Balancing the wants and needs of many different people at your events is often an Olympic-level juggling act. From delegates to on-site staff, speakers to sponsors, making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time can be enough of a challenge. Add improving inclusion into the mix, and it can often feel like an insurmountable hurdle.
Where people’s identities and access needs are involved, the stakes are high: get things wrong, and you could be responsible for delegates having a bad experience at your event, or even not attending due to accessibility. But get things right, and your event could provide an inclusive space that people talk about for years to come. Luckily, there are a number of easy tweaks to improve inclusion at your events without needing an entire dedicated team.
Consider Your Resources
As all event managers know only too well, resources are limited. Deciding where to allocate resources is an essential part of planning any event, whether that’s money, space, time, or staff support on the day. The same applies to inclusion: if like most of us you have limited resources, you need to decide where to allocate them.
When it comes to the event planning itself, deciding on a strategy of how much of each resource you are allocating for inclusion and accessibility measures is a key step in ensuring it remains a priority in your event planning. There might even be some measures that you can tie into other budgets (for example, looking for a venue that already includes wheelchair access).
Choose Your Priorities
It is unfortunately impossible to make any event 100% inclusive, because every person on the planet will have their own personal inclusion and access needs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a huge difference to a large number of people.
When deciding who to prioritise, there are a number of approaches you can take. You may want to consider:
What can you do to make a positive difference for the most people at your event? e.g. if you know that 50% of the delegates speak Spanish as their first language, translating all materials into Spanish as well as English.
Who is it vital to have there and how can we make them feel included? e.g. if a number of VIP guests are Muslim, providing additional choice for dietary requirements and prayer room provisions beyond the bare minimum may be a priority.
Which groups is this event the least inclusive toward, and how can we change that? e.g. if your event is incredibly busy and unsuitable for people with sensory issues, you may consider live-streaming parts of the event for remote attendance.
Who has this event excluded in the past that we want to change? e.g. if an event or organisation has made Black delegates feel excluded in the past, listening to feedback from former Black delegates and implementing it (such as improving representation by including more Black speakers in the programme, or changing the language used in event materials).
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
As 100% accessibility or inclusion is not possible, giving delegates the information in advance to make their own decisions about your event is vital.
Outline what inclusion measures you have in place: ‘Accessible’ for one person is not ‘accessible’ for another. Be specific when you explain what there is, e.g. instead of ‘quiet space’, detail exactly what that means.
Highlight what there is not: If there are certain provisions you cannot provide, explain what they are, and what contingency you have in place, e.g. ‘Due to the age and size of the venue, there are no disabled toilets available on-site; the venue next door has kindly agreed to share their facilities, and our staff will assist any delegates in finding this.’
Offer delegates the chance to reach out if there is something else they need to know, or request. For example, people with certain illnesses or disabilities may be sensitive to light or heat, and might need your help to better understand the venue before they can decide whether to attend or not.
While it is impossible to include everyone, either because of resources, different human needs or the nature of the event itself, that does not mean it isn’t important to try to include as many people as possible. It is important to always be transparent about what you can and can’t do, and allow people who need different adjustments to reach out and/or decide that the event is not for them.
The most important thing when it comes to inclusion is not to let perfect be the enemy of good: the event manager who aims at perfection in everything, achieves it in nothing. You will inevitably sometimes get things wrong, but you can always learn from the experiences, make sure inclusion is a priority, and integrate it into every step of your event planning, rather than considering it a ‘tag-on’. By putting inclusion at the heart of your planning, you will do the best you can to include as many people as possible. And when things don’t go according to plan? If you are willing to listen with openness, take accountability and action feedback about how to improve for future events, you will foster an environment that aims to make the most inclusive experience possible for delegates.
Jackafal make professional learning interesting, and we focus on including people. Whether you’re looking for specialist Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training, or want someone to design or deliver technical and professional skills training in a way that is more inclusive, we’ve got the experience to turn your learning and development into something well-researched, innovative and engaging, all at the same time.
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