Inclusive Event Design
In the event planning industry, we strive day in and day out to ensure every detail is flawless, deadlines are met, and we come in on (or below) budget. We also want every guest to have an enjoyable, memorable experience. So how can we ensure we’re creating an event for everyone?
With a few shifts in the planning approach, we have developed some tried-and-true ways to make even more people feel welcomed, celebrated, and included at your next event.
You don’t know what you don’t know
The first step to reforming and transforming your event planning process is to ask what people need. This sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked in registration systems or on RSVP cards. Consider asking simple, straightforward questions: “Do you have any needs we can try to meet to make you have the best time possible?” You’ll learn so much.
By asking questions early, you’ll be prepared for any curveballs thrown your way. For instance, you might find out that your keynote speaker needs a nursing room before they go on stage, or that a major donor is deciding whether to attend your gala based on wheelchair accessibility.
Bonus: Making the question universal also creates a culture where individuals don’t feel like they are needy or bothersome by voicing a request.
From time to time, based on what participants need, there may be a request you are simply unable to meet. If you are unable to meet a request, be sure to follow up with that person to let them know what (if any) accommodation can be made. The personalized touch goes a long way. And people are often grateful to learn that you made a genuine effort.
“Hanger” isn’t a cute look
We want our guests to remember the great time they had, not how hungry they were. When serving food in any amount, it’s worth it to make sure there is something for everyone.
Caterers want their food to be enjoyed; do them a favor by asking up front about any dietary restrictions. This helps eliminate food waste and ensure guest satisfaction. We aim to have vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and nut free options available as our baseline. That typically meets most attendees’ needs. Whenever possible, factor in preparation and sourcing to provide meals that are Kosher, Halal, or follow seasonal observances (like fish on Fridays during Lent).
Don’t know where to start? A buffet will guide the way. The easiest way to ensure everyone will have something to eat is to let people build their own plate. When items are deconstructed and clearly labelled with ingredients, it eases confusion, and eliminates many barriers for everyone getting their fill of your well-crafted menu. For example, if you are having a Caesar salad, don’t pre-mix chicken, parmesan, and dressing; let guests build their own. Need to do a boxed lunch or plated dinner? Work with the culinary team to create dishes that feature rice or quinoa instead of pasta.
Shifting gears to neutral
Sometimes there’s one easy fix that makes everyone’s lives easier. One of those fixes is providing an all-gender restroom. You could go with a built-in single-stall lockable facility, or convert a multi-unit facility to an all-gender restroom. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of people that will benefit: a parent with a young child; a caregiver with an elderly patient; someone of any age in a wheelchair or with mobility needs; a transgender or gender nonconforming person; someone who desires privacy and space for medical treatment (injecting insulin or changing a bandage); and/or someone needing to do a quick costume change before their commute home.
We also encourage including a brief note (in a program guide, or on the mirror inside the bathroom), educating your guests around why all-gender restrooms are so beneficial to so many people during the event.
If you are going the route of converting another restroom to all-gender, a few additional steps may be necessary. Include a small wastebasket in each stall for disposal of hygiene products or non-needle medical materials. On any signage created, you can list (or show with symbols), that this is an all-gender restroom, and has stalls, urinals, or both.
And whoever you are, don’t forget to wash your hands.
Going the extra mile
We’ve found a few ways to show you’re paying close attention to attendees’ needs. For one, especially at conferences or day-long gatherings, reserve an additional space as a quiet area to decompress. You could also book space for prayer, meditation, and reflection; a private room for pumping or nursing parents; and a place to make a phone call or have a confidential meeting.
About the Author
Ryan Kroening is the Founder & President of Events by Lady K, a general benefit company based in Minneapolis, MN. Events by Lady K partners with mission-driven clients to create mission-centered events where every attendee feels welcomed, celebrated, and included! Our goal is to change the world of hospitality, meetings, and events to be truly equitable and inclusive instead of maintaining a status quo that doesn’t work for everyone. Ryan has more than 15 years of experience planning events across the country for clients like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, CHANGE Philanthropy, the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the Bush Foundation, and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.
The International Live Events Association (ILEA) represents and supports more than 5,000 members globally—event professionals who do business together, share knowledge, nurture talent and progress the live events industry. For more information on how an ILEA professional can help you with your event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.