Integrity Languages


Tag Archives: cultural diversity

Diversity and the Event Experience

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 14, 2020

People don’t want to attend events any more. They want a unique experience.

Go to any conference or expo on the events sector and you will hear that refrain time and time again. You are also likely to hear strong calls for more diversity in the sector and for events organisers to build events that appeal to more than a small number of attendees. But how do these two go together?

It’s a sad fact that many experiential events don’t take into account the needs of the whole audience, making assumptions about access, language, and ability to deal with different stimuli.

A small step up from one part of the exhibition hall to another can render it entirely inaccessible for people in wheelchairs. A lack of provision of quiet spaces or the presence of continual loud noise and bright lights can be a nightmare for those with autism. Decisions to ignore the needs of speakers of other languages drastically reduces the audience and paints the client as being insular.

But it doesn’t have to be like this

Event designers don’t have to be stuck in the same old mindsets. As well as thinking about how cool something will look and the journeys of the “typical delegate”, it’s vital to spend time thinking through access issues. Can everyone access every part of the show, no matter their access requirements and no matter their language?

Taking time to walk around the show floor, either virtually or physically, asking critical questions can lead to small changes that make a big difference. Ask whether deaf attendees will be able to take as much from the show as those who aren’t deaf. Are people free to choose their own routes and take their time or do you need to add flexibility? If I don’t speak English, is it still worth my while attending?

Audiences are diverse

Perhaps a few years ago, we could take it for granted that we could predict the demographics and needs of an audience of accountants or sales people or computer scientists. We might have been able to guess in advance whether we need to provide nursing spaces or quiet zones or food for those with specific dietary requirements.

Today, nothing can be taken for granted. People from all different backgrounds can be found in all professions, and rightly so. If we’re expecting that people will phone in advance to tell us that we wil have five guests in wheelchairs or three people who don’t speak English, we might be in for a shock.

Diversity isn’t just a talking point; it’s a societal fact and it means rethinking how we design and plan events. Instead of expecting people to tell them their needs, event designers need to think about providing certain things, such as step-free access and a variety of foods suitable for different dietary requirements, as standard and proactively asking questions about others, such as language needs.

And the team should be diverse too

Since the audience will be diverse, it makes sense for event organising teams to reflect this diversity in their makeup. Having a single person in charge of the speaking programme or leaving a single designer to build an event on their own is now risky. At the very least, those creating and running events need to find ways to listen to those taking part in events and in experts in a variety of fields.

As a simple example, when planning international events, it really does pay to talk with a consultant interpreter as early as possible so they can help you ensure that the experience works for everyone. More than one event has flopped because a large part of the audience felt left out as a speaker rambled on in a language they didn’t really understand or with an accent they couldn’t follow.

While no-one will pretend it is easy to design events that work for today’s diverse audiences, the reputation of your clients and your company now depends on the event experience working for everyone there. Can you afford to get it wrong?

What Makes an Event International?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 26, 2017

International events are all the rage again. It seems that, if you want to attract savvy visitors, just being “national” won’t cut it. No matter how niche your event and how backwater your venue, if you slap “international” in the name, you will get immediate kudos and an uptick in visitors.


But what actually is an international event?


At its most basic, we could argue that as soon as someone from another country attends your event, it has instantly become international. But that is obviously silly. With air travel still relatively cheap and most European borders still open, having an “international guest” could simply mean that Joe Bloggs popped over on the ferry from Calais to come to your show because he had nothing better to do. Hardly something worth boasting about.


Well, maybe international means that a company or organisation from another country has come to visit. That’s better but still misses the point.


Having a sponsor from Belgium or a group coming from Japan isn’t really the same as the event itself being international. If your content, presentation and décor looks exactly like it did in the days when you were the “West Kilbride Fair for [whatever]” then the presence of a handful of international guests hasn’t really made a difference. In fact, they are pretty likely to go home wishing they never bought their air tickets in the first place!


What makes international events distinctive?


A truly international event is distinctive not so much in terms of the presence of some people from outside your country but in terms of the outlook of the event itself. It’s one thing to manage to persuade ten people from Spain to pop across for two days; it’s quite another to have a show that has a lasting impact on your visitors, no matter where they came from.


To do that takes much more than hanging the odd welcome sign in a different language or giving a passing acknowledgement that someone came to your event from outside the M25. International events that really work do two things right.


International Events Celebrate Cultural Diversity


Why does the Frankfurt Book Fair draw crowds year after year? Why do small, targeted European association events often produce better results than hulking faceless shows?


In both cases, cultural diversity is not just acknowledged; it is celebrated.  In our data-rich societies, answers to information questions are always at our fingertips. The strength of in-person events is in experience, not just information! And for people from a variety of cultures to have a great experiences, their unique contribution must be honoured and celebrated.


The very best international events encourage speakers and delegates to express their own cultural perspective and engage with those of others. Rather than slamming down a requirement to dress the same, speak English and sound like you just popped over on the tube, international events that make a difference create a space for people to experience different cultures and learn from them, which leads to the next key.


International Events Promote Linguistic Diversity


Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming. Yes, it is pretty obvious. There really is no point in claiming the title of an “international event” if the only language you want to see or hear is English. In doing that, you hand over the privilege, power and control to native English-speakers and those who can pass for them.


Yes, English is an international language but even the most skilled second-language English-speaker will express themselves best in their native language. And, since we now know that nearly 60% of them will rarely or never buy in anything but their native language (source: Common Sense Advisory), making content and talks available in several languages will create a sales and results boost too.


If you are still wondering whether it is really worth the effort to promote linguistic diversity at your next event, just ask yourself which is experience would be better for you: being at an event where everything is happening in a language you learned in High School or being at the same event but hearing and seeing your language there.


It’s obvious isn’t it.


The Takeaway


The point of all this is simple. Yes, “international events” are in vogue but getting them right takes more than the name itself. A great international event that has an impact needs the services of translators and conference interpreters. If you would like to know how to put together the right package for your next truly international event, drop me an email.