Creating Inclusive Corporate Meetings: Prioritizing Accessibility for All

Creating Inclusive Corporate Meetings: Prioritizing Accessibility for All

Key Considerations for Inclusive Meeting Planning

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important law protecting the rights of people with disabilities, as well as preventing discrimination against them.

It’s an important rule for meeting and event organizers to understand, as it means you must take the necessary steps to accommodate disabilities in your meetings to ensure they’re inclusive and can be attended by everyone who wants or needs to come.

Before you organize your next event, let’s take a look at some of the key ADA considerations to make sure your meeting is safe, compliant, and inclusive for everyone.

Offer support for hearing-impaired attendees 

Deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees are often overlooked in event planning, meaning they can struggle to get the maximum value out of your event or feel excluded from certain activities.

Think holistically about the needs of your hearing-impaired attendees by considering what they might need throughout the event. This includes closed captioning for video feeds, sign language interpreters (either provided by your organization or allowing attendees to bring their own at no additional cost), or assistive listening devices, such as hearing loops or FM systems, that transmit sound directly to hearing aids or headphones.

Another consideration is your seating arrangements. If an attendee is hard of hearing, they may prefer to sit at the front of the venue close to the presenters, or near a speaker to help them avoid background noise.

Choose accessible venues

Accessibility should always be a consideration when making your event venue selection. This includes things like wheelchair ramps, elevators, accessible restrooms, accessible parking, and suitably wide doorways to allow access to mobility equipment, such as scooters or wheelchairs.

For visually impaired or blind attendees, ensure there are suitable railings around the venue, and that signs and important information are available in braille. Ahead of the event, check that the lighting is sufficient for navigating around the venue, and that there are no trip hazards, such as cables or uneven flooring.

Many venues are becoming more aware of attendees with sensory sensitivities who may need quiet spaces to take a break from noise, crowds, and busy environments. A designated room to allow attendees to take a breather will help accommodate these guests, and providing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones will help you go the extra mile.

Provide content or trigger warnings

Think carefully about whether the content of your event, or any of the specific sessions, contains topics some could find sensitive or triggering. “Triggering topics” can vary greatly, but could include discussions around health (including mental health), politics, current affairs, crime, violence, or graphic content.

It’s better to include a trigger warning that isn’t needed than to not include one and hope for the best, so err on the side of caution if you believe your event’s content could veer into triggering territory. This will likely mean carefully reviewing all event materials, including presentations, talk tracks, and printed materials, to ensure that attendees are aware of any potentially sensitive content.

These content warnings should be provided ahead of the event, such as on the registration page or in your event promotion emails, as well as on the day before any sessions your attendees could find triggering, giving them the option to step out if they prefer not to be exposed to certain topics.

Comply with all ADA regulations

All event organizers in the US must adhere to ADA regulations to avoid falling foul of the law and to offer attendees an inclusive, enjoyable, and safe event experience.

The ADA website provides a comprehensive overview of everything an event organizer will need to consider, but the key areas to think about before your next event include:

  • ADA scope – The ADA applies to all events and venues that are open to the public, including conferences and trade shows
  • Accessibility requirements – Event organizers must ensure that events are accessible to people with disabilities by providing reasonable accommodations, which may involve making physical modifications to the event space
  • Venue selection – Event organizers must select venues that are accessible to people with disabilities
  • Attendee communication – Promotional materials, signup forms, and event signage must be accessible to people with disabilities, whether this is ensuring web content is compatible with screen readers, providing printed materials in braille, or including closed captions on video content
  • Service animals – Event organizers must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into events, such as medical alert dogs or guide dogs

For more practical advice on adhering to the ADA’s guidelines, take a look at the MPI’s ADA guide for meeting and event planning.

If you’re looking for help adhering to ADA guidelines for your next event or meeting, help is at hand!

We have 20+ years of experience organizing ADA-compliant events for companies throughout America, so our team of meeting professionals would love to help you get it right.

Contact us today to find out how we can help.

How Do Environmental, Social, and Governance Standards Fit Into Your Meeting Strategy?

How Do Environmental, Social, and Governance Standards Fit Into Your Meeting Strategy?

What is ESG, and why is it important for your meeting strategy?

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards are becoming increasingly important in the modern business world. These three areas of focus for companies are vital considerations for organizations looking to run more sustainable, ethical events and meetings and will only become more crucial in the coming years.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is a term used to represent an organization’s corporate financial interests, focusing mainly on sustainable and ethical impacts. It is a must for large Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 organizations whose stakeholders are demanding they align with these standards. Organizations already aware of these standards will find it easier to interact as a partner by focusing more on sustainability and diversity, which is especially relevant in meetings and events.

Let’s find out why.

Environmental standards for corporate events and meetings

Since the global pandemic, more and more organizations have turned to virtual and hybrid events to mitigate their meetings’ environmental impact. Switching to virtual events helps eradicate the carbon footprint of traveling to and from the venue and removes the effects of printing paper resources, onsite meals, and buying and transporting meeting supplies.

However, as travel restrictions have eased, organizations have started revisiting in-person events through a more sustainable lens. Using QR codes linked to online resources and choosing more sustainable venues with good public transport links are just the beginning. Opting for hotels that source locally can also help reduce the environmental impact of food and beverage at events. Asking the question of your venue, “What are your strategies for sustainability?” and ensuring they adhere to your goals will help decrease your meeting’s environmental impact.

Social considerations for the corporate meeting & events industry

Social considerations are an important, often-overlooked aspect of ESG. Organizations prioritizing ESG are now thinking more about the diversity of their workforce, supply chain, and partners. This could include championing marginalized communities, increasing the number of women-owned businesses in the supply chain, or working with people of color as ambassadors.

Social-oriented policies go beyond observing International Women’s Day, Pride, or the Black Lives Matter movement; it’s about embedding diversity at the organization’s heart. At AMI, we truly believe in social diversity and work to strengthen our inclusive supplier chain with every event.

Governance for event businesses prioritizing ESG

Diversity matters at every level of the organization – including the governance team. A diverse range of viewpoints supports inclusion throughout the organization, ensuring that more voices are heard. Many businesses are looking to partner with organizations with diverse governance, including gender, sexuality, race, religion, and more.

It’s also about having ethical policies in place to ensure that the entire organization upholds the ethical standards at the core of the business. This helps reassure customers that their event partners work to the same ethical standards for producing meetings and events for their audience.

Why ESG matters in the corporate events industry

At AMI, we’ve found that more and more clients are requesting ESG policies and want to know how these topics are being considered and acted upon by their events partners. If an organization is looking to produce greener, more sustainable, more diverse events, working with an events partner with a strong ESG stance will help them ensure they get it right.

The world, in general, cares more about looking after the environment, supporting diverse communities, and partnering with businesses that share their ethics, which is why having clear ESG policies in place matters. Organizations are more conscious than ever before of reducing their carbon footprint, reducing waste, and being more inclusive. Those in the events industry who can prove that they live and breathe ESG will stand out.

How to Budget Smarter for Rising Corporate Travel Costs

How to Budget Smarter for Rising Corporate Travel Costs

The good news: business travel is back! The less good news: the cost of business travel is skyrocketing.

The highest per diem corporate travel cost increases from 2020 to 2021 are 41.48% in Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33.8% in New Orleans, LA, and 33.44% in New York, NY. New York City unsurprisingly is the most expensive city for business travelers, with an average cost per diem of $540.74.

Before the pandemic, business travel was one of the top 5 highest expenses for organizations. Following the pandemic, there are new economic, social and geopolitical drivers pushing up the cost of corporate travel. The cost of gas is increasing, and airlines are inflating prices to recuperate some of the losses from the last two years. While corporate travel isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, organizations are a lot savvier about spending their travel budgets.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to stop corporate travel entirely. There are many reasons to keep global travel on the agenda, from long-overdue reunions with valued business contacts to in-person conferences and events to training workshops.

So, how can you budget smarter to mitigate the rising cost of business travel?

Compare flight and meeting calendars

Unfortunately, the myth about Tuesdays being the cheapest day to book flights has been debunked. But it can certainly help you secure more affordable business travel if you take the right approach. If you know you need to travel for business and have some flexibility around dates, take a look at the flight prices before making a firm decision. Traveling into New York on a Wednesday afternoon instead of a Monday morning is likely to produce very different prices, so plan corporate travel around the flight costs to avoid being stuck paying well over the value.

Rethink your transport options

62% of people who will travel for work in the next three months will take their personal vehicle, 46% intend to fly, and 25% will rent a car.

Consider alternative accommodations

Unless you have a fantastic deal with a hotel chain that gets you their best business rates, it may be time to reconsider how you handle accommodations. Hotel rates are expected to increase by 13% globally in 2022, so why not consider renting an Airbnb or Vrbo for your employees instead of a hotel? This may be cheaper, especially for midweek business travel, and you may be able to find somewhere closer to where they need to be, saving on additional travel costs during the trip.

Opting for a private accommodation booking may enable you to select a more cost-effective meeting venue. Avoiding the expensive hotels in tourist hotspots gives you more flexibility around the location of your event, so you may choose to opt for a less expensive neighborhood to keep costs down.

Send your local coworkers

This won’t always work, but sometimes it may pay off to send your local coworkers to handle meetings and events in their area. For instance, if you have a globally distributed marketing team looking to attend a conference in London, it makes sense only to send your UK coworkers rather than flying your US team halfway around the world to join them.

This may seem obvious, but most organizations would be surprised to see how much money they have spent over the years on sending employees further than they need to for corporate travel. In fact, this Corporate Travel Index Calculator from Business Travel News will help you figure out how your corporate travel costs measure up.

Analyze your travel spending trends

It’s a fact that some teams (such as sales and marketing) will spend more on travel, but do you know exactly how much they are spending? Working closely with your accounting team will give you an insight into how your travel budget is being spent and where there might be opportunities to cut back.

For instance, are business class flights necessary for domestic trips, or would economy suffice? Are there lots of lavish meals happening on business trips? Are certain employees spending significantly more than expected on Ubers when hiring a car would be cheaper? Taking the time to analyze your corporate travel spending will empower you to make smarter decisions.

Opt for hybrid events

While some corporate travel is inevitable, there are likely times you can save on the cost of business travel by simply not traveling.

Hybrid events are becoming increasingly popular as they strike a balance between maintaining face-to-face connections and real-life interactions and a more cost-effective, sustainable approach to meetings and events. Instead of sending your entire team, business class, on a long-haul flight, why not choose a couple of key contacts, and have everyone else dial into the meeting virtually

There are plenty of hybrid meeting tools to engage both in-person and virtual attendees, and when done right, a hybrid event can deliver even more impact than an entirely face-to-face event. For example, your busy senior colleagues may not be able to fly to another city for a three-day event, but they can dial in when needed, which benefits everyone.

Is the Metaverse Right for Your Event Strategy?

Is the Metaverse Right for Your Event Strategy?

Who would have thought, two years ago, that we would be talking about the metaverse in 2022?

But what is the metaverse? The metaverse is a “universe within a universe” – or, to put it into context for corporate events, it’s a virtual space where people can meet and interact in virtual reality.

Many believe that the metaverse will one day become the norm for virtual events, as they offer a more personal, immersive experience of online events and meetings. This hot events trend allows attendees to create animated avatars or use photos to customize their virtual persona before interacting with other attendees in various virtual environments such as exhibitions, meetings, or seminars.

While the metaverse has huge potential for the future of events, it may not be right in every situation. Read on to discover everything you need to know to determine if the metaverse would suit your event strategy.

Will your attendees “get” the metaverse?

Before diving into your ambitious plans for events in the metaverse, first think about your attendees. Are your attendees particularly tech-savvy, or are they keen to return to in-person events? If it’s the former, great! The metaverse might be right for you. Now may not be the right time to invite your people to a virtual, avatar-fueled event if it’s the latter. It may be a complete turn-off for the wrong audience, so think carefully about what your attendees tend to look for in an event.

Equipment and resources for metaverse events

For a truly immersive metaverse experience, your attendees will need a virtual reality headset, such as the Oculus Quest or the hotly anticipated Apple headset. These are expensive, and they are not yet mainstream devices, meaning that either your attendees will need to obtain a headset of your own or you will need to provide (and ship) them, potentially adding thousands to your metaverse events budget. Haptic gloves are not strictly necessary but add to the immersive nature of metaverse events. Attendees will also need a great internet connection for an uninterrupted event, which may prohibit some from joining.

One alternative could be using the highly cost-effective Google Cardboard for your metaverse events, which turn your attendees’ smartphones into VR headsets. However, the quality may not be as high as with a dedicated headset designed for video gaming.

Types of metaverse events

 The beauty of the metaverse is that you can create virtually any event you like. There is no need to spend months finding the perfect venue – you can design it all yourself or amend one of the many metaverse event venues being designed right now.

Types of metaverse events you might consider include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Industry exhibitions
  • Conferences
  • Product launches
  • Company meetings
  • Networking events
  • Training workshops
  • Corporate parties

Your attendees can navigate the metaverse as they would a real-world event: a busy exhibition hall with vendor booths, a giant lecture theater with guest speakers, or a virtual meeting and interacting with colleagues halfway around the world. This leads us to our next point.

The metaverse for global event audiences

A major benefit of metaverse events is that they can bring together global audiences in a more immersive, interactive way than a simple Zoom call. An attendee in Texas can “meet” a peer in the UK without ever stepping on a plane while talking to an avatar, a photograph, or even a live video stream of the other attendee for more engaging conversations. If you tend to host large-scale events with global audiences, the metaverse could be a fantastic way to bring people closer than ever before from the comfort of their own homes (or workplaces). 

If, however, you host smaller, more local events, you are likely better off sticking with in-person events. The expense, time, and effort of setting up a metaverse event is not probably worth it if you host an informal, intimate meeting for a dozen attendees in the same city.

Sponsorship opportunities for events in the metaverse

If you are looking for event sponsors, a metaverse event could be a very appealing prospect for many sponsors – especially large global brands or those in the technology space. This is because a metaverse event can be promoted to and attended by people worldwide, which increases brand exposure exponentially over a typical in-person event.

Additionally, you can get much more creative with metaverse branding opportunities. If you wanted the entire venue floor to be covered in a sponsor’s logo, you could do it. If a sponsor wanted to double the size of their “booth,” it’s perfectly possible. In theory, the sky is the limit with branding and sponsorship opportunities within your metaverse event – and if another exhibitor wants to join your event at short notice, you can easily create extra space for them.

Sustainable events in the metaverse

For organizations prioritizing sustainable events, hosting events in the metaverse is ideal. This option allows you to minimize travel and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your event, along with eliminating waste from booth builds, décor, and physical materials.

The metaverse is also great for welcoming expert speakers and trainers to your event. That Australia-based expert in your field suddenly becomes a lot more accessible if they can attend your event in the metaverse without having to fly halfway around the world – and as a bonus, it will be easier for them to fit your event into their busy schedule if they don’t need to allow time for travel.

Ready to take the next step into metaverse events?

We’re right there with you! Contact American Meetings today to discover how you can welcome your audience into the metaverse for your next event.

The Future of the Global Meetings and Events Industry

The Future of the Global Meetings and Events Industry

Andy McNeill, CEO of American Meetings, Inc. was a recent guest on the Tourism Entrepreneur Podcast, where he shared his knowledge and expertise on the state and future of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) industry and tips for success. The following article is a Q&A derived from the podcast.

Q: What is the current state of the MICE industry?

A: There is no doubt the MICE industry was hit hard in the last 18-months. But, through adversity comes opportunity, and the shining star has been the solidification of hybrid meetings in the global meeting and events industry. Because of this, the MICE industry is poised to come back roaring, releasing the pent-up demand for business travel. Corporations discovered the true potential and power of virtual meeting technologies this last year, and many of them also saw the cost savings and positive environmental impact. However, they also know the personal value of face-to-face meetings, visiting amazing venues, and the power of incentive trips. This means hybrid events are here to stay.

Q: What tips and tools can you suggest for hosting hybrid meetings?

A: With the win-win experience of hybrid meetings, managing these effectively will be key in the coming years. Using the right tools is paramount. This past year’s huge demand for this technology initiated a giant leap forward in capabilities, accessibility, and security.

Suppliers who offer support around streaming capabilities, online technical support, virtual speaker and presentation management, online registration, virtual attendee experience, engagement analytics, and production are in high demand. Today’s technological capabilities provide the opportunity to deliver high-quality live, virtual meetings that rival in-person—including keynote and large general sessions for trade shows, breakout sessions, team collaboration, and classroom training rooms. Broadcast-quality production is possible over the internet and is more accessible than ever.

Q: How can destinations and venues stand out?

A: Destinations and venues still serve an important purpose to provide experiences that can only be properly expressed in person. In order to stand out, many venues are turning to creative solutions, such as amazing design, state-of-the-art technology, and sustainability measures to attract audiences. Some are using incentive gifts as a way to attract groups, whether offered onsite or as gift certificates for future use. Promoting venues as the perfect place to hold charitable trips is another great idea to bring people together to support community and environmental efforts and provide a way for guests to give back.

It’s important that the right people know the special things you are doing to create exceptional experiences. This means seeking out groups of like-minded professionals where you can share ideas and have access to potential buyers in the space. The American Meetings Network is an organization that brings the MICE suppliers together to network, generate new ideas, and connect companies with planners and sourcing managers with millions in meeting spend.

Q: What is the future of the MICE industry?

A: The pandemic has shown us the environmental value of reducing our carbon footprint. Corporations reaped the benefits of reduced costs and emissions by holding virtual events. This calls out the importance of sustainability.

Sustainability must be our focus moving forward. We’re all in this together—work with partners who stand with you to reduce waste and are making a concerted effort to provide “greener” solutions. So many great ideas have already been generated, with venues and event services suppliers working together on food donation efforts and providing products and services that support the community. Hybrid meetings have played a major role in supporting the “green” meeting movement, and this is the main reason why they have become so popular.

Q: What encouragement can you provide to those in global travel?

A: Many travel agencies are struggling right now, but it isn’t the first, nor will it be the last downturn the industry will face. Within the last 20 years alone, we have endured 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 recession, and now COVID. This industry continues to rebound. The best advice I can give is this: hang in there, control expenses, and keep your passion for the hospitality business.

At AMI, we are seeing business returning to a more ‘normal’ cadence. However, ‘normal’ is looking a little different these days. To all in the MICE industry, stay positive, build a strong network, be willing to make shifts when you need to, and things will get brighter.

Listen to the expert guest interview of American Meetings, Inc. CEO, Andy McNeill on the  “Tourism Entrepreneur Podcast”. Listen now.

The Future of the Corporate Events Industry

The Future of the Corporate Events Industry

On a recent podcast, “The Future of Tourism”, American Meetings, Inc. CEO Andy McNeill shares his expertise and forward view of tourism as it relates to the MICE Industry (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions), a corporate events industry that heavily relies on travel and venues to thrive. Over the past 18 months, both industries have faced huge obstacles that threatened their existence.

The following article is a Q&A derived from the podcast.

The corporate events industry has been slammed by travel and gathering restrictions, but the need for meetings hasn’t gone away. In 2020, nearly $1.4 trillion dollars in international business travel spend disappeared resulting from travel restrictions. And, with today’s continued uncertainty, it’s been predicted that it will take five years or more to recover. Bill Gates believes that it will never fully bounce back and estimates only 50% of business travel will return.

With this in mind, we look at the future of tourism and the corporate events industry.

Q: What did 2020 look like for AMI (American Meetings, Inc.)?

A: It started really well. We were on an economic high with everyone making money and growing. I was at a conference in New York City when I first heard the word “COVID.”  Our target market is Fortune 500 companies, which tend to be risk-averse, so we knew we had to make a quick change. We were lucky that we had been supporting virtual platforms with a few of our clients. While it took a few months, we were able to transition to all virtual events, all the while not knowing when live events would come back. This was when hybrid meetings were born.

Q: When did it hit you that everything going forward was going to change in the event industry?

A: I was on a strategy call with one of our bigger clients when we received a call from their travel officer, who informed us that these critical employees were restricted from traveling. We knew at that moment we had to adjust and get ready for a new way of doing business. It was critical that these people meet, and we knew we had to support that any way we could.

Q: What was the hardest part of making this shift?

A: Our biggest challenge was trying to figure out which software to support quickly. There were so many options and in the past, we would offer solutions to the IT department of the company hosting the virtual event and let them pick. This time we had to choose a few that matched the greatest needs of our clients while also providing the compliance, security, and bells and whistles they required. We had to pick a few and stick with them. We made the investment, and it paid off. We started 20 years ago as a live meeting organization, and now we are supporting meetings through technology. We always knew technology would be part of the mix, but it’s bigger now and here to stay.

Q: What do you see as the biggest benefit of hybrid events?

A: Our society is changing, and sustainability is more important than ever. Reducing the carbon footprint of travel has been on people’s minds, and this is going to continue. Large corporations often take on sustainability efforts, but they don’t know how to really make events feasible in the hybrid format. Now, they have seen that they can save money by reducing travel and accommodation costs and still have a successful event.

We all know live events are important because we are social beings and some components still really need to be done face-to-face. But, people are still unsure about meeting in large crowds, and venues are uncertain about ever-changing restrictions and regulations. This has created a strong case for hybrid events.

Q: What do events of the future look like?

A: Interaction tools. Avatars. AI. We are always looking for ways to enhance the experience for all guests, whether live or virtual, and these tools help create a one-world model that brings everyone together.

Technology exists that allows the speaker, who isn’t anywhere near the participants, to be seen and interacted with including receiving eye contact as though it is face-to-face. The price still needs to come down on some of this technology to make it more accessible, but there are existing solutions that bring in 3D holograms or similar into a space to make it seem like we are all in the same space, even though we are half-a-world apart. It’s time for organizations to develop content with AI in mind and build it into their programs.

Q: What else are you seeing in the industry that is a benefit?

A: Data. We’ve been spending time educating our clients about the data and reporting that is available. This information now comes in real-time, so being able to digest it quickly and make changes to support the attendee experience is an amazing skill and benefit. In the live environment, we could take polls and look at the information later, but now, we can see exactly who is engaging with content and when we are losing the audience and immediately adjust.

Q: With all this virtual and AI, what are destinations to do?

A:  The destination is an initial factor in what the attendee experience will look like. Before we talk about break-out rooms, we decide what venue will be the best host. Generating a memorable experience is what matters, regardless of the type of meeting. A board meeting on a golf course, an incentive trip with the family, a sales conference on the beach—they all allow the attendee to have time away from their usual day-to-day and smell the smells, see the sights, and taste the foods where they are visiting.

Today we are looking for ways to expand the experience for both virtual and live guests. Destinations that embrace this and take it to the next level will be successful. Travel still matters and if a virtual attendee has a great experience, they may feel more comfortable taking a trip to the venue in the future. People still love to visit new places, so do what you can to improve your brand in their minds, whether virtual or live.

Q: What have you learned?

A: I’ve learned that no two meetings are alike and there is a lot of training going on. There is a learning curve for new virtual technology, even for those who think they are tech-savvy. Give it time.

Overall, it’s been a rough year, but stick to it, it’s going to get better.

Listen to the expert guest interview of Andy McNeill, CEO of American Meetings, Inc. on the “Future of Tourism Podcast”. Listen now.