If the event industry is learning lessons as a result of the pandemic, can inclusivity for all visitors be one of the major transformations? David O’Coimin, founder of Nook, asks the question

Exhibitions, conferences and networking events are crucial to business success. Nothing can beat getting out there and talking to engaged and experienced professionals. But even the most fervent networking advocates cannot deny that such occasions take a significant physical and mental toll.

Busy events can be particularly disruptive for individuals who are neurodiverse. Whilst there has been excellent progress from organisers in terms of providing a comfortable event experience for the physically disabled, only now are decision-makers beginning to think in terms of neurodiversity.

The disruption of the pandemic has given businesses an opportunity to re-think their event strategies. Forward-thinking event professionals understand that today’s spaces must consider the needs of every individual.

Travelling, talking, and socialising with contacts and potential customers takes a great deal of time, a lot of concentration and buckets of stamina. Scientific studies have shown that everyone – whether a confident extrovert or a more reserved introvert – experiences a level of fatigue after a period of socialising. This is less likely to occur in the moment, but rather a few hours after.

Advice to combat this fatigue includes the use of microbreaks to reenergise, with research showing that even non-work periods of less than 10 minutes in duration can help replenish a person’s energy resources so that they’re able to re-focus on core tasks.

The inclusion of quiet spaces, which are semi-private without being isolated, should be an essential element of any event for companies looking to truly embrace inclusivity. Soundproofed, restful seating areas provide a haven of calm and wellbeing – a place to relax and recharge. This is as true for exhibitors as it is for attendees.

Such seating areas also address another challenge. Quite often, finding a quiet place to sit-down and conduct business conversations is difficult – stand space is often not private or discrete enough. Quiet, comfortable seating spaces double-up as meeting rooms – semi-private areas that enable progressive business discussions. What’s more – the fact that such seating pods can be on lockable wheels, and can be manoeuvred anywhere on the site, gives organisers total freedom to flex to different circumstances.

This element of flexibility is key. We will see it more and more in workspaces, with huddle-pods on wheels being transported to areas where they are most in demand. One moment, the space may be used for eating and coffee-breaks, the next it may serve as seating for guests in reception, or quiet study space. Giving exhibitions this same level of flexibility enables the space to adapt to the time of day or the volume of visitors.

Businesses are determined to emerge from the pandemic as better corporate citizens. Where event inclusivity is concerned, this need not result in an expensive overhaul of strategy and design. By adding a little mobility and flexibility, event organisers can develop space that is welcoming and supportive for all. After a difficult period, becoming more inclusive would be a great legacy to establish.