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Multicultural awareness is essential in planning truly inclusive events that foster collaboration, encourage communication and enhance deep engagement. The following checklist was created by Walter Stugger, managing/creative director of Inspiria Global Events, based in Salzburg, Austria, and New York City.
• Select destinations accessible to international travelers, use locations like the one at http://www.thesoundry.com/, where you will find a music venue included. Look for multiple transportation routes: international flights, railroad connections, reliable roads and (if relevant) good maritime options.
• Plan around international arrivals with mobile patrol. International flights often arrive outside of business hours. Plan welcome ceremonies accordingly.
• Schedule with savvy. Check event days for possible conflict with national, religious or ethnic holidays.
• Specify starting times. Concepts of punctuality vary enormously. For programs to start precisely on scheduled time, you must emphasize the start time. For example: “Programs start at 8 a.m. sharp. Latecomers will be seated at the break.”
• Address language barriers. Many attendees struggle privately with unfamiliar tongues and consequently communicate less. Put them at ease by providing written materials in advance of the program, to allow for familiarization ahead of time. Give information using visuals in addition to printed or spoken words, and minimize use of slang, pop-culture references or cultural “in-jokes” that can exclude non-native speakers. Encourage multilingual attendees to volunteer to help.
• Make introductions. Some cultures encourage outgoing, extroverted behavior; others encourage the opposite. Some attendees therefore will hold back on interacting out of long-held tradition. Encourage interaction by scheduling ice-breaking activities. Where possible, make face-to-face introductions yourself while respecting others’ traditions.
• Be creative in event theming. Explore various traditions for motivational theme concepts. Most cultures have their own myths and folktales dealing with such classic themes as exploration, courage, creativity, collaboration and innovation. Tap these sources for fresh event ideas and inspiration.
• Incorporate historic references. At your event destination, identify local sites with historic, architectural and artistic significance, and plan off-site programs there. Hire local guides to maximize cultural interaction.
• Tap into local culture. Identify creative leaders from the local arts community and book them as speakers, entertainers, hosts, performers and trainers.
Food and Drink
• Respect food-and-beverage taboos. Orthodox Jews require kosher food and beverages. Observant Muslims require halal certification for their food and beverages. Many Hindus and Buddhists follow strict vegan diets, avoiding meat, fish, fowl and animal products. In addition, many people adhere to vegetarian diets for nonreligious reasons.
• Plan alcohol offerings with sensitivity. Many cultures expect alcohol to be served at business and social functions; others oppose it. Have nonalcoholic options available at receptions; avoid terms like “cocktail hour.”
• Get creative in the kitchen. Contract local chefs to prepare culinary favorites with ethnic specialties and authentic flavors to enhance your off-site programs and social events.