‘If you don’t stand for something, understand that your audience is going to think you don’t stand for anything’
Every decision that an event marketer makes—and uses their budget for—offers an opportunity to advance diversity. That rings especially true when it comes to audience development. But organizations that advocate for diversity need to back up their words with action in order to achieve real progress. In a session on diversity in events at the summer edition of the Experiential Marketing Summit, Chardia Christophe-Garcia, executive director-audience and community marketing at Forbes, addressed the topic head-on. From how to ensure that no attendee feels like the “only” at an event to leveraging data to diversify audiences, Christophe-Garcia offered best practices on changing the landscape. Following are six of her tips for success.
More Insights on Diversity in Events:
- Experiential in Color: The Event Industry’s Next Generation of Diverse Leaders
- 2021 Executive Roundtable: Diversity in Events
Enlist Diverse Speakers
The person speaking on stage at an event directly impacts who is sitting in the audience. Speakers are often the reason people sign up to attend an event, and if they don’t see themselves reflected on stage, they’re not going to come, says Christophe-Garcia. As such, event marketers should focus on diverse programming because “there’s a direct driver there.”
Fostering diversity in events also means thinking differently about speaker seniority. If there’s an internal goal of having ceos on a panel, but there are few people of color who hold that position, it’s critical to shift that objective, Christophe-Garcia says. “Understand that you can have a high-level conversation with different title ranges that make up that panel. The speaker portion plays a critical role in audience development.”
Leverage Attendee Data
Data can offer a valuable jumping off point on the road to diversifying audiences. Forbes has begun asking attendees to (voluntarily) self-identify on its event registration forms, explaining to attendees that the answers will better help the brand reach diverse communities.
“We had to get really honest as a company and take a step back and say ‘What are we doing now, what have we done in the past, and how can our events team really change the conversation?’” says Christophe-Garcia. “The information and data that we have been able to collect as a result of just asking that simple question has held us accountable in terms of audience and meeting those [DE&I] goals.”
Lean on Partnerships
When you’re striving to build a more diverse audience, meaningful partnerships can serve as a stepping stone. Christophe-Garcia, for instance, is a member of the New York Women in Communications organization. If she’s looking to include more women in a Forbes event, she may offer members of the organization a free ticket to attend and join the conversation. “Obviously we have revenue goals that we have to meet, but DE&I goals are just as important,” she says.
Implement Focus Groups and Post-Event Surveys
A tried and true strategy, focus groups attended by a brand’s “superusers” can help event marketers understand what needs changing. Christophe-Garcia says the gatherings don’t have to be formal—a causal dinner or even a Zoom meeting will suffice. The idea is to have an honest conversation with participants on what they love and what could be done better in terms of DE&I, whether it’s getting their thoughts on the conversations that transpire at an event or the featured speakers.
Post-event surveys can also be beneficial—but only if the data collected is used in a meaningful way. Event marketers need to be honest about whether or not they’re actually leveraging survey data, Christophe-Garcia says. And it’s critical to ask attendees thoughtful questions that may yield answers that are tough to swallow in order to foster real change.
Provide Inclusive Spaces
No one wants to feel like the “only” at an event, but it happens far too often.
“As a Black woman, every room I walk in, whether it’s a restaurant, whether it’s a conference, I scan the room,” says Christophe-Garcia. “And I know many people of color have said this: The first thing we look for is, is there anyone that looks like me? What I’ve noticed often at some of these conferences is the answer is, I don’t see a big pool of us. It’s not a great feeling.”
Of course, having a diverse audience in the first place would eliminate that problem. But from a broader perspective, it’s important to ensure that every attendee feels welcome and included from the second they step foot inside an event, she says. One solution: Event organizers can empower staff to strike up a conversation with attendees who don’t have anyone to talk to, and help make introductions to others in the room. It’s about “putting connectors strategically throughout your event cycle… people that are built into your attendee space to foster those conversations for people that may not be necessarily as forward with their approach to networking,” says Christophe-Garcia.
Be Authentic From Top to Bottom
Fostering diversity in events and driving real progress has to start with the event host itself. DE&I needs to be woven through every aspect of a business, Christophe-Garcia says. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, she adds, but if a brand hosts a conference and DE&I is a topic being addressed, or posts a slideshow on social media illustrating that they’re working to advance diversity, there has to be internal representation to back those initiatives up.
“If you show you’re pro-this topic, yet internally, your staff feel frustrated, and when George Floyd’s death happened you never once thought to have a conversation with your staff about how they’re feeling—when these things are happening throughout the culture and the fabric of the organization, there needs to be levers trickled across all different buckets of the company to make sure that your staff internally and your audience externally know that this brand stands for something,” says Christophe-Garcia. “And if you don’t stand for something, understand that your audience is going to think you don’t stand for anything.”
Featured photo credit: VictoriaBar