Why and How to Organise Inclusive Events

Kevin talks with Hanan Challouki about why it's important as an event planner to organise inclusive events and how to reach a diverse audience.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Hanan, welcome to our studio.

Thank you, very happy to be here.

I invited you because you did write a book. In Dutch I think it is. On inclusive communication. First of all: congratulations on that book. My first question when I saw the book passing by, was: why is there a need on such a topic?Is there an actual problem? Currently.

Yes, there is definitely a problem. And it has been a problem for quite some decades now. Our societies have become increasingly diverse. On many different levels. Whether it comes to ethnicity or gender. Or economic or social status. There is a huge amount of diversity. And at the same time, when we see the people that are communicating, whether it is companies, organizations, profit, non-profit, government agencies, creative agencies, they are not reaching this super-diverse audience that well. Because, well, first of all, they are not diverse themselves. We still have a very white corporate environment. So there is definitely a huge gap between the people that are sending out communication and those that are receiving it.

And why do you think that is? Because, yes and I also need to be honest...

You see companies making some effort by putting in a black person in their commercials. It sometimes feels a bit artificial. That aside. But is there still a stigma? Are they still afraid of doing that?

No, the thing is: when it comes to diversity in imaging, in the visual representation, there have already been quite some efforts. You know, there've been quite some efforts. There is some movement in that area. As you're saying: something it looks a little fake, because sometimes that's the only thing brands are doing. They are just communicating in a diverse way when it comes to their images. But their language is not diverse. They don't understand these different communities. It sounds fake because sometimes it is actually a little bit fake. And it loses the authenticity in a message. So there is a necessity.

Not when it comes to imaging because I think that we are living in a time, when people are realizing that it's not okay anymore to create a poster with ten people and they're all ten white people. For example. So that is definitely a realization. But there is diversity...

Like, there are so many more possibilities. And so many more steps that need to be taken. For example: you can go for a diverse image and it can look very fake because it's not real. People are still Photoshopping colours on people. People are still Photoshopping hands black, for example. Or legs, or anything. So make it look diverse and it's not even a diverse picture that actually posed for the picture. So these are things that really need to be avoided in the future.

But you mentioned... We were talking about image. But you also mentioned tone-of-voice and things like that. But if you're communicating...

And maybe there lies the problem, I don't know. In many situations you're still broadcasting, to a large audience. How do you tackle that, then? Because I can imagine that I use a kind of slang from the neighbourhood, for example? To include those people. But I will scare off a lot of other people if I do that. So how does that fit in a broader communication strategy?

Well, first, it's important to be accessible. Meaning: I can speak Dutch or I can speak English. If I'm speaking in front of an audience and they all speak English, for example, then I can speak English. Or I can try to speak some kind of a Welsh accent that nobody understands. Which makes it a lot less accessible, of course. So I have to make an effort to be understood by others. That is one thing. And then it's purely about language. But let's say, for example, I'm referring to cultural elements. Or I'm using sayings that are very specific to my community and nobody understands what I'm saying. Well, of course I need to be able to translate that in a more accessible way. To make my language more inclusive so other people understand what I'm saying. And so that the people understand what I'm saying. That it is a group that is way larger then it initially was.

Yes, but that also means that you need to understand those audiences. First of all, know that those audiences are an audience for you. Or a potential audience for you. Then understand how those communities think. How they communicate and so on. And then incorporate that into your marketing strategy.

Perfect. Perfect strategy there. That's exactly what you need to do. And sometimes...

I know people sometimes say: well, if I want to reach everybody, then I'm not reaching anybody. I'm just talking general language and using general words. And I won't really have an audience anymore. And my reply is always: no, you first have to define your target audience. And then go look at the diversity within that group of people.

For example: let's say I'm communicating for a luxury brand. And I want to reach people that have a certain income. Then that is my target audience. I don't have to reach people with a lower income, simply because I have to. But I have to realize that, within that higher income class, there are a lot of different types of people. So how do I reach those people that are definitely belonging to my target audience, but are diverse in many different ways?

But doesn't it start, then, with hiring a diverse marketing team? Because if I'm a white male and I'm Head of Marketing, for example, I don't understand many of those audiences.

Well, the lack of diversity within teams is definitely an issue. I can't lie about that. The agencies, the creative agencies, that we have right now lack diversity on every single level. It doesn't mean that a white marketeer can't be inclusive. That I don't believe. I think that, if you are Head of Marketing, you don't have to give away your job to a person of colour.

I wasn't planning to.

Exactly. But you can be more inclusive by, first of all, creating the right partnerships. Working with people that do have expertise. That do know these target audiences better. You can do a better type of research. You can get to know these target audiences on another level. You can diversify your team. Whether they are people that work for you full-time or freelancers or creatives. There are always temporary measures that you can take to diversify your team. But of course, a diverse team full-time working for you, that's always the end goal.

Yes, but that's exactly what I meant and wanted to go to. It is that you need people who understand your audience. And you can do some research but you can also have people who already know those communities.

If we switch from general communication to event communication and to events. I do know your book is not about events but our audiences are event organizers. That's why I make the switch. How do you think an event planner could be more inclusive?

Well, first of all, I think my book can definitely be for event planners as well. Because communication...

Everybody has to communicate from different type of roles. And it's the same for an event planner. And if the question is: how can they be more inclusive? Well, first of all, you need to look at the content of your event. What are you offering? And does it suit a diverse audience?

Let's say I'm creating an event for a very small group of people. And the group in itself is not very diverse. Well, then there you have it. Then you’re already the people that you need to reach.

But let's say I'm organizing a broad marketing event or a broad event on health and many health professionals can come to the event. Well, of course there is a huge diversity within that group. How can you reach them? Well, first of all look at the content f your event. Who are your speakers? What are your topics? Is everything discussed from a white higher-class, middle-class perspective? Are there different types of speakers? Are there diverse topics? That's the first thing. Like, the content of the event is very important, obviously.

But then, when it comes to the communication, all the principles that we've previously discussed, are also applicable to event communication. Like: you need to be able to communicate in an inclusive manner. You have to make your language very accessible. You have to make sure that your images are very diverse. You need to use, and this is one of the most important things, diverse channels. The problem with events...

Sometimes I see an event pass by on LinkedIn. And it was about an event in the past. Like a month ago. And I'm like: how did I miss this event? It would have been perfect for me. But it doesn't reach me because I'm on different channels or I follow different people. And I saw it way too late. So it's important to know who to connect with. Where to share your message. How to advertise. What are your targets. On social media, for example. Make sure that you can reach that diverse audience. Because you can have a very inclusive message. But if it doesn't get to the people then it's not really effective. So that is very important, definitely for events, to keep in mind.

Yes. You mention channels. I can also imagine that that means looking at media and so on people are using. I remember, we're in the midst of the corona crisis, that certain audiences were very difficult to reach via the national media. Because certain people don't look at the national media.

Exactly. And it can be because of different reasons. But it is the case. Not all media reach a diverse audience. So sometimes you need to ask about those numbers. You need to know if they have the numbers. Do these media know how diverse their audiences are? If they're not, well, then you need to be able to look into alternative media. Other platforms. We have social media now. You can target in many different ways. You can get to know online communities. There are so many groups, pages, online communities that are very active. And that you can work with to promote your event for a diverse audience.

I sometimes hear from marketeers that they also find it a thin line because they don't want to offend people. And they don't want to target on ethnics or other backgrounds.

How do you make sure to stay on the right side of that thin line?

It can be a thin line but, first of all, it's only a thin line if you don't know how to do it. That means that many marketeers, you know...

Let's say I'm a marketeer. I'm a white man and I work for an agency. And I want to reach a diverse group of women. Let's say I want to reach black women. I can go and find all kinds of offensive targets and pages that might or might not reach black women. But, basically, I'm in it without any expertise. Or I can talk to somebody that does know that community. I can talk to an influencer that is part of that community. And, you know, have a dialogue. Find out what are the targets I can use to respectfully reach that audience. And what kind of messages do I send without saying: hey, you're a black woman, please come to my event. No, you can actually...

Yes, but that's basically what many marketeers try to do. While you can actually use shared interests. Let's go back to the health event for example. I can imagine there are a lot of people of colour, working in health industries. How do you reach them? Well, first of all, they have a shared background with all the other people. Namely: they work in health. So try to use that as a shared value. And it's a great way to start. To get to know that audience. And working with others is always a great idea.

Okay Hanan, thank you really much for sharing your insights on the topic. For our Dutch readers... No, for our Dutch viewers we will put the link to your book below the video. Will it also come out in English?

I'm working on it. My editor is working on it.

Okay, that's great news. So, for our English viewers: keep an eye on the book. I really recommend it.

So thank you very much for being here.

Thank you, it was my pleasure.

And you, at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.