So as a fresh faced, young naïve event manager I never gave second thought to different cultures when organising international events. As with many lessons in the events industry I learnt the hard way.

Having spent many weeks planning a large IT conference in Tokyo, from my comfortable office in the UK, I had a very clear picture in my mind as to how things would work. Upon arrival in Tokyo for the conference I briefed the local staff on how I wanted things to work. With a large number of attendees I wanted the registration process to be quick and efficient and in my mind it was very clear how it should work. On the first day I was horrified to find that not only were the event staff not following my briefing but that everyone registering was being given their badge with two hands and a slight bow meaning things took so much longer than I had envisaged.

Luckily for me, before I could insult the local culture, someone explained that this is a very strict culture in Japan that business cards are always handed over with two hands and a bow. In some of the Asian cultures they see it as impolite to say “No” so regardless of what you ask the answer will always be “Yes”.

When you first work in this culture it seems like an easy life and nothing is too much trouble until you realise the cultural difference. I often wondered why tasks I had assigned hadn’t been done and fortunately again someone was kind enough to explain it to me. The solution was to have a full conversation with the staff and explain what you wanted in a clear, precise manner and always ask open ended questions to avoid the standard “Yes” answer.

There are of course always times when there can be a clash of cultures that needs addressing. If you have local brand ambassadors directing your delegates around the event whilst smoking a cigarette then this would definitely class as a clash of cultures and a good example of when your host country has to adapt to the cultures of its visitors. These were very important and valuable lessons for me in my early events career and it’s an important lesson we all need to take on board.

To research and understand these subtle cultural differences before turning up on-site makes such a difference, if you show respect to your hosts they most definitely show even more respect back. As a result nowadays I always like to learn how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in the language of my host country – a simple, easy thing that makes a huge difference to the relationship you need to build during the time at your chosen venue.

Some countries have a very different culture to that of the UK and this should be embraced and respected as much as is practically possible. Care should also be taken when you have a variety of cultures often present at international events! So if you need assistance ensuring you don’t insult your clients or guests, let Corporate Innovations help you ….