We asked our LinkedIn community, “how can we make events more inclusive”? Thanks to everyone who took the time to share their ideas. We all play a role in making inclusion the norm. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a good start. Have a suggestion to add? Send us a note.
Here are a few golden nuggets from Dominic Price, Work Futurist at Atlassian.
Dominic Price has become quite the celebrity in the speaker circuit – but for a good reason. He is unapologetic, a badass ally for diversity and shares amazing insights.
Captain obvious: Make sure your speakers are diverse at ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ conferences – you’d be surprised how many people get this wrong
If all you are organising a conference and speakers are all Anglo-Celtic, don’t try to mask all the speakers with orange or blue filters to hide your problems. No one wants to look like Avatar or that they’ve overdone their spray tan.
Elyse Maberley, Founding Director at Meeum says:
- Actively recruit experts & contributors from under-represented ethnicities
- Recruit for a diversity of physical abilities and make the venue accessible
- Avoid selecting the same people who always speak within a particular industry – encourage a diversity of stories and experiences
- Design for quiet spaces and non-jarring environments for anyone at risk of sensory overwhelm.
On quiet spaces, one LinkedIn member says “Quiet spaces – seriously…great idea! I’d also like events to maybe incorporate a siesta. One of our events went from 8 am until 7 or 8 pm. By 6:30, I couldn’t even maintain composure and had to leave for my hotel room and some solitude. That’s too much for even some extroverts to handle. After lunch, events should not resume until 3 pm so people can nap, recharge, check email, socialise, collaborate, digest what they’ve learned so far, etc. It’s in poor taste to design a jam-packed event schedule just to reduce costs and at the expense of the overall experience. (Sorry, the exhaustion from that day/week still haunts me!)”
Dr Anneline Padayachee adds, “Have different ages! It either swings to the boomers or the passionate IGen. But the boomers have wisdom from life – iGen has unjaded passion. And those in between have other lenses to life”.
Sally Porteous, Owner & Director at The Event Managers Network says, “Really look at your audience, remember you can’t be all things to all people but you can do your best. Things like prayer rooms, quiet rooms, non-alcoholic events, cultural diversity on not only the panel but across the whole event planning process from suppliers, employees, volunteers, etc. Diversity in ability means more than just making sure there are ambulant toilets. Consider aligning yourself with the local disability support providers. They will be able to help you ensure the best outcome. You can’t possibly know everything a blind person needs if you’re not blind. By doing what you can to be accessible and inclusive, you also tap into an entirely new market everyone else is ignoring”.
We need to invite our allies if we want any change
If we want to change this world, we need to invite our allies to the party. What we’ve seen a lot of recently is ‘women in leadership’ type of events with speaker roles exclusive to women only. If you want a meaningful discussion and panel, we need gender diversity too.
Amy Stewart, Keynote speaker, Emotional Intelligence & Organisational Development specialist says, “I just jumped off the phone with a fabulous client who has invited me to chair and facilitate a Women in Finance breakfast. One question I had… are men also encouraged to attend? Do you expect them to attend? I love where conversations like this can land!”
Nat Ferrier, leadership & public speaking coach says, “Coming from a female-dominated industry prior, I’ve also found if your event is in a female-dominated industry like wellness, and it’s a non gender-specific event that you’re running, you need to be mindful also of making a specific effort to reach out to more men to invite them to speak if your panel is female-heavy too. Also, use LGBTQIA friendly language in your marketing and introductions, presentations which may mean simple acknowledgements here and there that, for example, when you say “women” or “men” you mean anyone who identifies as female or male. Or checking how an LGBTIQA speaker would like to be addressed (e.g. he, she, they etc)”.
Flexibility is key– provide childcare and virtual attendance
Sarah Yip, CEO of KEASE International says: “Provide childcare – I remember being a new mum and missing out on attending conferences because there was no childcare. The option to pop baby somewhere for an hour to hear a keynote would be great. Might not want to be there for the whole day. Also, provide virtual attendance options for those who can’t attend physically.”
Kylie Sinclair, co-founder of Change Republic says, “consider filming the event with a fee for people who can’t physically attend eg parents and caregivers and people from regions. Mix up the times of the networking events day lunch evening so the people caring for children can participate eg review your agenda from 9:30 till 2:30 for parents with pick up responsibility”.
To take virtual events up a notch, HR Professional Corey Hollemeyer says, “People could choose whether to allow themselves to be viewed on screens in places they are viewing. There could be lots of cameras, so individuals could see what’s going on in areas of interest. Finally, people could be allowed to type questions they would like answered, or there could be an opportunity for them to ask verbally. Physically attending a conference can be difficult for many different types of people”.
Send in the connectors – takes the awkwardness out of networking
Fergus Higgins from NSW Business Chamber says, “I have attended quite a few of the Sydney Hills Business Chambers Networking Events over the years, and what makes their events so popular has been the chambers designated ‘connectors’ that more or less run the show. Easy to spot in their bright orange vests, and very approachable. They hold lists of all the industries and people in attendance – and facilitate introductions for whoever you desire to meet. Really helps with networking!”
Keep tech simple, clear and easy to use
Something that looks ‘sexy’ isn’t always simple. Event technologies and scanners available are meant to make our lives easier and create a positive event experience, however, without clear instructions on its purpose, use and value, it can be alienating and leave people scratching their heads, especially neurologically diverse people.
Will Wheeler, Director & Founder of The Dyslexic Evolution says, “I find when at events when I’m asked to connect to certain apps to be able to vote or ask questions, I usually miss the instructions on how to connect. It would be great if there was picture instructions on how to connect in the program. That way I can work out what to do and connect instead of getting lost and giving up 👎 Also the wifi password as well – normally it will be shown briefly and then it’s gone before I can connect”.
Carla Wall, Business Transformation Strategist recommends “an app such as Slido can really help with Q&A, especially for those who may feel uncomfortable raising their hand to speak. Give people a platform to use, making Q&A inclusive for all and allowing anonymity. But give the instructions in advance on how to use”.
Add live subtitling (properly called STT, Speech To Text)
Sarah Yip adds another sage advice: “Would be great to see subtitled slides using what has been said by the presenter and displayed in real-time”.
Live subtitling helps many people (available through Ai-media), not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Live captions benefit:
- viewers whose first language isn’t English (or whatever’s being spoken at your event): it’s much easier to follow a foreign tongue when you can read as well as hear
- people who are watching in an environment – eg on public transport, or when getting a baby to sleep, or in bed, or in a huge number of other situations – where it’s more convenient to watch without the sound on.
Re-look and re-think your event sourcing strategy
Justine Cooper, Head of Brook Graham, Asia Pacific says, “We hosted a series of events in October, and sought to weave sustainable inclusion into all aspects – for example in Australia we partnered with indigenous-owned businesses to cater for our events, which support local communities; in Singapore, we partnered with charities whose mission it is to empower women from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve financial independence.” Supply Nation provides Australia’s leading database of verified Indigenous businesses.
While we are on the topic of our First Peoples, it’s also important to have an Indigenous Elder attending who can do a Welcome to Country. If you cannot arrange an Elder, you can begin the event with an Acknowledgement of Country statement. We wrote an article on the significance of a Welcome to Country which you can read here.
The Australian Network on Disability provides a neat checklist of considerations that should be made to accommodate people with disability. It is by no means exhaustive but is a good place to start when planning your event. Always remember to ask each attendee about their unique requirements (never assume). The checklist provides things to consider from venues, invitations, audiovisuals, presentation slides to catering.
We all want better events, so a big thank-you to our LinkedIn community for answering this important question. Do you have a suggestion to add? We’d love to know how events can be more inclusive. Let us know by commenting below or leave us a note.
Do you have an event organiser friend or contact who would love this article? Please feel free to share so we can make events a great experience for everyone.