How to make events truly inclusive

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In the ever-evolving landscape of business meetings and events, one word stands out: inclusivity. Recognising and respecting the diversity of an audience, whether in terms of background, ability, gender, age, or any other characteristic is crucial in today’s events world. Creating an environment where every delegate feels welcomed, valued, and able to fully participate should be every event organiser’s priority, according to Danielle Bounds, Sales Director at ICC Wales.

Here are some of Danielle’s top tips on how to incorporate inclusivity into events and the benefits this can bring, from fostering innovation and broadening audiences, to enhancing the delegate experience in order to create impactful and memorable events.

1. Venue selection

Inclusivity is not an optional add-on; it is a fundamental element that demonstrates the delegate is front of mind, and applies throughout the planning process and from the moment they leave their home, to the days and weeks after the event. This all starts with the choice of venue. Ensuring that there are accessible travel and parking options as well as working ramps, lifts, and reserved seating, will help delegates feel comfortable navigating the venue, enabling them to truly focus on the event’s content and connections. ICC Wales’ ‘Changing Places, Changing Lives’ initiative ensures that people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well people with other physical disabilities have the space and amenities they need. Events can also embrace neurodiversity and create parent and child areas; at ICC Wales we are fortunate to have woodland right outside the venue to add sensory and wellbeing experiences.

2. Using technology

Not everyone is comfortable sitting in an auditorium or meeting room for a long session so technology can be used to reach a wider audience. SQL Bits, the largest Data Platform conference in Europe who held their event at ICC Wales in March this year, recognised that not everyone wanted to sit in a busy session room throughout the day. So, they explored alternative methods and streamed sessions onto big screens in the exhibition hall, where delegates could listen with headphones and enjoy the sessions at their own pace, in their own space. Interactive virtual components such as live chat or Q&A sessions, which enhance a culture of knowledge sharing and networking opportunities, help foster inclusivity in the world of events.

3. Inclusive communication

Effective communication is the backbone of any event: when attendees can easily understand and engage with event information, they are more likely to have a positive experience. Considering the audience and their needs when it comes to marketing materials, signage, and announcements is key, and SQL Bits executed this well during this year’s data conference by including clear, concise signage and keeping their breakout sessions close to the main exhibition hall. They also incorporated British Sign Language (BSL) sessions as part of their event to encourage networking in a fun and accessible way.

4. Diverse speaker line up

A diverse line up of speakers is not just a checkbox; it’s a cornerstone of inclusivity. Seeking out speakers from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives not only enriches the content but also makes attendees feel represented and heard. It demonstrates an event organisers’ commitment to embracing different voices within the industry. The SQL Bits Data Platform Conference featured a large and diverse range of speakers, including women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. By promoting a broad range of voices, the team showcased the importance of inclusivity and offered attendees the opportunity to connect with a broad spectrum of industry experts.

5. Concentrate on community

I have often shared my thoughts on how the terminology surrounding events can be adapted to be more inclusive, such as referring to it as a ‘community’ rather than an ‘audience.’ Event organisers can begin thinking of attendees as a wider community who have come together for a shared experience, each with individual needs, as opposed to delegates who are just gathering for an event. This sense of community was seen at SQLBits through their Bits Buddies programme, where volunteers were available to buddy up with delegates who might be flying solo and needed a little extra support.

6. Sensory inclusivity

Addressing sensory needs can be often overlooked, but it is a key ingredient of inclusive events. Creating designated quiet spaces and equipping them with sensory tools such as noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys allows attendees who need a break from the hustle and bustle of a busy event to feel relaxed and valued. During the SQL Bits conference, sensory-friendly spaces were provided and equipped with sensory tools and comfortable seating, allowing everyone to participate fully and comfortably in the event.

7. Inclusive catering

When it comes to conference catering, standards are continuously being raised to cater to a variety of dietary options, preferences, and allergies. While offering vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, halal, and kosher choices are a must, inclusivity in the dining hall means more than just ingredients. Opting for bowl food service can be a sure way to avoid lengthy queues and the inevitable frustrations and stress caused by standing in them, allowing delegates to further relax, network, and really enjoy their break.

8. Feedback and continuous improvement

Inclusivity is an ongoing journey, not a destination, and when it’s woven into the fabric of an event, its impact can be far greater than the event itself. Creating a safe space for open discussions about inclusivity, such as post-event online forums, and actively seeking feedback from attendees can benefit event organisers in two ways. Opportunities for open and honest feedback helps identify areas for improvement, as well as fostering a sense of trust and loyalty among the community when they see their feedback has led to positive change. As part of this process, the SQL Bits event encouraged all attendees to write their own blogs that were shared publicly.

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