The Future of Inclusive Events

Earlier this month, two new event concepts centred on inclusivity — ideas for separate conferences that have not yet been planned nor executed — were presented to an audience of international business-event professionals at PCMA Convening Leaders in Nashville (January 07-10).

The first concept, a two-day conference to be held in Singapore called “Silver Tech Asia,” aimed to address the challenges of Asia’s ageing population. The second was a three-day Learning Differences event, again designed to take place in Singapore, intended to raise awareness about the capabilities of young people with learning difficulties.

While both proposals were met with enthusiasm by attendees, the team proposing the Learning Differences conference concept had a particularly compelling pitch that resonated with the audience.

The comprehensive proposal included a pre- and post-event digital-marketing strategy; breakout sessions for students with learning difficulties to promote their talent; panel discussions on how to identify students with learning differences; forums for parents to share their experiences; and a ministerial forum with Singapore’s Minister for Education (schools), Mr. Ng Chee Meng, to discuss how the education system can become a more inclusive environment.

As well as site inspections of various education facilities across Singapore, the proposed programme also featured a series of roadshows that would be produced in partnership with nonprofit organisations such as the Dyslexia Association of Singapore and TOUCH Community Services, in an effort to engage like-minded audiences.

The merits of the programme were well already understood, but it was only when lead presenter Hannah Alkaff wrapped up the pitch that the audience truly understood its origins. Alkaff revealed to the audience that she had been diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of six. “It wasn’t easy,” Alkaff said. “People like me have a learning difference, but it doesn’t mean that we’re incapable.”

The need to recognise and include people with learning difficulties struck an emotional cord with the audience, and inspired several offers of sponsorship and partnership support by audience members. Even seasoned event professionals fought back tears to pledge their support.

The presentation of both event concepts was all the more remarkable because they were produced and presented by Singaporean students — Alkaff and her classmates from Polytechnic Republic for the Learning Difference conference and students from Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education comprised the team behind Silver Tech Asia.

Both teams received a fully sponsored trip to Nashville to attend PCMA Convening Leaders after winning the 2017 Singapore MICE Challenge, organised by SACEOS in strategic partnership with PCMA. The Singapore MICE Challenge engages tertiary students majoring in business events, business management, and hospitality and tourism to produce and present a competitive event proposal to industry leaders.

SACEOS president Janet Tan-Collis said the initiative is part of an overarching engagement strategy. “In Singapore, and across Asia, the business-events industry is still not really understood in its full dynamism,” she said. “Bringing the students to Convening Leaders, to be part of the adult-learning experience alongside some 4,500 international delegates, will show them how varied and enriching the industry can be — and that it is indeed a highly professional industry.”

The Singapore students were among the 104 scholarship recipients who attended this year’s event with support from the PCMA Education Foundation.

In outlining his 2018 vision for the foundation, incoming PCMA Education Foundation Chair David Peckinpaugh stressed the importance of engaging young professionals and creating a narrative that’s focused on people.

“In line with PCMA, we’re going to look at new and creative ways to raise funds,” he said, “but it’s really about driving engagement, bringing the humanity back to our events, and making sure we tell these stories.”

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