We like to do things a little differently in Africa. While the continent does keep pace with the trends and developments in conferencing across the globe, there are a few nuances that distinguish the African way of doing things from the way it’s done everywhere else.
For one thing, as Africans, and South Africans in particular, we like to get to know people on a more personal level. This makes the networking segment of any conference rewarding for the attendees. We like to shake hands, make face to face contact and find out more about the people we are dealing with.
This is what often baffles many of the uninitiated when it comes to meetings with South Africans: we spend much of the first meeting getting to know who we’re dealing with instead of getting right down to business. We are more inclined to tell someone that we’d like to meet for a coffee or have lunch together than to simply chat on the phone.
Technology plays a big part in the conferencing sector as well. While personal contact is extremely important, so is video conferencing. While this may seem to go against the need to be face to face with the people they are meeting with, we find this technology extremely useful. Flight costs to international locations for conferences from Africa can be prohibitive, which has led to many embracing the ability to conference from where they are. This has in turn led to a demand that venues provide video conferencing facilities.
Because of our gregarious nature, however, African conference goers are keen to attend – and enjoy – events. Especially if there are international speakers or brands at the conference. There isn’t a high exposure in many African countries to international brands, so many of those interested will indeed make the effort.
Food, undoubtedly, plays a prominent role in successful meetings and events. Sharing food with others is part of our culture, with the breaking of bread with others a sign of welcoming others and inviting them into your family.
Let’s also not forget that Africa has magnificent locations for conferences as events. From the dry sands of Namibia to the majesty of the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or the bustling cityscapes of Nigeria and South Africa, we have so much to choose from – and a diverse culture to explore.
Gatherings are a meaningful experience in African culture, and so is being able to be in the presence of the people you are working with. These may all seem like odd eccentricities to others, but to us, it’s a way of life, a warm welcome and an invitation to become part of a rich and valuable community.
By Paddy Brearley, Legacy Hotels and Resorts Managing Director