Ideas for Making Your Conferences More Inclusive

You want to make sure every attendee has the best experience possible, and that may mean rethinking how you’ve done everything from registration to captioning. A look at three associations taking the lead on creating more inclusive meetings.

I know that you don’t need me to tell you about the importance of diversity and inclusion when it comes to all aspects of managing and running your associations. But recently I’ve come across a handful of examples of associations that have tried new initiatives to make sure their conferences are more inclusive. Here’s a look a three of them.

Registration Fee Restructuring

The Heart Rhythm Society’s Annual Scientific Sessions attracts more than 12,000 scientists, researchers, clinicians, and other innovators from around the world. Recognizing that it can be difficult for healthcare professionals with limited financial resources to attend, HRS decided to eliminate registration fees (which ranged from $1,180 to $2,475 in 2019, depending on registration type) for self-paying attendees from countries that the World Bank classifies as lower- and lower-middle income.

“They already have to pay airfare and hotel for four nights,” Germaine Schaefer, senior director, meeting operations, told Convene magazine back in August. “If they’re making those investments, we want to do what we can to help lower additional expenses.”

According to HRS, the strategy is all about spreading education to developing countries to improve patient care. “Cost should not be the barrier,” Schaefer said.

HRS isn’t the only association to reconsider its registration fee structure as a way to make its conference more inclusive. In 2018, the Association for Jewish Studies introduced a new fee schedule, where attendees who earn less pay less to attend the conference than individuals who earn more.

Family Friendly

At its 2019 Annual Meeting in Lisbon, the International Society of Political Psychology did a number of things to show that it was invested in supporting families who would be in attendance. For example, those who submitted proposals to present could make scheduling requests, which ISPP did its best to accommodate.

In addition, when it came time to register, family members and children could register for free. “We knew that they would only be present for a reception or two and perhaps the talk by their parent, spouse, etc., who was actually there to attend the event,” wrote ISPP Executive Director Severine Bennett for Smart Meetings.

Once onsite, ISPP had name badge ribbons for all family members, as well as goody bags filled with items like stickers, crayons, and coloring books for the kids. “If you can find just a little bit in your budget for these types of things—to recognize that your attendees have families and that you, as an organization, are making efforts to accommodate and include them and make them feel special—you will likely reap rewards of loyal members and repeat conference attendees,” Bennett wrote.

Listening Made Easier

A few years ago, EDUCAUSE began noticing that more of its 8,000-plus annual conference attendees were asking for things that would help them better hear speakers. “We do provide sign language interpreters when needed, but [some attendees] are in an in-between world,” Director of Conferences and Events Beth Croll, CMP, recently told Convene. “A lot of our audience is focused on the teaching/learning environment, so we wanted to showcase something that would help all learners.”

At its October 2019 conference, EDUCAUSE introduced Wordly. By connecting the speaker’s microphone to a mobile device running Wordly’s presenter app, the cloud-based software automatically translates their words into 15 languages. Attendees could then use their mobile device to access the website, where they could listen to the real-time translation or read a transcript in whatever language they preferred.

What strategies have you implemented to ensure that your conferences are welcoming to everyone? Tell us about it in the comments.

(Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!