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Diversity and Inclusion Hero

Personalizing the Attendee Journey with Diversity and Inclusion

By CeZanne Albright, Creative Director, InVision Communications

The path to a more diverse and inclusive event is the epitome of an intentionally crafted event design that can reap major benefits. It puts audience-centricity at the core of each factor in play – experience and content design, set-up, seating, communications and event staffing, to name a few.

Taking an audience-centric approach to planning can never steer us wrong. One of the biggest trends in events today is personalization. And nothing gets more personal than who someone is born as, when they were born, how they are wired, cultural and life practices or other circumstances that shaped how they experience the world. The big question planners can ask themselves is: How can we leverage our shared event or conference experience and still meet the unique needs of our attendees?

Why Diversity Matters?

Looking through your event plan with a diversity lens can seem daunting. It often feels simpler to shoot from the hip and go with your gut. You’re not alone. Scientists tell us that we all have an instinctive inclination to do what makes us feel good, so we often only listen to or respect the data that aligns with our own viewpoints.

According to cognitive scientist and inclusion expert Dr. Steve Robbins, our brains operate best under two conditions—our brain (1) wants to be around other people and (2) wants those people to care about them. Your conference can be a differentiating experience —showing attendees they’re part of a group of people who values them, which ultimately creates a sense of belonging and a shared purpose. We highly recommend watching Dr. Robbins’ talk at the 2019 Gartner Security Summit for an engaging take on why diversity matters.

According to a 2018 study by Meeting Professionals International, the people most well-served at events are white, extroverted males. This leaves plenty of opportunities to address the diversity of attendees that come from a variety of backgrounds, i.e. gender, ethnic minorities, generational (ranging from Millennials to Gen-Xers to Baby Boomers), disabled, non-dominant religions, introverts, and other neuroprocessing differences.

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Finding Solutions

Inclusion and diversity practitioners often use the phrase, “Diversity is about being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.” We’ve seen practitioners take it a step further to an even more inclusive perspective:

“Diversity is about being invited to the party, inclusion is serving on the planning committee, and equality is choosing the playlist.”

Planning your event is much like creating a playlist. Here are a few ideas to drive toward an even more inclusive version of your upcoming event or conference.

  • Diversify the planning team. Research shows that being able to address the complexity of your diverse audiences and bringing together a diverse planning team reaps tremendous benefits. The goal is to work toward an environment that feels less like it’s created by a chosen few, toward a level playing field of voices and participants who each have a role in calling the plays.
  • Choose a diverse set of speakers.The day of the “manel” is over! More and more, event organizers are putting in the work to find more female, people of color, LGBTQ, and disabled speakers to round out their conference agendas. This may mean that you’ll need to find new speaker resources and look for hidden gems, and not necessarily the traditionally recognized experts.
  • Develop and deliver content that enables an inclusive and personalized attendee journey. Think outside of the box as you look at “a day in the life” of an attendee at your event. Whenever possible, maximize time for self-guided learning and small group work that’s not a typical breakout experience. Survey attendees in advance to understand how they like to learn and get their perspective on main stage content.
  • Accommodate for diverse attendees.The Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing put together a thorough conference planning guide on how to create more accessible environments for disabled attendees. Rooms for nursing mothers and prayer rooms have also become increasingly welcome options for attendees.

When attendees can see themselves in the big picture, it creates a deeper connection to the brand and a more memorable experience. All in all, recognizing the nuances of your diverse audience might mean a shift in your planning practices. However, taking steps to recognize those unique characteristics versus painting attendees with a homogenous brush is key. Adjust the content accordingly, reconsider the space/venue needs, think about how attendees want to use their time and provide a welcoming environment that removes barriers and creates intentional connection to the shared experience.