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One Size Does Not Fit All: Planning an International Conference in India


Another ITechLaw conference has been successfully executed in India! If you’ve ever worked with India, you may know that typical timelines are considered to be flexible, and the vast majority of all planning efforts are completed in a nonstop flurry of activity in the month preceding the event. That was certainly true this month as the weeks were filled with very long days and an overstuffed inbox. Thanks to the difference in time zones, I woke up most mornings to nearly 100 emails with updates on speakers, room sets, committee schedules, marketing efforts, and website improvements. Contacts were from a local committee, conference speakers, and our local team, MCI India.

While any conference could be considered a herculean effort in terms of planning, planning a conference in a foreign country across a 10.5 hour time difference is a new kind of challenge. Here are some highlights and an anecdote from the past few weeks and what the ITechLaw team did:

  • Planned a conference via WhatsApp. Our local planning committee had an active WhatsApp group, and I received news of our keynote speaker, our Platinum sponsor, and program adjustments this way. While I appreciated the group camaraderie and planning efforts, I had to get used to waking up to dozens of notifications and urgent changes that I needed to address as soon as I would get to the office.
  • Learned the basics of India’s new tax structure, the 18% Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is charged on payments being made locally within India. GST requires a local partner (MCI India, for us) to fill out extensive paperwork to register as a vendor for the company and then issue a second invoice for the registration or sponsorship fees. This is a new tax beginning in 2018, so all of these processes were new for everyone.
  • Negotiated in a culturally acceptable way. For all other conferences I’ve planned, most prices are fixed and deadlines are set in the original contracting process. In India, all prices are negotiable and the responsibility was on me to identify prices that seemed too high and insist on lower prices.
  • Executed a substantial social marketing campaign to include daily emails, Facebook promoted posts, multiple Tweets per day (in local India time), and images for the committee to share with colleagues via WhatsApp. We also shared content via Facebook Live from India for three sessions during the conference.
  • Computed so much math! Whether dividing all prices in rupees by 65 to understand the USD equivalent or adding 10.5 hours to the current time to know what time it is India, we were always calculating something.
  • Experienced the Super Blue Blood Moon Eclipse during our Opening Reception at the rooftop bar of our hotel. How cool is that? I have a picture, but it doesn’t do it justice.

Working with India has been an opportunity for the ITechLaw team to hone intercultural skills, expand organizational presence in a market that is hungry for a professional association, and be creative in our conference programming efforts. Of the all annual conferences which ITechLaw hosts (in Europe, United States, and India), I’ve found the experience of the India conference to be the warmest and most passionate. Being onsite with people new to ITechLaw who are yearning for knowledge and connection defines the conference as one ripe for professional growth and optimism.

While all of ITechLaw’s conferences offer exceptional educational activities, there is a warmth that feels unique to the Indian culture. It’s a bit more relaxed, unhurried, and personal. The India disposition can make planning efforts complicated, but it also creates a different community for participants onsite. Working with India means you have to be flexible and do things differently. You can’t rely on the same processes and timelines that work for conferences in other countries. For a conference in the United States, I wouldn’t dream of bringing a paper form to sign up new members onsite, but it worked in India. With the conference now complete, we’ll be working on a year-round engagement strategy for our population in India and determining how to best serve the needs of this unique market.

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