31 Jan 2023

Increasing Cultural Inclusion at Multicultural Hybrid Events

by Benjamin Powell, CEO of Bettercast

It’s well known that hybrid and online events are capable of reaching significantly greater audiences. Numbers for in- person events are inevitably limited by the size of the venue, but streaming the event means that it can be viewed by thousands more digital attendees around the world.

And that’s the key phrase right there – “around the world”. By broadcasting your event across the internet, it can be attended by audiences from a wide range of countries and cultures. As the world we live in gets seemingly smaller and smaller and international trade gets cheaper and easier, consideration for cultures different to your own becomes more and more important, not least in the events industry.

The Benefits

As ignoble as it may sound, a big advantage that comes from factoring cultural inclusion into your events is a financial one. The more people who feel welcome to attend, either in person or digitally, the more ticket sales and potential leads that will arise from that event. However, taking a slightly less cynical view, cultural inclusion can also bring alternative perspectives.

“Inclusion and innovation are deeply linked,” said Ruchika Tulshyan, author of Inclusion on Purpose and The Diversity Advantage in an interview with The Beautiful Truth. “If you want to surface new ideas, to bring a growth strategy that hasn’t been thought about before, you cannot do so without new voices, and new perspectives.”

She added, albeit in a different interview: “I find it a waste of time to attend a conference where I won’t learn from a wide variety of expertise, views, and experiences.”

Janet Sperstad, a Certified Meeting Professional with over a quarter of a century’s experience, explained what exactly inclusion and diversity mean very well in an interview with pc/nametag. She said: “We need to raise revenue, we need attendees, but we also need to include people because we bring the world together, even if you have a very vertical market within your industry. Diversity is about honouring the diverse perspectives, honouring the diversity of age, race, and culture. Inclusion means you are welcome and being able to share a different perspective is welcome.”

“It’s Not An Add-On”

Factoring cultural inclusion into event planning is not without its challenges, with budgetary needs being high on the list. “We were on a shoestring budget for our first conference back in 2015,” recalled Melinda Epler of Change Catalyst when interviewed for Eventbrite. The company she runs helps tech companies build inclusive ecosystems. A deaf attendee had asked, back in 2015, if the conference could include a sign language interpreter. “I thought, ‘I can’t afford it’. But that would have been a big mistake.”

In the end, Melinda managed to get the interpreter. She added: “Inclusivity isn’t something that’s nice to have. It’s not an add- on. It’s got to be a core element of who we are.”

The Right Tools For The Job

Following on from Melinda’s story, it is important to distinguish between something that adds value to a multicultural hybrid event and a gimmick that only adds an extra digit or two to the invoice. Indeed, gimmicks can harm both organisers and attendees as it adds complexity to attending the event digitally.

“Not everyone has great internet bandwidth,” Melinda said, adding that something as simple as deciding whether to use a downloadable app or a web browser as the gateway to your event has an impact on those with limited access to or experience with mobile technology. She even asks if there is a way to attend an event without using video, to help with connection issues.

Stepping back from that extreme, an addition that can be more helpful is something as simple as adding real-time translations and subtitles to presentations. Melinda further recommends that slideshows should use a sans serif font in high contrast (black text on a white background) at no less than 24-point size in order to make it as accessible as possible. Not only is it easier to read for those with poor eyesight or even just a weak internet connection, but readers for whom English may be a second or third language will find simpler fonts (and simpler words and sentences) easier to follow.

Similarly, it’s worth noting that slang and colloquialisms can be real challenges for international audiences. Telling an audience of native English speakers that you want them to ‘throw out some ideas’ might work well enough, but trying the same with non-native speakers will probably get you some confused and concerned looks at best.

Mardi Gras parade in a French city

Mistakes Happen

The example above is an excellent illustration of how diversity and inclusion can create a vast abundance of opportunities to make mistakes, so helping people to avoid them is a bonus. Melinda and her organisation provide a toolkit for inclusive events, which include guides to inclusive language and how to set a code of conduct. “It’s key that you’ve trained your staff or employees to enforce it,” Melinda added. “If something happens in a chat room, how do you handle it?”

It is worth noting, though it wasn’t Melinda who did so, that cross-cultural misunderstandings can be both accidental as well as intentional. Knowing how to handle both types with tact is a very important skill.

Multiculturalism Begins At Home

Having a team that is itself multicultural certainly keeps mistakes to a minimum and helps ensure event planning decisions are based on facts and not stereotypes and misconceptions. There are plenty of other benefits, too.

“Studies show that diverse teams are 33 per cent more likely to generate better-than- average profits, 70 per cent more likely to capture new markets, and generate 19 per cent more revenue from innovation than companies with below-average leadership diversity,” said Amanda Ma, founder and CEO of Innovate Marketing Group, in a guest blog for BizBash.

“By creating an environment where all are included, we pave the way to allow for mutual success. We have seen some of our clients do this successfully as well. The companies with the most success have leadership that make it a part of their culture and deliverables, then funnel that top-down. Essentially: Do not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.”


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