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How to give everyone space to engage and be heard

Around 1 in 7 of the UK population is neurodivergent. A term that refers to a wide range of differences in individuals, our brain function, behavior traits and what makes us feel comfortable and confident in situations.

Neurodivergence has nothing to do with intelligence levels and while it can bring specific challenges in certain environments it also brings unique and valuable strengths to business. Approximately 25% of CEOs are dyslexic in the UK, with creativity and big picture thinking being likely key factors in the extraordinary link between dyslexia and entrepreneurship. Yet still the working world is created for neurotypical employees by default.

So, what does neurodiversity mean? The most typically occurring conditions are:

  • Dyslexia (a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words)
  • Dyspraxia (a disorder which affects movement and coordination)
  • Autism or Asperger’s syndrome (which generally involves social or communication difficulties and often presents in repetitive behaviours)
  • ADHD (can involve difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour)

Taking steps to create a neuro-inclusive event means that every voice in the room has the opportunity to contribute, leading to more meaningful interactions, better conversations and increased engagement both inside and outside of your organisation. In-person events by nature aren’t always accessible for everyone, but by being mindful of different needs from the outset, your experience can be as open as possible.


1 Have conversations

Over 15% of the UK is neurodivergent so you don’t need to guess at how to make your events more inclusive, just ask! Speak to people who live with neurodiversity and understand where adjustments can be made to create more inclusive spaces and increase the number of people who feel happy and confident to attend your event. Take the approach of ‘not about us, without us’ and have honest conversations with people with lived experience to ensure that your efforts are really what they need and want, rather than just ticking a box.


2 Communicate clearly

Sending out comms on what to expect when onsite, routes of travel, food and catering information and schedules well in advance can help people plan and prepare, making it much more likely that they will sign up and attend. Likewise, if you’re taking specific measures to make neurodivergent people feel comfortable, talk about it ahead of time – your guests might not be comfortable being open about their needs or asking for adjustments but knowing in advance that you have considered different options can break down barriers to attendance, as well as raising awareness and understanding to other attendees.


3 Be detail orientated

Create a plainly-worded pack of information that can be picked up at reception or downloaded answering frequently asked questions to ease anxiety. Alongside the general information that all guests would find helpful, answer things like – if and how you can ask questions during the day, clear floorplans and information about the venue with maps / pictures and how to speak to staff if you have an issue.

Make sure your onsite team are trained to fully understand the needs of people onsite and are aware of any questions. Communicate with guests that you are there to support them in a non-judgemental and positive way.


4 Curate your environment

Think about the environment as a whole and what it will be like to spend time in that environment. Avoid smelly food (which can cause overstimulation), turn down or remove bright lights and create a pleasant temperature which doesn’t fluctuate between hot and cold. If guests have to move between locations, especially between inside and outside, remember to communicate any clothing or footwear requirements so everyone can plan accordingly.


5 Create quiet spaces

The hustle and bustle of busy events can be overwhelming but by creating a quiet space, and clearly communicating the purpose of that space, you can carve out a safe space to escape. This space should be for everyone to make the most of, but take steps to help guests understand that it is a sanctuary away from the event activities and not a place for meetings or phone calls. Curate your space to have low or dim lighting, no noise or distractions, lots of space to spread out and place it away from catering so there are no strong smells.


6 Inclusive giveaways

When you are planning your branded event goodie bags and giveaways, consider gifts that will be helpful to neurodivergent guests on the day. This could be noise-cancelling earplugs to combat background noise and loud areas, fidget toys to reduce anxiety or sunglasses to dull bright, overpowering lighting. Badges could also be given away when guests arrive to show whether they are open to social interactions, like handshakes, or not.


7 Use technology

Hybrid experiences are a fantastic way of engaging with a wide range of audiences who are not able to physically be there in person. However, if a fully hybrid option isn’t possible, consider a breakout space with pods and headphones where guests can listen to keynote speakers without having to sit in a busy conference hall where there often isn’t a lot of personal space.


8 Ask for feedback

Always follow up after the event to learn what worked and understand any other ways that you could adjust for future events. Give people the opportunity to feed back on the day and get in touch with an anonymous questionnaire afterwards to hear thoughts from attendees.


For more information on making space for neurodiversity at your events or to speak to the team about your 2023 goals email or call +44 (0)191 691 3456.