In live marketing such as tradeshows, events, conferences, etc., feeling welcomed and being included is critical. It can mean the difference between having the broadest impact, or not; having relevant experiences and receiving the right content, or not; and most importantly, walking away with a positive impression, or not.
Diversity – The aspects of diversity people are most attuned to are those apparent to their eyes and ears, or which are in the headlines: gender, skin color, national origin, sexual identity and preference. But there are many facets that make us who we are and it is important that we think broadly and also consider less-apparent traits such as life experience and heritage when planning events.
People are also diverse in physical capabilities or needs – for example sight, hearing, or mobility challenges. These may be temporary or permanent – think of accommodations that would be appreciated by an audience member with a broken leg or one who is pregnant.
Diversity is also evidenced in beliefs and backgrounds – a person may have religiously-motivated needs or assumptions based on political views, educational focus and accomplishment, or socio-economic upbringing or current status.
Diversity is good, and in more ways than may be apparent. In scientific and social disciplines, bio-diversity leads to better outcomes. In metal-working, mixing multiple raw materials creates stronger or more pliable composites. For investors, diversifying financial holdings reduces risk and increase yield. In civil society, consider a 1978 decision by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell (Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke), in which he contended that the “future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this nation of many peoples.”
Inclusion – Inclusion is the intentional response to diversity. Organizations should plan, structure, design, and execute events to ensure all audiences are welcomed and accommodated. Planners can make logistical, environmental, and other decisions to make audiences comfortable and eliminate any elements that are intentionally or inadvertently dismissive or exclusionary.
Customers and partners are sure to be as diverse as the world they come from – around the globe and from all cross-sections of the population – and will respond best to being surrounded by a diverse crowd, to recognizing those who “are like them,” and to feeling included by all event elements – especially those that recognize and respect their particular diversities.
Inclusion exemplifies “Yes. And…” thinking. Yes, inclusion is right for moral reasons. And, inclusion has direct business impact. The more people who feel included in the experiences, messages, communications, marketing – the more potential customers there are.
An example: shops in ancient Roman forums often had mosaics depicting the commerce taking place within – fish for a fishmonger or a ship for a sail-maker – because not all locals could read and many foreign visitors did not speak the language. Merchants using just the written word would have cut off much of their potential market. While illiteracy is not likely to be a problem at events today, the lesson remains – recognizing diversity through inclusion can drive increased business.
Companies and organizations big enough to host conferences are likely to have corporate diversity policies and event professionals’ efforts should begin there. This could include partnering with human resources teams where diversity plays a critical role in recruitment and retention of employees, and where a broad and inclusive workforce has benefits in building relationships with partners and customers.
Event Planning – From the time planning begins, an inclusionary mindset can help reach the broadest audience. Even setting event dates can benefit from sensitivity to the diversity of the audience – for example, planners in the U.S. think to plan around majority religious events like Easter or Christmas, or national milestones like the Fourth of July. It’s equally respectful to note other cultures’ or religions’ significant dates such as the Jewish High Holy Days or Ramadan for Muslims.
Bring diverse voices into the planning process. This could mean including other business groups to create a more compelling agenda, or reviewing event plans with representatives from key gender, race, and cultural groups to add details and avoid pitfalls that a less diverse team might miss.
Recruit a diverse speaker base – speakers can include employees, customers, partners, industry experts, specialists from other industries, even celebrities.
The same considerations apply to third-party events. Booths, side-rooms for meetings, and any sponsored activities should be accessible and inclusive, and on-site staff should represent the diversity of our company and customers.
Event Logistics – From working with caterers to address the array of food options available today – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, halal, and more – to designating and outfitting new mothers’ rooms or prayer rooms, there are many ways to make an audience feel respected and included.
Diverse conference greeters can smile warmly and say “good day” to everyone, while aiding to those who may need it without drawing undue attention.
Arranging services for attendees with hearing, vision, or mobility challenges is now standard and many service providers exist to help. This may include arranging ability-aware lodging options for these attendees, and transportation options that take this into account. Clear signage and wide hallways clear of clutter will be appreciated not only by those of different abilities, but all attendees.
Even taxonomy can play a role. A recent conference in the southern U.S. offered a themed evening for which all attendees were asked to wear white, and it was billed as the “All White Party.” More thought might have led to a more sensitive and inclusionary name such as “Wear White Party” or another theme entirely.