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How to ensure foreign tourists do not get eaten and the keynote speaker does not go to jail

… and other essentials to organising effective functions

There was the conference organiser who ‘lost’ a German business delegate in a game reserve. He was found fast asleep under a tree the next morning, mercifully uneaten by lions or leopards.

Then there was the personal assistant who got the date wrong on a visa for a keynote speaker which saw the very important guest spend the night in a flea-ridden Athens jail before being deported the next morning.

A well run conference seems so seamless and simple that executives take them for granted and may assign an event that means millions to the company in terms of image and client relationships to a trusty office personal assistant who doesn’t have a clue. Worse, she may not tell anyone she doesn’t have a clue until the wheels fall off.

June heralds the start to conference and events season in South Africa. By August diaries are filling and from September to December conferences and events jam every corporate and public sector calendar.

Because the area is a minefield of challenges Johannesburg training organisation BizTech has a training programme,Masterminding the Perfect Business Function or Event to help novices and experts fine hone their skills.

Liesl Gini, one of BizTech’s trainers has expertise as a management consultant in six nations – it was she who was the hapless keynote speaker incarcerated in an Athens jail when a personal assistant in the multi-national organisation that commissioned her failed with the first step of successful conference and event management: attention to detail.

It is little surprise that Liesl speaks with particular passion on the subject.

She was a key note speaker for an organisation that was “having a strategic management meeting with delegates from a number of companies. My flight arrived at 11pm but immigration authorities would not let me in because the PA had put the wrong dates on my visa. I spent the night in jail in Athens, I couldn’t even lie down there were so many fleas.

“At 8am the next morning I was deported to Zurich. The cost to that company was immense, a full day of everyone’s time was wasted and they had to book everyone in longer and find a means to get me back into the country so I could do my job.”

She says there are five essential rules for an events or functions organiser:

“Build a network of trusted suppliers. Ensure you know beforehand the quality of what you order. In some communities, as an example, a bunch of flowers comes in a cellophane sheath, but in others it comes in a vase – be specific.
“Delegate, but check that the work is done properly.
“When you book a venue ask the nature of other events. One high-powered executive dinner was ruined by a youth magazine’s wild party in the venue next door.
“Use mind maps when you plan. They allow you to add detail – it is better to start with a helicopter view of the big picture, put the event in the middle, then rotate out to venue, people, the who, what, when, why and how.
“Be creative. Do something a bit different, but always be tasteful.
“Keep speeches to 30 to 45 minutes for a key note speaker. Have someone introduce the speaker. Brief the speaker about the type of audience.”

Study the event that you and others consider successful, Gini says and never be afraid to ask for help.

Learn from failure. She gives as the example of the hapless, thankfully uneaten German tourist. “A PA from a multi-national brought in technicians for its annual event from 15 countries. She didn’t arrange for everyone to arrive on the same day and had people arriving over three days. They were not met at the airport but advised to take taxis to a game lodge.

“No one greeted them at the lodge or was planned activities for them other than opening the bar. By the time the conference began everyone was sloshed and sunburnt. One evening a German technician who had over-imbibed wandered off into the bush and fell asleep under a tree where he was found the next morning.”

Gini says, “there should have been someone to meet and greet. Transport should have been arranged. Someone should have been at the venue to find things for them to do.

“Any event is a form of marketing; it displays the corporate image and enhances or detracts from brand building.

“People talk about negative experiences. If a person has a negative experience he or she is likely to tell 10 people. .”

“There is little more rewarding than having a successful function, watching the enjoyment on participant’s faces, receiving the thanks and emails afterward,” Liza van Wyk, CEO of BizTech says. “This is proving one of our most popular courses and as South Africa becomes an African and international destination for conferences and events, it is not hard to see why.”

Biz Tech has courses on Masterminding the Perfect Business Function or Event in Johannesburg from 23 to 24 July or 5 to 6 November this year.


LIZA VAN WYK, CEO AstroTech 011 453 5291 or

Issued by MediaOnLine