Starting the journey toward creating belonging at your meeting doesn’t have to be overwhelming. “Pick a place to begin. It doesn’t have to be soup-to-nuts,” says Naomi Clare Crellin CEO and founder of Storycraft Lab. Below are some ideas for helping attendees to feel valued and connected to fellow attendees and the host organization.
Throughout the Planning Process
1. Ask, ask, and ask again about which accommodations attendees need to feel they belong at your events and in the community.
2. Be authentic in whatever you do. Attendees will notice the difference between lip service and genuine empathy.
3. Find a stakeholder to champion the belonging cause with you.
4. Know your audience. This is particularly true as you work to attract and retain younger attendees. According to an October 2023 Industry Trend report from Maritz, nearly 60 percent of Gen Z respondents said they would avoid an event if they don’t know anyone. Survey your audience about what motivates them to attend and how they want to network.
5. Curate agendas or tracks for specific verticals and interest groups.
6. Connect attendees digitally ahead of time, leveraging chat groups or forums and social-media channels such as Facebook or LinkedIn. This is particularly helpful for first-timers, introverts, or anyone whose goal at the event is to find like-minded attendees.
7. In the registration process, include open-ended questions about accommodations for neurodivergent individuals as well as those with physical disabilities and dietary restrictions.
8. Work closely with education and programming teams to choose speakers who represent your audience mix.
9. Set expectations. Be clear both in advance and on site about what attendees will encounter at the event. For example, note when sessions include loud or sudden noises or bright lights, require interaction, or present videos (include the length of the video).
10. Design spaces for meet-ups to ensure that micro-communities have places to connect on site.
11. Gather feedback to measure your belonging efforts. On-site, staff or volunteers armed with iPads can survey attendees or hold focus-group sessions.
12. Use collaborative technology, trained facilitators, and open-session formats to promote active engagement and two-way communication that focuses on building relationships.
13. Use as much signage as possible to ease navigation and to set expectations. Digital wayfinding boards are helpful as is iconography that indicates sessions that could be sensitive for neurodivergent individuals (such as experiences with flashing lights or loud noises).
14. Offer quiet, prayer, and well-being rooms. They don’t have to be elaborate; small meeting rooms can be converted at little to no cost.
15. Give attendees time to reflect or go outside by offering plenty of breaks.
16. Close the feedback loop by holding debriefs to assess what went well and what can be improved for future community-centric events.
• Designing for Belonging: Creating meeting environments where every individual feels valued, accepted, and connected.
• For a Welcoming Event, Cultural Sensitivity Is Essential