Inclusive Event Planning: How To Build Content Journeys for Neurodiversity
Want to reach more people in more meaningful ways? It’s time to embrace intentional and inclusive event planning and orchestration for a neurodiverse audience.
When you consider the full range of learning preferences, needs, and personalities of event attendees, you can engage better with a neurodiverse audience, and everybody benefits. Events can have the maximum impact, reach people where they are, and make good business sense when they feature improved offerings for neurodiverse participants.
Not only is planning an inclusive event the ethically responsible thing to do, but it also leads to a better ROI because more inclusive events will naturally make a better impression. Read on to learn how to put these intentions into action.
Tailor Event Experiences to Different Learning Styles
According to the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University, neurodiversity “refers to the variety of ways that human minds are wired and specifically to the idea that there are certain neurological differences which confer both challenges and gifts.”
Considering the incredible variety of learning styles, it’s understandable that not all attendees have the same response to classic event experiences, such as ice breakers or breakout sessions. Likewise, not all attendees process information or entertainment in the same way or in the same amount of time. By offering more customized experiences and inclusion during events, Event Experience Leaders can inspire greater overall engagement.
Here are some examples of how you can craft content for different preferences and practice inclusive event planning:
- Get creative. In a small-group table discussion, you could deliver a written exercise in multiple formats, including a free-write version and another version that gives more specific prompts to the participant. That way, people who work better without too much structure can be free to explore their creativity, while those who would rather have clear instructions enjoy more guidance.
- Bring in games. Early in the event, you might introduce a software program that all participants don’t know. You could offer a low-stakes game or an opportunity to play around. An invitation to create avatars or play games can encourage attendees to engage more comfortably with the program later in the event.
- Explore learning styles. You can employ tools that help participants identify their learning styles, such as a poll during or before an event asking about their preferences. Storycraft Lab has developed profile descriptions that help determine what kind of materials attendees might favor, such as visual, aural, written, or kinesthetic content.
- Plan (and ask) ahead. Consider conducting pre-event outreach to discover your participants’ specific accessibility needs.
“When we accommodate diverse preferences, we’re positioning attendees to successfully participate in our content.”
Founder and CEO
Use Neuroinclusive Design and Other Accommodations
In addition to customizing content, implementing neuroinclusive event design throughout the event experience can help all attendees feel welcome and comfortable.
Consider carving out quiet rooms or no-noise zones, designated as spaces where participants can take sensory breaks. Skift Meetings (formerly EventMB) suggests thinking about details like lighting, fragrance, and colors. According to Skift Meetings, hybrid events also offer neurodivergent attendees the chance to engage with the experience “according to their unique needs and ways of coping in social situations.”
Other accommodations that ensure your event champions diversity and inclusion, in general, could include the following:
- Providing wheelchair accessibility
- Hiring sign-language interpreters
- Building a website that is compliant with ADA standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Providing post-event transcripts and recordings with subtitles
These offerings can help boost diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), including for neurodivergent participants.
Invite Feedback Before, During, and After Events
Some of the conversations around the concept of neurodiversity are new and changing, and not every Event Experience Leader will immediately know all the solutions for reaching neurodiverse audiences. That’s precisely why it’s such a meaningful conversation to have.
Event planners should engage with their participants before, during, and after events to build a true understanding of the wide variety of preferences and needs that exist among event-goers. Building these relationships can help make sure attendees feel heard and understood.
Simple outreach, such as asking participants what their preferred pronouns are ahead of an event, can go a long way.
It’s also important to be open to feedback after an event. Opening channels of dialogue and inviting feedback helps participants feel cared for and keeps the relationship strong between event organizers and attendees.
“There’s no playbook,” Crellin said. “The more we talk about it, the more natural it’s going to seem.”
Practice Radical Empathy When Planning an Inclusive Event
Event participants know sincerity when they see it — recognizing your attendees’ needs, limitations, preferences, and personalities must come from a genuine place.
“First, you have to care,” said Megan Henshall, the global events strategic solutions lead at Google. “When you understand why this matters, that’s the first step.”
Henshall says a fear of getting it wrong shouldn’t intimidate Event Experience Leaders from looking at all the available tools to maximize inclusivity. She said event planners should make time to understand the meaning of neurodiversity and not design based on “unconscious biases or assumptions.”
DE&I in event planning should be a priority from the beginning. Thoughtful gestures can include improving the diversity of a speaker lineup and using tools to understand individual participants’ needs better. In fact, Storycraft Lab has created empathy mapping tools that help Event Experience Leaders understand what an event journey might be like as experienced by someone else.
Story Crafting with Empathy from Storycraft Lab
For more insights and strategies for championing neurodiversity and planning an inclusive event, watch “Content for All! Designing a Neuroinclusive Program” from the Event Experience Summit on-demand now.