With our industry focused more and more on virtual and hybrid events, it is important to recognize our responsibility for making these experiences accessible for all. The future of events has arrived early and we need to find ways we can help all participants to feel comfortable and provide welcoming virtual environments where they can thrive.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices have evolved with our industry over the past year. In many ways, the shift to more virtual experiences has made it easier to create an inclusive and engaging environment. But because so much has changed, it has become clear we all have a lot still to learn.
To help move us to greater accessibility in all of our efforts, we recently assembled an expert panel for a webinar discussion about more accessible virtual events. In this blog, we will take a look at some of the key takeaways from that session.
Align diversity, equity and inclusion with event goals.
Commitment to DEI doesn’t just happen by accident at an organization or in an event planning session. It is important to understand the context of what diversity, equity, and inclusion ultimately means to your organization’s culture before you start to plan a virtual experience.
From there, leaders can chart a course — creating alignment between business goals and commitment to DEI. Building that into an organization’s foundation, not just within the scope of event creation, is ultimately a precursor to ensuring that we can create inclusive experiences.
This makes bias in all its forms easier to recognize, identify, and address. Each of us brings a different perspective and level of awareness to the DEI conversation. Creating a safe environment where concepts and ideas can be freely exchanged helps planners build an event that works for everyone.
Start creating an inclusive virtual event with empathy.
One of the beauties of our industry is that hospitality is at its core. We all desire to build welcoming spaces for participants. To get there, the first thing you have to create is empathy. View the experience from the other side of the of the registration desk, so to speak.
Doing so helps to not only map the audience journeys, but also add dimensions of diversity to those experiences. Look at your attendees not just as attendees, but as people – diverse people.
Each person wants equal accessibility equal opportunity to learn, to connect, and to share. If planners keep that as a focal point for creating the experience, everyone can truly come to the event and connect.
Addressing the Vital Role of Digital Accessibility
Digital accessibility is something that can get overlooked, because it is an area where many of us simply don’t know what we don’t know. A person with disabilities cannot experience an event if they cannot register for it. Event planning checklists should expand to address elements like what registration platform will make it possible to sign up without use of a mouse, for example.
With the help of our panelists as well as our audience, we created this This event DEI resource guide. It provides information about technologies that can help persons with disabilities overcome technology barriers, as well as helpful articles that breakdown how to build and inclusive event..
Personas are people. Give them a chance to tell you what they need.
Every attendee comes to an event with their own set of abilities to learn and connect. How do we communicate with all of them? In our industry, we think of people as personas because getting to know several thousand people as individuals during the course of event planning is impossible.
But there are actions we can take to help participants communicate their needs from the planning phase to post-event analysis. It is perhaps most important to discover how attendees want to be communicated with. Collaborate with them and think about how to create different paths to inclusion. Discover if there are special needs and learn how to address them. Not all of this will be discoverable prior to your event, so it is also important to be ready to provide personal assistance in real time during an event.
And since the next event can always improve over the last, we should understand what our attendees thought of the experience. Were they able to learn, connect, and grow?
Get to know the nuts and bolts of an inclusive virtual event.
Adopting an inclusive mindset only gets you so far during event planning. To deliver on the goal of accessibility, you need to deploy the right people, process, and tools to make it happen at every stage of the event.
During registration, don’t ask people to just check boxes. Make areas of your form open-ended so they can share what their unique needs are with you. It’s then our job to address those needs so they can get the experience you planned for everyone. Also, prior to the event, make promotional materials inclusive. Reflect a diverse audience onto the pool of potential participants, so people can see themselves as part of the event.
An elevated, exclusive experience comes with a cost. Budgets are a big part of the planning phase and an expanded menu of participant requirements can drive up costs, so it makes sense to figure out where your priorities are and plan accordingly. Technology exists to translate a keynote address into every known language, but would that be the best use of your budget? We believe a key best practice is to point your event budget dollars where they can do the most good for the most people.
Creating inclusive events is most certainly an iterative process, even while it’s happening. Get feedback about everything you can during a virtual event. Keep an eye on what’s trending in chat to identify areas where participants aren’t happy with the experience. Use that instant feedback to make adjustments to the experiences as they are happening. Most of all, consider these early adoption virtual and hybrid events as the foundations that will increase inclusion and make things equitable across all channels.
To watch the full discussion in more detail, you can click play on the video below. Keep up the great work #eventprofs!