Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 09 2013

How One Meeting Attracts Attendees from 130 Countries

By David McMillin



If you’re like many US meeting planners, the process of attracting international attendees sounds promising and problematic at the same time. You’re always looking to grow your registration numbers, but welcoming the world is no easy task. From visas to language barriers to international education credit transfers, increasing your international attendance numbers comes with many challenges.

The Radiological Society of North America has mastered those challenges. At RSNA 2013, held at McCormick Place in Chicago from December 1 - 6, attendees and exhibitors collectively represented 130 countries from around the world. I was there behind the scenes at PCMA’s Innovation Exchange, an intimate gathering of 25 meeting planners sponsored by Choose Chicago. The RSNA team opened the experience to help their peers understand the ins and outs of planning and executing one of the biggest medical meetings in the US.

SEE ALSO: How RSNA Communicates With International Visitors

Walking in a New Pair of Shoes

International attendees are one of the key pieces of what makes the meeting so massive. In 2012, more than 9,000 radiological professionals from outside the US came to Chicago for the meeting. Janet Cooper, CMP, Director, Convention Operations, RSNA, says one of the most important pieces of their satisfaction is simple: getting around needs to be easy.

“Many associations work to figure what works and what doesn’t with an international audience,” Cooper says. “Our approach is simple. We have staff members who travel internationally on a regular basis, and we have them look at how meetings are designed in other countries.”

That knowledge helps shape how RSNA and the organization’s creative production partner, Freeman, map the experience -- literally. Dustin Sparks, Vice President, Experience Design, Freeman, says RSNA recently revised its navigational icons to use symbols more commonly embraced throughout the global convention community.

“We printed out each icon and laid them side by side,” Sparks says. “While some didn’t make sense to us initially, we looked at what shows were doing internationally to offer symbols that appealed on a more universal level.”

From coat checks to up/down symbols for escalators to food and beverage locations, the signage at RSNA is designed to resonate with everyone.

SEE ALSO: 9 Steps to Making International Attendees Feel at Home

Of course, logos can only accomplish so much, and as any meeting planner knows, attendees will always have questions. To ensure that help centers are actually helpful, Cooper says RSNA staffs informational desks with international interpreters.

“The language barrier can create issues with verbal directions,” Cooper says. “You can’t just say ‘take a left, then a right and you’ll be there.’ Each information desk has a large map to help attendees visually understand how to navigate their way through the show.”

SEE ALSO: PCMA’s Global Professionals Online Education Package

Saying Hello in Seven Languages

I should be clear. RSNA isn’t just an annual meeting. It dwarfs any other trade show or meeting I’ve ever covered. There were 52,000+ participants when I arrived on Tuesday. That’s bigger than my hometown.

With that many people, it’s easy to see how a first-time attendee from outside the US would feel overwhelmed. To help make the newest members of the RSNA community feel at home, RSNA hosts “Navigating RSNA 2013 Schedule” sessions on the first two mornings of the meeting in seven different languages: English, French, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Japanese and Spanish.

More importantly, RSNA helps all those attendees say “hello” to other colleagues with the ability to set up meetings in advance in the Global Connections area. Cool factor alert: the area also includes a large magnetic map of the world where attendees can place pins to show where they’re from. Next to the physical map, a digital view of the world allows attendees to easily arrange on-site meetings.

SEE ALSO: Understanding the Global Market

An Ongoing Internal Conversation About the International Community

Making the show floor and educational sessions appeal to a global audience does not just happen during the first week of December, though. RSNA affirms its commitment to that process with an International Advisory Committee, which is divided into three regions: Asia/Oceania, Europe and Latin America. The 14-member committee is responsible for helping the Board of Directors understand how trends and issues are impacting radiologists around the world.

The committee’s work played a key role in such an impressive international turnout this year. With a continuing focus on recognizing what matters to radiologists around the world, don’t be surprised to see more than 130 countries represented at RSNA 2014.

“Our strategy continues to shift to determine how we can draw more attendees and more members from the global community,” Cooper says.

As physicians and medical manufacturers continue to adjust to new rules and regulations, organizations across the healthcare spectrum will want to adopt that same strategy.

“International attendance brings needed innovation, education and experience to enhance continuing medical education in the ever-changing healthcare industry,” D. Bradley Kent, Senior Vice President, Sales and Services, Choose Chicago, says.

Want to learn more about how you will need to adapt to the continuing evolution of healthcare? Click here for valuable insights from the 2012 PCMA Medical Meetings Think Tank. 

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