March 9, 2022 | By Warwick Merry

Inclusivity was a major winner in the introduction of virtual events during the pandemic.

People who could not leave home or had difficulty entering some public buildings could perch themselves in front of a computer and participate in an event. Those who have trouble hearing could easily access live captions and follow along. We could have presenters in different languages with live interpreters or AI assisted captions.

In our shift back to more face-to-face events, we need to keep these elements of inclusion to ensure events continue to be accessible to anyone who wants to be there.

Hybrid does this well but can add significant costs to an event and sometimes hybrid is not the solution you are after. Here are some other considerations for you:

Put an end to pale, male and stale
We need more diversity on stage. I can’t believe Manels (all male panels) still exist, but they do. There are more than enough fantastic speakers who are representative of the people in your industry who can also add diversity to the stage. It may take a little extra effort but your delegates will love you for it.

Automatic captions
There are multiple services that do automatic captions. Granted they are not 100 per cent accurate but they are close enough. If it is easy (and free) to get them across the bottom of the screen on your computer, surely they can’t be too hard to have scrolling across the top of the screen on stage.

Sign language translators
Adam Hills was one of the first comedians with a sign language interpreter on stage. It was fabulous to see and often added to the comedy. How many of your delegates would appreciate a sign language interpreter? Do you know?

Low stimulation sensory area
Shopping centres, airports and school rooms all have these areas to help people who get overwhelmed by all the stimuli. Would it be worthwhile having one at your event? I could imagine it being sponsored by an electric car company. A quiet area where you can gather your thoughts and step away.

Ensure accessibility
During the venue selection stage, the exhibition planning stage and the seating planning, we need to consider those with accessibility needs. Too often those with crutches, wheelchairs and walkers are either not considered or simply parked at the back of the auditorium. How can we be sure they have an “equal” experience? Is it as simple as putting a “Special Access” placard at one spot on every table? Ensuring the space between tables and stands is wide enough to accommodate some of the accessibility aids people need?

Extravert training
Often we encourage introverts to speak up, participate and be heard. There is also value to letting the extraverts know that it is okay to stay silent! You don’t ALWAYS have to ask the question, make the noise, interrupt when an introvert pauses or speak before thinking. This one is a little tongue in cheek, but it wouldn’t hurt!

The focus on inclusivity has to increase. In a world where people come with ranges of skills and needs, it doesn’t always take much to make their experience far better.

What can you do for your next event to make it more inclusive?

Warwick Merry is a certified speaking professional, dual certified virtual presenter and past national president of Professional Speakers Australia. He hosts and produces online events globally.