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Episode 64 / July 17, 2023

Exploring How To Foster Belonging in Event Design at IMEX Frankfurt

Join Naomi Clare Crellin as she talks about taking the Google Xi community to IMEX Frankfurt for a popup activation focused on radical inclusion and event experience design.

In this episode, you’ll hear from Storycraft Lab’s Naomi Clare Crellin about facilitating a popup event activation of taking the Google Xi (Experience Institute) community to IMEX Frankfurt

Naomi Clare Crellin is the founder and CEO of Storycraft Lab and editor and host of the Futures Forum, an innovation think tank. Her event activation’s goal was to explore the Xi Days case study — from the launch of the Neu Project at IMEX 2022 to the recent Xi Days event — and the many industry tools and frameworks being developed around neuro inclusion. The event guided attendees onhow to advocate for the business value of belonging and motivate their communities to foster belonging in the events they create.

Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation:

  • The Xi community’s mission to generate support systems, frameworks, and tools that facilitate universal inclusion in the event industry
  • How the team created an event activation centered on engaging participants in “googly” design sprints to reimagine radical inclusion
  • The launch of the Belonging Index, which is a tool that challenges traditional demographics by focusing on individuals’ values and provides insights for designing inclusive experiences

Mentioned in This Episode


[00:00:00] Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events.

I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. 

This week, we grabbed some time to exhale and dialogue with Naomi Clare Crellin, founder & CEO of Storycraft Lab. Our topic? A truly unique event activation focused on inclusion that Naomi’s team, in partnership with Google, brought to the exhibition floor at IMEX Frankfurt. Inclusion? Google? Dialogue? If at least one of these words spark your interest, keep listening as Naomi shares what we can all learn from this specific event experience.

[00:01:01] Rachel Moore: Joining me on the microphones for this episode of Event Experience, I am speaking to someone I you know what, I’m just gonna cover her last 10 years but her experience in the event industry certainly spans farther than that. So today we’re speaking with someone who has held roles in creative and design at Hargrove LLC, at the Futures Forum, at Revolution Events. And we’re also speaking with someone who’s been an adjunct faculty for Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art Design, as well as George Washington University and New York University.

And of course, some of you may know her the best by her current role as founder and CEO of StoryCraft Lab. I am speaking with Naomi Claire Crellin. Naomi, thank you for joining us on our microphones today. 

[00:01:47] Naomi Clare Crellin: Oh, thanks for having me, Rachel. It’s lovely to be here. 

[00:01:50] Rachel Moore: Would you mind introducing yourself to our listeners and just a bit more about why we’re talking with you today.

[00:01:55] Naomi Clare Crellin: You covered a lot of my recent history and I’m thankful for that. The thing that has really been that kind of red thread throughout all of my experience is teaching. It shapes a great part of the way that I look at my work professionally with teams, with organizations, and with the team that I’m building here at StoryCraft Lab.

StoryCraft lab was actually set up in 2015 as StoryCraft Creative. And for a number of years our book of business was split between narrative design for museum exhibitions at the Smithsonian, a lot of them here in D.C.. And then the other half was experiential design. So I had one half of my life that moved quite thoughtfully at a museum pace. 

And then the other, that was just like full barrel quick. We need a full concept developed and designed you know, in 72 hours. So it always actually weirdly seemed to work out that, you know, I could take from the museum side and apply it at speed and scale on the experience side, and then on the museum side, I could take that immersive experience and play it across.

So that actually has really shaped a lot of the way that we think about the work that we do at StoryCraft Lab and especially the audience centered thinking and work that we do. The teaching is still part of what I do today. It’s still part of what we do as we look at each project that we take on. 

[00:03:26] Rachel Moore: I really appreciate you bringing up the fact that you do have that expertise in teaching and crafting an experience where people aren’t just showing up to perform. 

So let’s, let’s jump right in. Talk to me a little bit about the event activation. I’d love to know the name of it, but just describe to me, what are we focusing on today the work you’ve done for Google Xi. 

Digging into the event activations

[00:03:48] Naomi Clare Crellin: So we are focusing on one particular event, which is a kind of popup event activation where we took the Xi community to IMEX in Frankfurt.

They helped us create a space that was called the CoLaboratory; it was a pop-up space that really provided opportunities for the attendees at IMEX to participate in a series of these googly design sprints that we called CoLabs. And in those CoLabs we were re-imagining experience design futures that are radically inclusive.

So we challenged people, we gave them a provocation to think about what radical inclusion means and in many different ways. I was there with Megan Henshall, who is the founder and leader of Google Xi community as a whole. And she also has an amazing title at Google. I think it’s Head of Strategic Events for the Real Estate and Workplace Services groups. Every time I hear it I’m like, oh, that means you’re very important. So we went there together. She asked us to come along and help to facilitate these CoLab conversations.

So we were really just there to start sharing the Xi community more broadly. You know, we wanted to listen and learn. From planners and strategists and designers in the industry. And we also wanted them to be aware of the Google Xi community and give them an opportunity to get involved, you know, understand that there was a space, if they’re curious about the types of work that we’re doing there.

[00:05:28] Rachel Moore: I commend you for being bold enough to use the word radical based on your geography in the globe, sometimes that word can carry a lot of connotation but I, I think it was great that you kind of set the stage saying, no, we’re serious about this.

[00:05:42] Naomi Clare Crellin: And I have to credit Megan for you know, getting me comfortable as well with some of the language systems. But I think what it does when you’re using a word like that intentionally in design thinking there is the role of the provocation, right? Yeah.

And when you throw a disruptive word in like radical, it kind of requires that you question some of the definitions that you have. So if that’s inclusive, what is radically inclusive? It opens up this entire mindset that I think is a wonderful kind of leveling device.

[00:06:14] Rachel Moore: I wanted to ask you, so you touched on a bit too, the goals. You had mentioned, you know, you want people to get involved in the community. What were some other goals that you were trying to go after with this particular popup for Google?

[00:06:26] Naomi Clare Crellin: One of the things that we used IMEX Frankfurt to do was to launch the Belonging Index, which is an effort that’s coming out of the Xi community.

One of the things that we’re doing within the Xi community, you know, I think I mentioned it’s a kind of coalition of practitioners all looking to innovate events with through that lens of universal inclusion. And we are using it almost like an incubator space within the community to start creating, generating frameworks, tools, techniques, offerings, potentially products that that can service the industry and make that work easier in our day-to-day lives. 

I think we can all recognize that we hear some of these broad terms. We connect with them, we understand as humans why they’re good. But then we, you know, then we clock into the nine to five. We’ve got all of the parameters that come with organizations and budgets and just humans, you know and timelines that can be limiting sometimes.

So really kind of using the Xi community to start generating those support systems. So the Belonging Index is one example of a tool that we’re actually kind of actively working on right now. It’s done in partnership with David Allison who has a company called Valuegraphics.

The idea of it is that the, the system of demographics is broken.

You know, if we look at demographics, it actually reinforces a whole bunch of “isms” that are not helpful to anybody, but it’s been the backbone of marketing for so long that it’s difficult to, you know, ease away from that. So what Value Graphics does is they have it’s a database of survey responses, nearly 1 million responses now from all over the world.

And they focus in on what people value as opposed to what their demographics are so you can understand from a marketing perspective, yeah, that it actually helps you to tailor your marketing in a much more specific and productive way. So David actually has this wonderful database very interested in and he’s now a member of the Xi community as well.

So what he did was kind of offer up a portion of this database we’ve called the Belonging Index. And he has data globally at that kind of massive scale that will return for individuals the belonging values of a particular region and industry vertical. So I could look up media and entertainment in South America in the database, and it would tell me the top three belonging definitions.

So, you know, when my contributions are appreciated might be one. Or when I have access to a group of people that think similarly, it might be another. What it does is it, it helps us as we’re thinking about designing belonging to kind of get these GPS coordinates where we’re headed.

The next stage of what we’re doing now with the Belonging Index is having a, a set of conversations with the industry, which as a part of this podcast, I’d love to kind of offer up to anybody that’s interested to provide a kind of a pool of recommendations or ideas for belonging building.

So if somebody’s saying I belong when I feel like my values are appreciated, what are some of the tangible design responses that we could offer? So that was getting launched at IMEX in Frankfurt. And then we also wanted to bring attention to a product that was launched at the last IMEX in Las Vegas, which is called The New Project, NEU Project.

And that is all about neuroinclusion. So there is an amazing neurodiverse population as a part of the Xi community, and they have created this guide, really a kind of A to Z of how to be neuro inclusive in event design. So you can go to and download that there. 

[00:10:44] Rachel Moore: Lofty goals, I would say, I could practically hear people googling the, the resources you just mentioned.

Your target for this, again, it was an event activation at IMEX Frankfurt. So that’s in a bit of a microcosm of event people. So what, who were your targets? 

Was it, was it primarily just everybody there at the event? 

[00:11:04] Naomi Clare Crellin: Yeah, I, I think it’s those folks within the industry that were interested in some education that were interested in thinking about the topics of inclusion. Maybe it was word radical, maybe it was the word inclusion. Maybe it was Google.

You know, Google has a huge draw. Right. And I think that’s part of the power of what Megan has done in setting up the Xi community from within such a powerhouse; it’s inspiring to me that we get to kind of operate from that platform in advancing these topics. So a lot of people were interested just to see what a Google Sprint was like. A lot of people are just looking for people like them and they kinda look at the topics and the, the environment design and they think, am I gonna find my people here? So, you know, I think the curious minds checked in there. I mean, goodness. I ended up having a really long conversation with somebody that does library planning from Dubai. Wow. About how was like, wow. Okay. But it’s a facet of our industry. Right. And I think that’s what’s wonderful actually about IMEX specifically, is that it really does kind of pull from a really broad range of everybody that’s involved in the world of events. 

[00:12:18] Rachel Moore: I wanna allow you to kind of tell us a little bit what was special. Was there anything special or unique an aspect to this event that you’d like to call out?

[00:12:26] Naomi Clare Crellin: This was really the first time that we had kind of taken Xi out on the road, so to speak.

What I took away as something that was special about that space was where, you know, the IMEX team are very centered on kindness and empathy and, they infused that through their program and they had chosen a spot for us to live quite intentionally. It was almost like a little house shape. So it ended up being almost like this little campfire space that had a feeling within that environment, which can sometimes be difficult to do on a large show floor. We had seats for about 15 people, I think, and generally it was, you know, groups of 12 to 15 that were gathering. But folks, I could feel them exhale as they entered in and kind of stepped off of the carpet runner and into this, this space.

But I also noticed, you know, there’s a lot of badge scanning that goes on, the sales mechanism is never far away from any of the interactions that happen within the 10 by 10 or the 20 by 20 footprint. We chose just to kind of let that that go. And I think that that was key to getting people to share authentically and understand that this was a safe space to talk about challenges or barriers.

As I look to the future of when we create when we look to create that feeling in the future I think kind of having quite an intention around being unintentional on the sales mechanism is a part of looking at that experience.

[00:14:12] Rachel Moore: So if I’m an attendee and I, I find myself, I’m strolling by at IMEX Frankfurt and I see that there’s this Google Xi space and I wanna go in.

What am I experiencing as I, as I enter? 

The role of an event facilitator

[00:14:25] Naomi Clare Crellin: You may see a group of about 10 people sitting around in a circle. There’s a whiteboard and lots of sticky notes going on. At IMEX Frankfurt, there were a couple of facilitators. It was Megan and myself for all of the sessions.

We would begin by sharing the provocation for the conversation. We’ll briefly share why we’re curious about it and what our hopes are for learnings from the discussion. And then there’s usually like this brief period where everybody’s going, Hmm, okay, they consider that question because we throw in those words, like radical, right?

And so being comfortable, for just a moment of like internal silence thinking time and then somebody offers something and, and we’re off. And we would just let the group talk and prompt and celebrate and be curious.

We did the sticky note writing and just add them to the board as the conversation went. So the discussion lasts about 20 minutes. It never feels like it’s long enough really, but it’s we, we take a second to kinda wrap up, review the collective input. What were those kind of big takeaways?

We’ll ask people in the discussion, you know, what are the things that really kind of blew your mind from that chat so that we can help prioritize a little bit and then it just naturally kind of breaks into kinda small group conversations. Like, oh, people are exchanging contact info chatting about areas of inspiration and questions that they have.

I’ve always been a huge proponent for meaningful networking happening within content and education spaces, and it happens very naturally as a part of these discussions. 

[00:16:00] Rachel Moore: Would you do it the exact same way in the future? 

[00:16:03] Naomi Clare Crellin: We were able to observe kinda what worked and what helped, as I mentioned earlier, with kind of creating that safe space.

But it was quite tiring because Megan and I basically signed up and facilitated about four sessions a day for four days shows. There’s obviously that kind of personal level of exhaustion, but, you know, we were so excited and happy about what was going on, you know, that that was okay, but I, I think it kind of raised for us this question around how do we bring more friends and essentially kind of empower them to take this idea and have some agency in it, right? Yeah. So we’re super excited as we look ahead to IMEX Vegas, where we are gonna have a presence around how we can do just that, right? Bring, kind of, bring more friends and voices into the community from the community to have them lead some of these sprint sessions. 

[00:16:56] Rachel Moore: What can our listeners learn from your execution in this specific event experience?

[00:17:02] Naomi Clare Crellin: So I’m a huge fan of the qualitative and the value of qualitative. So I encourage folks to really consider the role of dialogue. There’s real power and a scale of quantitative data. 

But there’s also real power in the role of dialogue to understand your customers that really deeper level. I encourage people to consider, you know, as you’re looking at your event design and your event experience, what is the role of dialogue?

Dialogue can occur and oftentimes these can be interstitial spaces, the spaces in between the programming. It can even be spaces in time. Those moments that you hold on your schedule, your event schedule to allow for decentralized dialogue to occur. You know, nobody has a eureka moment because we tell them to, they have a eureka moment because they’re sitting in the bath over there, talking to somebody that they’d met in the hallway or they’re, you know, sketching on a napkin.

[00:18:11] Rachel Moore: Is there a question you, we haven’t asked you yet that you wish we had asked you? 

[00:18:15] Naomi Clare Crellin: How to get involved in the Google Xi community.

I’m gonna give you an email address [email protected]. So if you send an email to [email protected] that’s gonna be me and Megan and my team on the end, on the receiving end of that.

And we can get you signed up for involvement in the Xi community. 


[00:18:47] Rachel Moore: Can you name an item that you forgot for a work event that caused you some panic? 

[00:18:51] Naomi Clare Crellin: I was thinking about this for a long time and I suddenly realized it’s my lines on stage. I’m so comfortable in the classroom. But as soon as you get me on the stage, I’m like, oh, goodness.

So that’s something I need to keep working on. Get those lines in my brain. 

[00:19:05] Rachel Moore: Is there anything you’re listening to, watching or reading these days that you can’t put down? 

[00:19:09] Naomi Clare Crellin: Yeah, two books and a show for the Culture by Marcus Collins, who looks at the power behind culture and how it affects what we buy and the communities that we choose to engage with. 

I’m also reading Belonging, probably no surprise to anybody, by Jeffrey L. Cohen which I usually skim books, but this one I’m, I, I am reading word for word and considering and rereading and yeah, it’s sparking a lot of thoughts.

And then Ted Lasso. Yes. I can’t stop. I can’t stop. 

[00:19:44] Rachel Moore: Is there a particular social post, piece of media, or a hot take out there somewhere about events that you found interesting? 

[00:19:51] Naomi Clare Crellin: Oh you know, I pay a lot of attention to Liz Latham. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s a prolific poster. 

And there was one that she posted yesterday where she was talking about their work with community and some of the folks that have needed their help at the community factory and she mentioned associations. And the quote that she’d offered in there was that one, one of her association clients told her that even though they believe the association should foster community. It’s primarily focused on selling education and bringing in money. And the board of directors doesn’t know much about kinda what community really means and how to build it or keep it going. And I thought that was super interesting.

[00:20:34] Rachel Moore: Where can our listeners find and follow you online?

[00:20:39] Naomi Clare Crellin: So I do a lot on LinkedIn. So follow us over there, or, or connect with me on LinkedIn as well.

We’re also on Instagram because you can’t not be on Instagram. Then there’s where you can check out more of my company’s work. And like I mentioned, there’s the email, [email protected]. If you’re interested in anything Xi related, get in touch. Super excited to hear from you. 

[00:21:08] Rachel Moore: The Skill Up segment of the show is upon us, and so are Naomi’s insights on surveys (especially the when and the why of gathering attendee input):

[00:21:18] Naomi Clare Crellin: Start looking at measuring in real time at the event itself and even start surveying before the event so that it can inform your design. 

Survey responses are dropping and the value and efficacy of those responses are both limited and flawed. So start experimenting with other data collection and measurement methods. Now these can be pre-event quizzes, surveys they can be at the events, stickies, dots, and notes and emojis or you can do sentiment surveys or even kinda using facial recognition for the emotions that are occurring in space.

So imagine being able to go back to all of your stakeholders post event and say, here’s what we learned about our audience. 

[00:22:07] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Naomi Clare Crellin for joining us on Event Experience, and thank you for listening. 

If you’re enjoying this show, we’d love to hear it!

Connect with us on social and subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you’re listening. Also, don’t forget to share the show with your colleagues and friends. 

You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on

On behalf of the team, thank you. We’ll gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.

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