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Hybrid Event Survival Guide Series: Making INCLUSIVITY a Priority

Michael Doyle Photo
Michael Doyle
, VP of Customer Service, Engagez

    Hybrid events offer many benefits for both in-person and virtual attendees – the ability to attend an event or presentation without the costs and hassles of physical travel, the freedom to be able to watch presentations on your own schedule, and the relative ease of finding interesting networking opportunities are just a few. But, for event organizers, it also means extra attention must be paid to the principle of inclusion – being sure that every participant, whether in real life or in the virtual world – completely feels that they are a part of the event and that the event is fully accessible to all attendees.

    • Start with your Registration Page

    The simplest solution can often be the most effective. Use your event registration page to ask each attendee if they have needs in terms of event accessibility. In the virtual world, this might mean the need to provide live captioning, sign language interpreters, screen-reader compatibility,  and/or transcripts of pre-recorded events. In the real world, dietary restrictions and accommodations for physical mobility needs may be requested. Registration pages are easily customizable, and it may be most effective to present this question in an open-ended format.

    Having your attendees receive these questions at the very start of the event process will help you gain insight into their needs, and let all participants know that you are mindful of the potential needs and challenges that some may face and that your organization is committed to meeting these needs.

    • Technology Works for All Attendees

    Many virtual platforms offer accessibility options, such as alt-text for photos, screen-reader compatibility, real-time sign language interpretation, color and brightness adjustments, post-event transcripts, and translation services. And, many of these features can also be of assistance to your in-person attendees. 

     With multiple channels running at a live event, attendees may choose to attend a session while planning to watch a recording of another at a later date. While scientific conferences are usually held in English, non-native speakers may benefit from translation – even if it’s just at the coffee bar for networking. This same type of technology can benefit educational sessions, also. Some people prefer reading to listening – particularly if the topic is highly technical – and would prefer to download a written transcript of a talk. Others would rather watch a video, where they can replay, pause, add captions, etc. This allows attendees to absorb information at their own pace, using their preferred format, in the comfort of their own home or hotel room.

    • Embrace the Diversity!

    The hybrid event gives event organizers a great opportunity to draw people from all over the globe. Be sure to take advantage of this facet of your event by creating panels, break-out groups, and discussion groups that include both real works and virtual attendees. This lets all attendees be represented to some extent. Your online moderator will be key in making sure the speakers or panel members take questions from both in-person and virtual participants.

    • Networking for Everybody

    In the last few years, networking has pivoted away from the cocktail hour and the coffee break to more controlled and organized meet-ups. Much has been written about the new technologies available for virtual networking, and many types of real-life networking can now be emulated in the virtual world.

    For example, speed networking allows participants to connect with many people in a short amount of time. It’s made up of short, time structured, one-on-one meetings that will usually involve brief info exchanges. After the event, individuals have the choice to decide who they will follow up with. It can be a great way to find potential business contacts, clients, leads, or jobs. Virtual speed networking, while sacrificing the ability to meet people in real life, does offer a higher level of accessibility. People from all over the world can participate, bringing the potential of building a more international and diverse network. 

    Some hybrid event platforms will have attendees answer a few questions about their interests when registering for their virtual conference. They can then be automatically matched with other participants so they could chat, share schedules, and interact as they chose. Event organizers can facilitate this process by assigning participants to break-out groups, being sure to create a good mix of people both in real life and the virtual world, with different positions, geographies, experience levels, etc. Smaller groups are preferable as they allow each attendee to feel included and engaged. Depending on your desired outcomes, it’s preferable to provide a designated topic to help the conversations get started. As always, a moderator is key to keeping everyone equally involved and on track.

    Are you meeting your diversity and inclusion goals?

    Your first step in working towards diversity and inclusion when event planning is creating a benchmark by assessing your current practices and goals.

     Here are two indices that can help with this process:

    • The Disability Equality Index (DEI) is a program created by the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN. The DEI is a benchmarking tool that provides a score on an organization’s self-reported disability policies and practices. It can help you build a roadmap of measurable, tangible actions that you can take to achieve disability inclusion and equality. Each company receives a score – on a scale of zero (0) to 100 – with those earning 80 and above recognized as “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” The DEI measures a range of criteria within six categories: Culture & Leadership; Enterprise-Wide Access; Employment Practices; Community Engagement; Supplier Diversity; and Non-U.S. Operations.
    • The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index is a national benchmarking tool to assess corporate practices of importance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees.

    Inclusive Futures offers a free disability-confident toolkit with a complete, step-by-step roadmap for business leaders, human resource executives, and other stakeholders on how to foster inclusive workspaces. As an open-source toolkit, it can be tailored to fit your industry, workplace, and country.

    In conclusion…

     The ability to be inclusive is only one of the many positives to be found in the combination of the real and virtual worlds. When you ensure that everyone feels welcome at your event all attendees can receive access to the insights, perspectives, and experiences that a diverse audience brings.


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