How to Make Your Next Virtual Event More Inclusive

July 2, 2020

Events, as we know them, have changed, but the power of a live event still lies in the emotional impact of making authentic human connections. To achieve that in our new reality, your brand needs to show attendees that you hear and see them — even if your event is virtual

Yet too many attendees end up feeling invisible because event planners are still falling short of designing truly inclusive events, according to a recent study from Meeting Professionals International. For example, there’s a general lack of event materials or translation services available in languages other than English. Furthermore, selected and promoted subject matter experts or guest speakers rarely represent groups that are not in the majority. 

This dangerous status quo distances potential advocates and risks dulling the experience — and even the brand. But when your program accounts for all of your audience members and their diverse needs and backgrounds, you can personalize their event experiences just as you do for your “least common denominator” audience. Attendees feel heard and seen, which puts them in the optimal state for receiving your messages.

Creating the Status Quo

It’s not that event planners are trying to exclude people; it’s that they tend to be so busy and focused on the event itself that they become shortsighted. When they do consider their audience, they’re thinking about their common denominator: the majority persona that they can expect to populate the crowd. But this is a risky strategy. It alienates potential audiences, which could actually be the most exciting and rewarding segment in the future.

In the tech industry, for example, people tend to assume that the vast majority of their event attendees will be men in their 30s and 40s. But at the same time, tech companies want to empower women in their industry and increase their reach. To achieve that goal, they need to reach the women in the audience — even if they make up only 5% of attendees.

Additionally, organizers don’t consider diversity a creative problem: In the same MPI study, 20% of organizers admitted that complying with legal requirements was their main imperative for investing in diversity initiatives. Even when organizers are conscious of wanting to attract a diverse audience, they often miss the step of diversifying their own team and presenting panel. They plan in a vacuum and are less able to see the mistakes they’re making.

3 Strategies for Inclusive Virtual Events

It’s important to plan for differences in race, gender and socioeconomic background, but don’t stop there. Design an event that’s inclusive of those with different learning styles, individuals who are neurodivergent, new mothers, people with disabilities, introverts and people of all sizes.

Here are three ways to shape your virtual events around diversity and inclusion:

1. Test outside the box. When planning an event, organizers often stick to a core group of colleagues. They forget to invite outside voices to add perspective and illuminate potential weak spots. When you’re testing options for topics, themes, speakers and marketing, establish a focus group to take your ideas and expose them to a more diverse conversation.

2. Diversify your core team. It’s one thing to look outside your organization for diverse voices, but you can go one step further and seek to represent those voices internally. Hire for backgrounds that are underrepresented in your team and give planning power to the people you want to engage with. This will — almost automatically — make your offering feel more authentic to a wider range of people.

3. Know what you know and look to others to fill in the gaps. Choose a diverse group of speakers. Don’t just look for the “best” in your field, the recognized “experts” at the top of the pack. Instead, look at other forms of achievement, unique viewpoints and stories of overcoming adversity. Your core audience will still be impressed, but you’ll also be telling other groups that this is a space for them, too.

The first step to making attendees feel welcome is to represent and reflect them — not just in your marketing materials, but in your speaker lineups and your internal planning teams, too. An audience that feels seen and heard will connect with your brand and your message.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.