Calls for diversity and inclusiveness have finally been heard. While our society has a long way to achieve real representation and inclusiveness, your virtual event can move in the right direction and take active steps toward presenting a more diverse and inclusive experience. The concerns over diversity and inclusion are nothing new. But we should make considerable effort to improve the experiences of everyone attending our events. To affect real change, each of us, from event organizers to team members, needs to be proactive and open to a range of voices, experiences, and perspectives. To help you create a more open, diverse, and inclusive virtual event, we’ve put together this list of tips and best practices.
Embracing and promoting diversity starts with you and your organization. When putting together your event, do everything you can to assemble a diverse team. For starters, your event can only benefit from a variety of perspectives on your planning committee. You can reach a more diverse audience if you are including different voices in the planning process. Together, you can work to identify and rectify limitations and unconscious bias before they become a problem. Taking this step can prevent you from missteps right out of the gate. For example, you might be planning your event for a particular date without realizing that it lands right in the middle of a significant religious or cultural holiday. Be sure to extend this diversity of perspectives to your volunteers working the event itself. Whenever possible, choose to work with vendors that promote equality in all its forms and have accessible software or products.
Inclusive practices start with your team, but they do not end there. When planning your virtual event content, you must include underrepresented groups in your program. As event professionals, you should put together a lineup that is as diverse as the audience you hope to reach. At many events, the same industry experts are invited to speak over and over again. And this is not because they are the only knowledgeable voices. We know that choosing from the same pool of speakers and presenters is not always a sign of intolerance or intentional discrimination and that sometimes it is just easier. These individuals are tried and true attendee draws, and you don’t have to do in-depth research to find them. You can easily include some of these individuals in your event. You should also be looking for diverse talent that can provide a new perspective or change the conversation. Seek to include more women, LGBTQ2+ persons, persons of color, and persons with disabilities. More than just inviting diverse guests, make sure your event marketing campaigns display diversity. White tends to be the default imagery in North America so signal to your target audience that you are diverse and inclusive by including people of color and various faces in your marketing materials.
One way to signal to your potential attendees that you are serious about creating a more inclusive culture is to partner with sponsors that actively support the equal rights movement in their brand mission and brand practices. Inclusivity and diversity are not about paying lip service and saying you believe something and doing little else; it is about saying you feel something and acting on those beliefs. Do not be afraid to ask questions of your potential sponsors. Look for companies and brands that share your goals in their day-to-day operations.
The words we use matter. This means that you should avoid language that is sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic, and ableist. While this concept seems easy on the surface, it requires a conscious choice and a conscious effort. Not only is the language around identity complex, but offensive terms are often a part of daily speech. We may be using words and phrases that are harmful without realizing it. Start at the beginning and respect diversity in your registration form. Allow for gender-neutral titles and avoid asking unnecessary questions about gender identity. To help you avoid language missteps and ensure that all people feel welcome at your virtual event, check out this inclusive event toolkit. Before you launch your virtual event, develop an attendee code of conduct. Make it clear that you want an inclusive environment and will not tolerate behavior or language that creates an unsafe space. Be clear about what will happen if someone violates your code of conduct. For an idea of what your code of conduct should include, consider this example from Change Catalyst.
We don’t all have the same bank balance. While many people will be able to afford to attend your event, there will also be many who cannot. To truly achieve inclusivity and diversity, you need an audience that represents a diverse economic status. When pricing your virtual event, consider including a free ticket tier, pay what you can (PWYC) options, and student pricing. And remember, some people have difficulty accepting what feels like ‘charity,’ so try to be inclusive in your language choices here as well. If you understand that PWYC isn’t quite right for your audience, instead offer tickets by donation. Let the audience decide how much they can afford to donate to your event. It is essentially the same thing as PWYC but presented in a way that might be less offensive to some. This will open your virtual event to people who may have otherwise been unable to attend. While your event’s goal may be to turn a profit or raise funds for a cause, you do not want cost to be a barrier to attendance.
People attending your event will have different capabilities. While you may not have the same accessibility concerns you do when choosing a physical event venue (accessible parking and wheelchair access, for example), a virtual event has its accessibility requirements. Not everyone will be able to see or hear presentations and slideshows. Include audio and visual closed captioning to ensure that all audiences can maximize their event experience. If you are attempting to reach a global audience, consider offering real-time translations to your attendees. Your event website should be designed using large font size and high contrast to support those with vision complications. It is also a good idea to consider technological limitations. Not every attendee will have access to a high-speed internet connection. Provide attendees with options like the ability to download content before (and after) the event, so they aren’t using all their bandwidth on that and missing out on the event itself. If you are using a downloadable event app for access, consider providing web browser access to minimize issues.
One of the most important things you can do towards embracing diversity and inclusivity is to ask for feedback. Diversity and inclusion are not one-offs, and it will be nearly impossible to get everything right the first time. So, when drafting your post-event survey, include questions that speak to accessibility and inclusivity. The only way to know what worked and what you can improve upon for future virtual events is to ask. Send surveys to all attendees, speakers and presenters, event volunteers, event staff, and the planning committee. It is essential to gain perspectives from all people involved in the event. And remember, you may receive a range of responses. Not every member of an underrepresented community thinks and feels the same way. So what might have been adequate for some people may not be for others. Approach the responses with an open mind and work to find the best solution for your next virtual event. Hosting more inclusive and diverse events requires a commitment to understanding, listening, and learning. As an event organizer, take a step back and imagine what other individuals may think and feel when attending your event. Use this exercise as a starting point. Follow it up by surrounding yourself with diverse perspectives and spend time investigating the industry to find the voices that are often missed or ignored altogether. Be intentional about your choices and make diversity and inclusivity a top priority. A diverse virtual event will not change the world on its own, but by walking the walk and going out of your way to welcome and represent everyone, you will be contributing to a long-overdue cultural shift.
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