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Exploring the potential of events to promote cultural shifts

IMEX America
Smart Monday, powered by MPI

Day of learning – Smart Monday, powered by MPI – at IMEX America

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – The potential of events to promote positive cultural shifts resonated loud and clear in many of the education sessions at IMEX America’s Smart Monday, powered by MPI. This dedicated day of learning gave buyers and suppliers alike the chance to immerse themselves in the latest thinking and to have in-depth discussions before the show opens tomorrow.

In We all belong: creating an accessible world, Google’s Inclusive Knowledge Lead, Gokul Krishnan, shared where his interest in designing inclusive experiences came from. While working at Stanford Children’s Hospital he met Brandon, a young patient with terminal cancer. Brandon was bored and challenged Gokul to help him. He designed a ‘mystery box’ for Brandon who then spent 10 hours absorbed in engineering a night light for patients and nursing staff, explaining “in those 10 hours I forgot I was in hospital.” This gave Gokul a fresh perspective on the power of carefully designed experiences to help people feel included, and to provide hope and healing. “Inclusion is a mindset, and this is what we all need in our lives and in our workplaces,” he said.

Natalie Fulgencio-Turner, Director Creative Strategy, Storycraft Lab, explained that as a young Afro-Caribbean woman working in the arts she’d frequently look around the room and ask herself ‘do I belong here?’ She said: “There weren’t many who looked or sounded like me so I started asking myself who else can I bring along, and will they feel they belong here too? I invite you all to do the same. Ahead of your next event ask yourself who isn’t in the room, and why. Then be sure to invite them. And remember this is a long journey, and it needs to be fun!”  

IMEX America

Designing inclusive environments, panel session at Smart Monday

The key to inclusivity? Ask, don’t assume

The key to designing inclusive events lies in having open, honest conversations with a wide range of voices. In a panel session – Designing inclusive environments – Megan Henshall, Global Event Solutions Strategic Lead at Google, said: “If I want to understand how to make an inclusive, welcoming event that cultivates belonging, I should probably be talking to the people that I want to invite and welcome into those experiences. It starts with focus groups and transparent conversations – we want to ask, not assume.” 

The process of defining and designing an inclusive event isn’t a one-stop shop. DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) is an issue that continuously requires examination, influence and active participation.

“It’s crucial that we champion inclusivity in our sector as a means to driving economic and social progress,” said Amy Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council. “DEI needs to be embraced by organizational leadership to be effective. Results from our 2022 Equity Benchmarking Study underscore there’s still room for improvement particularly in advancing ethnic diversity, gender inclusivity, and equity in leadership and influential positions.” 

Planners were encouraged to explore ways to meet diverse needs through their conversations with suppliers. Steve Enselein, SVP Events at Hyatt Hotels, spoke about catering for a wide range of needs in Evolution of an industry: partnering with hotels in 2023. According to Steve, chefs are prioritizing sustainability, healthy eating, and menu customization for diverse markets. Gone are the days of endless buffets. He said: “We’re telling our chefs to provide smaller menus, focus on what you do best. We’ve moved to a menu of the day program that caters for dietary restrictions and healthy eating. I can’t tell you how much better it is for the attendees’ experience.” 

AI job enhancement

AI can also be used to create a personalized experience, explained Heather Munnell, Director, Client Experience at VDA. During her session Exploring the untapped potential of AI in the events industry, she shared many ways meeting planners can use AI to help enhance their jobs.

“The key is to take on AI as a tool that helps facilitate your business model – it’s about working smarter not harder. There are several solutions – including free options – which, when used correctly, can really enhance our work and help us solve problems. For instance, you can ask ChatGPT to provide a list of 10 venues in a city and use this as your starting point for further research.” 

Alison Jayne, Trademark Event Productions, who attended the session agrees: “I think AI is going to impact our industry in many ways – not all that we know of yet. It’ll continue to change and evolve – it’s certainly going to change the way we do our site selection and source content.”

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