client don’t want it to then you certainly can’t force them! The sooner you realise this the more successful your conference will be. Adjust yourself to the local way of thinking and acting and enjoy the African time, the no rush, the lovely smiles and chats with the locals, the gorgeous weather and the breath-taking scenery.

Overall, my African experience was amazing! It was the first time I have worked with such friendly and smiley staff and despite many elements of what must surely constitute as an events manager’s worst nightmare, once I got the hang of how things worked, I loved it. The client’s and delegates’ feedback were nothing but positive, and I had one of the best times I have ever had working on-site. I would definitely recommend Africa as a destination to international associations who would like to grow their memberships as for me it offers the best climate to engage with audiences at the highest level.
 
– Adam Said, Delegate Management Services – Account Executive at event management agency TFI Group. Any comments? Email sarah@mashmedia.net

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