How to make events truly inclusive

Pooja Sharma
7 Min Read

In the ever-evolving landscape of business meetings and events, one word stands out: inclusivity. Recognizing and respecting the diversity of an audience, whether it be background, skills, gender, age or any other characteristic, is crucial in today’s events world. According to Danielle Bounds, Sales Director at ICC Wales, creating an environment where every attendee feels welcome, valued and can participate fully should be the priority of every event organizer.

Here are some of Danielle’s top tips on how to integrate inclusivity into events and the benefits it can bring, from fostering innovation and broadening audiences to improving the attendee experience to create impactful and memorable events.

1. Location selection

Inclusivity is not an optional add-on; it is a fundamental element that demonstrates that 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 location. By ensuring there are accessible travel and parking options, as well as working ramps, elevators and reserved seating, participants will feel comfortable navigating the venue, allowing them to really focus on the content and connections of the event. ICC Wales’ ‘Changing Places, Changing Lives’ initiative ensures that people with severe and multiple learning disabilities, as well as those with other physical disabilities, have the space and facilities they need. Events can also embrace neurodiversity and create parent and child spaces; At ICC Wales we are fortunate to have a forest just outside the venue which adds sensory and wellbeing experiences.

2. Using technology

Not everyone is comfortable sitting in an auditorium or conference room for a long session, so technology can be used to reach a broader audience. SQL Bits, the largest Data Platform conference in Europe which held its event at ICC Wales in March this year, realized that not everyone wanted to sit in a busy session room all day. So they explored alternative methods and streamed sessions to large screens in the exhibition hall, where delegates could listen with headphones and enjoy the sessions at their own pace and in their own space. Interactive virtual components such as live chat or question and answer sessions, which strengthen a culture of knowledge exchange and networking opportunities, help promote inclusivity in the events world.

3. Inclusive communication

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

4. Diverse speaker setup

A diverse lineup of speakers isn’t just a check box; it is a cornerstone of inclusivity. Looking for speakers with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives not only enriches the content, but also ensures that participants feel represented and heard. It demonstrates the commitment of event organizers to embrace diverse voices within the industry. The SQL Bits Data Platform Conference featured a large and diverse range of speakers, including women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. By promoting a diverse range of voices, the team demonstrated the importance of inclusivity and offered attendees the opportunity to connect with a broad spectrum of industry experts.

5. Focus on community

I’ve often shared my thoughts on how the terminology surrounding events can be adapted to be more inclusive, for example referring to them as a ‘community’ rather than an ‘audience’. Event organizers can begin to view attendees as a broader community gathered for a shared experience, each with individual needs, as opposed to delegates who merely gather for an event. This sense of community was on display at SQLBits through their Bits Buddies program, where volunteers were available to work with delegates who may be flying alone and need some extra support.

6. Sensory inclusivity

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

7. Including catering

When it comes to conference catering, standards are constantly being raised to accommodate a variety of dietary options, preferences and allergies. While offering vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, halal and kosher choices is a must, inclusivity in the dining room means more than just ingredients. Choosing bowl food service can be a good way to avoid long queues and the inevitable frustrations and stress caused by waiting in queues, 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 is 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 online forums after the event, and actively seeking attendee feedback can benefit event organizers in two ways. Opportunities for open and honest feedback help identify areas for improvement and foster a sense of trust and loyalty among the community when they see that 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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