Revolutionizing Event Design and Inclusivity with Google's Megan Henshall

Megan Henshall, Google's Global Events Strategic Solutions Lead Talking about Events
Listen to this podcast via your favorite podcast player

Episode description

Is it true that the louder, brighter, and flashier the event, the greater it will be?

In this episode of Great Events, host Rachel Andrews is joined by Megan Henshall, Google's Global Events Strategic Solutions Lead. They discuss the powerful intersection of technology and inclusion in the events industry and how to prioritize radical inclusion, ensuring everyone feels valued and safe at your events.

Megan introduces the Neu project, which is focused on creating spaces for neurodivergent individuals, and shares actionable tips for integrating their needs into event planning. 

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Incorporate explicit language around neurodivergent needs in your event registration and communication. Educate yourself and your team about the neurodivergent experience to develop empathy and inclusive design strategies.

  • Offer quiet spaces, sensory kits, and tailored experiences to create event environments that balance sensory needs and cater to a diverse audience.

  • Instead of aiming for universal design, focus on cultivating a range of choices that represent diverse communities. Use tools and resources like those developed by Storycraft Lab and David Allison to design for belonging, and consider piloting these frameworks in your events.

The hybrid set-up has definitely helped individuals with neurodivergent, sensory processing differences, and social anxiety enjoy these events without the added stress of attending them. Megan shares her goals with the Neu Project and the road to a more inclusive events industry.

Things to listen for:

00:00 Meet Megan Henshall, Global Events Strategic Solutions Lead at Google

08:26 Event professionals adapting to crisis

10:43 TED Talk on value and purpose in work

18:42 Balancing entertainment and practicality in event production

25:54 Creating a sense of belonging at events

30:35 Google powers and funds research

37:11 Megan joined to support and collaborate with listeners

Meet your host

Rachel Andrews, Senior Director, Meetings & Events

Meet your guest host

Megan Henshall, Google's Global Events Strategic Solutions Lead.

Additional Resources:


Episode Transcript

Megan Henshall:

This is controversial, but I actually think universal design is a misconception. I don't think you can design one thing for everyone, and I think when we try, it's actually for no one. What we can do is cultivate choices that are representative of everyone.

Alyssa Peltier:

Great events create great brands, but pulling off an event that engages, excites, and connects audiences, well, that takes a village. And we're that village. My name is Alyssa.

Rachel Andrews:

I'm Rachel.

Felicia Asiedu:

And I'm Felicia.

Alyssa Peltier:

And you are listening to Great Events, the podcast for all event enthusiasts, creators, and innovators in the world of events and marketing.

Rachel Andrews:

Hello everyone and what is going on in this wide, wide world of events? My name is Rachel, and I am your only host this week, on this week's podcast, Great Events.

I'm really excited, this week, we have a major, major power player coming on the podcast to talk with us today, Megan Henshall, she's the Global Event Strategy Lead at Google. We are so excited to have you. Welcome, Megan.

Megan Henshall:

Hey, I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Rachel Andrews:

Yes. Awesome. Megan and I have met a few times in industry settings, and I'm sure some of you listening have met her as well. She's at a lot of industry events, specifically IMEX a lot, and she is all over social media, doing amazing things with Google and their event design projects. You all will be completely blown away by all the things that Megan and her team, and the team at Google is doing, with being innovative, and we wanted to share some of that stuff with you today.

So, for all you listeners, get excited, there's a lot of great tips and tricks and tidbits and things, and projects that they're working on.

But Megan, I'd love to just start with your intro. Just tell our listeners a little bit about your role at Google, what you do, and then we can dive into more of your career journey.

Megan Henshall:

So, I lead strategy for the global events team and really what that entails day-to-day is partnering across many different product areas at Google. Google is broken up into different business units, that all operate radically differently, but to really understand from a senior leadership perspective, but also a Googler perspective, individual business units, how events and experiences drive revenue for our company. And what other collateral value they add, so community building, cultural continuity, culture.

So, I partnered to understand all the different ways in which events are a tool for our organization, and then I put forth an annual strategy for our amazing team of global event professionals. And that includes a point of view on our spaces, because we do have a lot of our own event spaces, that range from multi-venue event centers, all the way down to bespoke learning and development environments, the technology infrastructure inside of those various spaces, as well as our operational model, so how we support and program and serve in those spaces.

So super fun job, super big job. I think all in, our team does about 75,000 events a year plus. So, every use case you can possibly imagine across the events ecosystem, and we also lead an innovation incubator. So, super future looking, called the Google Experience Institute, and that's really to help us get a finger on the pulse of what's emergent, and what's coming down the pipe, and how we should be thinking about all of these things for the future.

So yeah, I'm excited to share some of the work and get into it.

Rachel Andrews:

That's awesome. Yeah, that is totally, totally cool, and I feel like a lot of our listeners could totally nerd out with us right now, because we love this kind of stuff, and using what you've all built in some of your incubators, I think, is really helpful, especially for forward-looking people. A lot of times we forget to be forward-looking sometimes, when we're inundated all the time with execution. And it is important to remember the strategy piece. And it's exciting and wow, can we just give a moment of silence or a moment of applause for the 75k events they do a year. Holy cow. That is just incredible. Incredible, incredible.

Well, how did you get into this? I feel like, when I'm in the industry and I'm looking at these people that have these really cool, really big, high-level jobs, I'm like, "How did they get there?" Because I feel like that's so interesting to know. How you got into events? What drove you to strategy? Tell us that journey.

Megan Henshall:

I feel like I wasn't intentionally moving in any one direction. I sort of stumbled into my life, in a lot of ways, but I started my career in sales, enterprise technology sales. So I was literally in a call center. And fun fact, I was one of six women in a department of over a hundred. I was really bad at sales, long story short, horrible at it. And so I asked if I could do content development, and regional sales meetings, like executive briefings with customers. That, I was good at.

And so that's really how I got into events, and fell in love with it, fell in love with the aspect of designing with other people in mind, fell in love with bringing people together, and watching the spark that happens when you do that. Fell in love with the opportunity to solve big problems, by bringing people into shared physical space, which we need that now more than ever, right?

So that's how I got into events. And for a long time, I did individual projects, and worked agency side, then I freelanced for a while. And after I had my son, I knew I wanted to land back full-time with a brand, and that's when I applied for the Google job, and was really excited about the prospect of doing macro strategy for an organization. Was, I'll be honest, very unqualified for the job at the time, but grew into it, and now it's evolved to be even more than I had hoped back in 2018, so I feel very lucky.

Rachel Andrews:

That's awesome. Yeah, I got to say, shout out to all the salespeople, because I don't know how they do it. I really don't. I can barely ask people for a hotel room sometimes, I'm like, I can't even ask people for things. I can negotiate contracts. I don't know what it is about asking somebody to buy something. It's just ... it's hard.

Megan Henshall:

It takes a certain level of charisma and personality that I just do not have. I get really awkward.

Rachel Andrews:

That and just perseverance. Not getting discouraged every day, because they hear no way more times than they hear yes. And as co-solutions people, I am definitely like a ... I like to solve problems. I do better in the problem-solving world than that.

But anyway, talk to me about macro strategy. So I think, when I'm talking to other people or speaking at a conference or something, and people always ask, "How do you get more strategic in your role? How do you find time to be more strategic? Where do you even start?" Being this buzzword of strategic, we always say, "Hey, in order to get more senior, or in order to have your C-level or higher ups take you more seriously, how do you get more strategic?" And I always say, "Data," but then they're like, "But how? How do you use data? What do you use?" And I think it's a really interesting conversation of that role for other people, because inherently I think event profs are strategic. We are many CEOs in some cases. We're business owners of our particular event budget, or particular event tactic overall, or global events program in some cases. How do you get to that macro strategy lens for an events program?

Megan Henshall:

I think we talk a lot about strategy in the context of crisis management and innovation, and I think all of these things require the same skill set. So if you can plan and crisis manage, which event professionals are chef's kiss at, you can also do strategy at any level, and you can innovate. The difference between crisis management strategy and innovation is, they exist on different time horizons.

So crisis management is right now, today, so there's an imminent urgent need I need to solve. Strategy is just looking a bit ahead, using data and insights, being a little forward-thinking, trying to figure out what's emergent. And then innovation is all right, what's even beyond that? And it's sort of breaking outside of what is day-to-day, to think about what could be. But all of these things, event professionals can do, because they're doing crisis management and short-term planning in such a meaningful powerful way.

So I think for us, strategy started with a lot of just getting back to the fundamentals and basics during the pandemic. That's when the Experience Institute started, and the whole role of that effort and initiative back in 2020 was to understand what people would need and expect and want from us, when we started to regather post-pandemic. What would people's priorities and expectations and appetites be? What would their boundaries and tolerances be?

And that was such an interesting way to become more strategic, because we went back to the basics, and we tried to really understand people again, and understand people in a very new context and paradigm, and it has completely changed the way I think about my job. I don't think strategy has to be this big, complex thing. I think it can actually mean getting back to really basic fundamental things, and just thinking about them slightly differently. We all can do that.

Rachel Andrews:

Yeah, for sure. It also could come down to looking at your program types, and simplifying or categorizing them. I think people think of this data or strategy position, as on a pedestal, like, I want to get there one day. It's like you can. It's probably easier than you think it is, if you just troll down into why are we doing this? Why are we doing these events? What is the outcome we're desiring? And you really look at the beginning ... like you just said, the beginning stages of event design, or why are we doing this for the people that we're putting these on for.

At the end of the day attendees, they're inherently selfish, but in a good way. They are coming to an event for them, to get something out of it, for their career, or maybe it's professional development, maybe it's networking, maybe ... whatever it is. Find out what those things are and then make sure your event's tailoring to that, and make sure that it also aligns with your company's brand plan. A lot of people, when they're in the execution phase, they don't think like that. They don't think, "Hey, I need to drill back down. Are we doing what we said we were going to do in our goal planning?"

Megan Henshall:

Yeah, this is a whole TED Talk. I'd watch your TED Talk.

I think this is such a valuable point. It's something we talk about a lot in our work is, to what end are we doing these things? What are we solving for with them? If nobody's asking for it, and if it's not solving for something, whether that be a human need or a business need, why the heck are we doing it? Are we doing it, because that's just what we've always done? Are we doing it because we want to do it? And I think that's really interesting, too, in a strategic role. When I first started at Google, a lot of the things that I was good at, I wanted to bring here, and square peg round hole it, because it felt comfortable and familiar to me and I'm like, "I can check those boxes really easily." Nobody here wanted those things.

So I think we constantly have to assess, are we making the decisions we're making as experienced designers and event professionals and strategists, because they feel comfortable and good to us, or are we actually looking at who we're designing for, and making those decisions on their behalf?

Rachel Andrews:

Yeah, definitely could be a TED Talk. I feel like ... and people probably can empathize with this, but a lot of times we do things because our leadership teams want us to do it, and then we're fighting tooth and nail to get people registered, and it's like, "It shouldn't be this hard to get people registered, if it's something that people want to go to." I'm not saying that about any one particular event that I do now, or just in general in my career, that's always been the case. And it's like, if you just go back and look at your target audience and what they want, and then try to align that with what you're trying to accomplish, then you'll do a hell of a lot better.

Let's talk about some of your initiatives, because I think that that's really, really cool. I saw you all at IMEX doing your XI CoLab. I would love to just dive into that, but I'll let you take the reins here, because you have so many different innovative ways that you're looking at event designing, and tools that you're building, but also evolving on the fly, right? Talking to a lot of people about what you're doing, and taking their feedback and implementing it.

So take us through some of the stuff that you're doing with Experience Lab and, maybe for our listeners just explain it a little bit of what that actually means.

Megan Henshall:

So I mentioned, we started the Experience Institute back in 2020. Weird time to try to get an innovation incubator off the ground, because we were all stuck in our houses in our PJs, but, in so many ways, it was the perfect timing for something like this. And it started with three or four Googlers, cross-functional, just trying to understand what the changes of the pandemic would be on our industry, on learning and development, events, experiences, hospitality.

And as we started to see emergent trends in the data, in the insights, as we started to host focus groups, some really interesting things started to come up, like that we had been leaving a lot of people out for a really long time, not intentionally, but events were certainly not as inclusive as they could be. They still aren't. That a lot of the things that we're doing with environmental design are actually making events less inclusive, and less, in an ability to cultivate belonging for people.

We started to outreach externally. I acknowledge that there are a lot of smart people at Google, but certainly not all the smart people, and there are a lot of other brands and organizations and disciplines who are doing really cool work around experience design, different dimensions of design, and so where we started with about four Googlers, we now have a global community with lots of other brands, lots of other disciplines, like architecture, folks from academia, researchers, LARPers, magicians ... we have all these really cool people. Over 300 folks are now members of this community, and we really are an interdisciplinary collective, trying to drive toward the best possible features for events and experiences.

And I think the mission really is to use events and human experience as a tool to fix big problems, not just problems for our organizations, but problems in the world. And I think we can agree that the significance of human connection cannot be overstated in this moment in time. And I think as we navigate a time that's marked by rapid technological advancements, and a lot of social and cultural issues, that brands have a unique opportunity and a responsibility to lead the charge in preserving human connection, and innovating ... yes, with maybe some new things, but also through reclamation of some of the things that we've lost.

And so that's a lot of what we talk about, and a lot of what our projects are centered on. So radical inclusion, designing for belonging, making sure that we have diverse representation when we go into a design process, whether it be for a space, or for programming for an event, that we're looking at technology through the human lens, and that it's supporting human connection, not distracting from it.

So these are all conversations and work that we're doing with lots of partners around the globe. I'm super proud of it, and I'm regularly in awe of the people that I get to meet and talk to through this work. So it's been really fun.

Rachel Andrews:

Oh, my gosh. So that is super cool. I think that you touched on a lot of things that I want to double click in for a second.

I think, obviously inclusion is a huge thing in our industry, and technology has helped it be more inclusive, but sometimes you go the other route, where technology hinders inclusion. Is that something that you're digging into more? You mentioned, making sure that human connection isn't hindered by innovation, but a lot of what companies are doing, are trying to make inclusion more possible with technology. I think that hybrid events helped make things more inclusive for people that might not be able to travel, for example.

But there's the other but of ... I don't know, I feel like there's a good debate here of what does radical inclusion mean for you? What does that look like, when you all are talking about looking at the tech paired with the human connection, and making sure that that human connection's still there?

Megan Henshall:

Just to quickly define radical inclusion, this is my very loose definition, and how I think about it, but it's putting people's full identity and personhood first in the design conversation, and then everything else follows. So rather than programming, and then figuring out after the fact how people fit in to the recipe, you start with that, and then you're looking at honoring the whole person, not just the parts that are traditionally acceptable to bring into a business or work environment. And this includes hidden disabilities, which we talk a lot about with The Neu Project, for example.

But I think technology, we have gained a lot through technological advancement. I couldn't, in good conscious, work for a tech company, if I didn't believe that to be true, but we've also lost a lot because of technological advancement, and I think virtual event platforms absolutely have changed the game for folks who can't travel, or who are immune compromised, or who just actually don't like being in crowded physical event environments.

That being said, there's a lot of work to do around the technology that is inherent to and built into event environments. I think somewhere along the way, there was this misconception that the loudest, flashiest, brightest, most cacophonous thing, was the only way to keep people's attention. And it actually has left a lot of people unable to participate at all, because of sensory processing differences, and neurodivergence, and social anxiety, and a lot of things. I think some of that audiovisual, and the ways that we design technology into built environments, is really harmful.

Rachel Andrews:

Yeah, I think it's a hard line to walk, because you want to have great entertainment at your event, but sometimes you're right. When you walk into some of those general sessions, and they're pitch black, and the only thing you see are lasers everywhere, I even have a hard time with that sometimes. So we're probably guilty of that for some of our events, and I think it's just making sure that when we're doing that with your event production folks, you're making sure that you have spaces for those people to be able to see.

I forget who I was talking to a few months ago, and it was like ... I think it was Brandt Krueger, he's a AV guru and he said, "Think about the things that you need to do when you come to a conference, in terms of AV. You need to first and foremost see, and you secondly, you need to hear, and it is called audiovisual for a reason." It's like, remember that it's called audiovisual, and if you're making it hard for people to see or hear things, like the music's too loud, or the visuals are too small, or you're not thinking about your fonts, or it's just sensory overload, and then you're not really delivering the right message to the people that you want to get across.

And another pet peeve of mine, I think it's a lot of people's, is going to an evening event, and everything is too loud and too bright, that you can't even talk to the person next to you without screaming in their ear, and we can create great experiences without doing that. Some people have forgotten that like, because they're like, "Well, it's not a great party unless people are dancing." It's like, "Yeah, but you can have a dance area. You can also have a side lounge area. You can also crescendo the night. So the beginning of the night is a little bit more networky, and then you go towards the party of the night, for the people that want to stay into the night and do that," right? So think through the whole experience like that.

But yeah, I agree. I agree completely. We got to be able to make sure everybody can enjoy the event.

Megan Henshall:

Yeah, you don't have to yell at people to communicate to them. You can communicate fun and exciting and ooh, I want to be there, without it being all the [inaudible 00:20:51].

Rachel Andrews:

If your attendees all lost their voice by the end of the conference, you're maybe doing something wrong. Although I talk a lot at conferences, so it might just be the volume of talking, but I think you're right though, creating those networking spaces or creating ... maybe it's a separate sensory room, where they can still see the content, but it's not necessarily as crazy. Or looking at your entire experience and making sure it's not wild. You can still think of unique entertaining ways, without it being a club at 3:00 AM at 8:00 AM in your general session.

Megan Henshall:

A hundred percent. If anyone is looking for some tactical ideas or resources around balancing sensory needs or neurodivergence, The Neu Project is something that was born out of a lot of our research on this exact thing. How can we curate choices and options so that everyone has a place to go to feel safe, regulate, restore, and then rejoin the party when they're ready. So that's just theneuproject.com, and I think we're going to share some of these links out, but I encourage folks to go take a look at that.

Rachel Andrews:

Let's talk more about The Neu Project and some of the awesome things you're doing around, just the focus on belonging overall, and how ... I know inclusion's a big piece of that, but then The Neu Project. What is The Neu Project?

Megan Henshall:

So it's N-E-U Project and it's short for neuroinclusion. And one of the first things we started to pick up on as a theme or a pattern, we were doing research and focus groups back during the pandemic, was that a lot of people don't come to events, because they have never felt a sense of belonging, and they feel sort of programmed out of events, because they're autistic, or because they have ADHD, and they just simply cannot sit in 90-minute plenary, but they felt so uncomfortable asking to be accommodated in a different way. They just don't go.

And we've heard many, many stories ... folks with Tourette syndrome, or tick-based syndromes, folks with mental health neurodivergence, or chronic mental health conditions, who just cannot and will not, because they don't feel like their needs are understood, and they don't feel like they'll be accommodated. There's a really amazing statistic out of the UK. There's an organization called EventWell, and if you haven't heard of it, go check it out.

It's run by an incredible lady, Helen Moon who focuses on well-being, and neuroinclusion in the industry, but 85%, she found, 85% of folks who are neurodivergent or have a chronic mental health condition, have not attended an event because of fear of becoming overwhelmed, stressed, pushed into a state of meltdown or shutdown. That's a lot of people. If we're talking about 25% of the global population who have some semblance of neurodivergence or chronic mental health condition, we've been trying to map this to attrition and late cancellations and things, and there's a definite correlation.

So also late registrations, a lot of people have so much anxiety building up to an event, they won't register until the 11th hour, so these have real impacts on how we plan, and if they knew that they were going to be accommodated going into the registration process, those numbers would likely shift, so=

Rachel Andrews:

I know that's part of what you all are talking about, but I always say it comes down to understanding your audience and doing pre-surveys. Are there other things you can do to understand that audience sector of people? Because we ask accessibility questions, obviously in our registration, but going one step further for the neurodivergent folks, do you recommend anything, or is it all part of thinking through that in the event design process with your stakeholders, or with the surveying people? Is there a better way?

Megan Henshall:

There's no best, right way. I think just including explicit language around neurodivergent needs and registration comms is a giant step in the right direction. I think education and enablement, so educating yourself around the neurodivergent experience, understanding the different conditions.

Again, all these things are hidden. They're invisible disabilities that people just suffer through, all day every day, and they have to accommodate themselves, because largely environments don't have these things built in. So just understanding that, I also think creates a real empathy, and as you're thinking about programming, you can't help but consider those folks in the design. There's a lot of good resources on theneuproject.com. We have a whole resource guide. We interviewed, I think all in, close to a hundred neurodivergent individuals to develop that, with all different sorts of conditions, and ranges of experience, because we wanted to represent as best we could, the entire neurodivergent community.

We also have consultants who are always willing to talk to individuals who just want to learn more. So yeah, check it out. You can always reach out if there's more information or specific questions. I love this topic of conversation, love to broaden it, with as many people as possible.

Rachel Andrews:

I do want to talk a little bit about belonging, because I feel like you all look at belonging in a very cool way, and you have tools for looking at belonging. That's something that I struggle with at the end of an event. It's like, "Did people feel like they belonged?" You can do your post-event survey, but a lot of it is geared towards, "Were you satisfied with this breakout?" And maybe there's better questions that we can ask at the end of, "If you want to take this additional survey about," maybe it just leads you into other questions, if they wanted to go down that path of, "Did you feel like you had enough experiences that suited you on site for your needs?"

We're trying to do little micro communities at our programs, because big events can get really overwhelming. There's so much that you can see and do, but so that's the challenge I think of a lot of event profs have is, they're designing for everyone, and what that usually means is that there's just so much to do with these events, that then that even becomes so overwhelming.

Megan Henshall:

[inaudible 00:26:53], Yeah, I think this is controversial, but I actually think universal design is a misconception. I don't think you can design one thing for everyone. And I think when we try, it's actually for no one.

What we can do, is cultivate choices that are representative of everyone. So one thing might not be for this particular community, but over here you can find something that is for you, and I think that I'm starting to develop this ideology that we, as designers, are curators of choice. We're not supposed to design one thing that works for everyone. We're supposed to look at everyone, and create optionality on their behalf, and I think that's the best of inclusive design.

So for belonging, it was something that kept coming up in our conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion, "I've never been in a space like this, where I feel like I belong," and it came up so many times, we were like, "Well, let's pump the brakes, and really talk about this."

And so we started to pull in partners. So one of our key partners is Storycraft Lab, and then we have another amazing partnership with lovely man, David Allison out of Canada, who talks a lot about values and how we shouldn't be designing for demographics. We should be looking at value graphics. What do people care about? What is important to them? Because their age or where they live or the job that they do isn't who they are. Who they are is what is meaningful to them.

And so we had him dig through his database of millions and millions of surveys, and pull out belonging specific data, so that we could just better understand what belonging looked like to people around the world. And interestingly enough, belonging is the number one value in the United States, and its top three or five in most other countries around the world.

And so we actually pulled those things into an index. I think you have the link, so anyone can access that. Very high level data. It's beta, but we wanted to start to share that out with the industry, so people could see what that looks like. And then Storycraft is actually helping us build a playbook. So I believe, we believe, our little community, that you can design for belonging. That it is a practice, it is interdisciplinary, but there is a practice that will allow us to cultivate this, or at least put people into containers, into spaces, where they can cultivate it for themselves, if we're doing our jobs the right way. And so we're actually going to be bringing that playbook to IMEX in Frankfurt for the first time in a couple of weeks, and I'm really excited to start to socialize it with more people. Because we're in our little bubble, but I'm really curious to see what associations are going to think of that work, or what technology companies are going to think of that work. I just think there's so many different points of view we could consider there.

The Wheel of Belonging is the framework on which the playbook was built, and that is also on a website that is publicly available. Anyone can access it. So I encourage you guys to click into those links, and we're always open for feedback. So let us know what you think, and how you think it could be better.

Rachel Andrews:

I love that. I took a look at your Wheel of Belonging, and there there's a lot of things on that that speak to me of, "Oh, I think I'm in this camp." It's almost like your love language, but for belonging. Which of these things actually speaks to you, or what resonate with you, in a belonging sense? So thanks for doing that.

And I, unfortunately, I can't be at IMEX Frankfurt, but I know a lot of other people will be there, so make sure you all check that out, because speaking of that, I know Google, in general, seeing you all on the trade show floor at things like IMEX is totally awesome. How are you supporting the events industry? I know that you're at a lot of things, and talking to a lot of people within your think tanks. How does that support system work?

Megan Henshall:

It's powered completely by Google. We don't charge for any of our resources. I think the benefit back to Google are these partnerships, like the IMEX strategic partnership. We get to bring our experimentation outside of the Google bubble, into critical mass in the industry, and learn.

So I think we walked away from Vegas last year with 12 different data sets, because we collected data in a bunch of different ways, and had a bunch of amazing conversations. So we're learning with the industry, but Google is a hundred percent funding a lot of the research, the development, and the practical experimentation that we're doing. I feel very lucky to have that support. I know that's not easy to come by right now today, but yeah, it really is. We're learning with the industry, but it is a gift. We always share what we learn to the extent that we can, and we support other brands with implementation, too.

So quick shout out. We are going to be launching Hitch, a process, at Frankfurt, where anyone can submit a proposal for an event that's upcoming, or a project that they want Google to support or partner on. And so we'll probably between Frankfurt and Vegas IMEX, take on two or three projects. And then in Vegas, we're going to invite those folks on stage with us to talk about what we learned together.

I want to demonstrate that these things can work and happen outside of a place like Google. They're not expensive. A lot of it is ideological. It's a mindset shift more than hit to your budget. So I'm super, super excited about that. We want to pull more and more people into the work, so that they can co-own it, and it's not just a Google movement.

Rachel Andrews:

Oh, that's such a gift. I love that. And I can't wait to hear those case studies, because you always want to do things like that for your events program, but you never think you're going to have enough time. But if someone's helping you shepherd you through that, that's amazing. And it helps with the organization and just asking the right questions, because sometimes I don't even know where to start asking the right questions for something small.

Megan Henshall:

It's hard to get started. That is the hardest part. It's like going to the gym. The hardest part is getting your workout clothes on and getting there, and then you sort of fall into it.

But yeah, we want to help people get started, and I know I'm so confident that other people will do some of these things even better than we do. We just have to help them understand how to make it make sense for their particular world.

Rachel Andrews:

Are you implementing a lot of this into the 75,000 events that you're doing a year?

Megan Henshall:

Yeah, so The Neu Project is something that I think we're pretty much implementing at scale now. We actually are getting ready to open our first purpose-built resilient space for neurodivergent communities here in the Atlanta office. It's embedded into our event center here. I'm so proud of that. We've developed sensory kits, and those have been deployed to all of our event spaces, so massive organization. We have offices all over the globe, so we're rolling it out, but that's widely adopted at this point, step by step. It's a journey, but a lot of these things are getting implemented at our tent poles like IO and Google Marketing Live, and so they're showing up more and more places. It's been great.

Rachel Andrews:

Are you all focused on anything sustainability-related when it comes to event design as well, because I know that's top of mind for everybody. And I remember one of my friends at, I think it was PCMA, stood up and said, "If we could all, as leaders, just get together and say, 'These are the three things we're going to focus on in 2024 or 2025, and all commit to do it,' we can make a huge difference."

I agree so much with that, and it feels like you're doing a lot of that with these projects that you're doing. Are you doing anything like that for sustainability?

Megan Henshall:

Yeah, so we're very, very lucky that we have a whole dedicated sustainability team at Google, and they're brilliant. Top minds in climate change. We contribute as it relates to events and experiences, but they drive that overarching strategy, and tell us what our commitments are and how we need to be thinking about it.

But yeah, it's something we talk about constantly. Climate change is a macro driver that is going to change the way we live. It's going to change the way we do our jobs in the next 10 years. We're not actively pursuing ways to support sustainability, we're going to become irrelevant as event professionals. So it's something we talk about a lot. We also talk about how human-centered design is wonderful, and that is absolutely where we should start, but we can't be human-centered, if we're also not talking about climate change and sustainability, because we won't have a place to live. [inaudible 00:35:23] start doing better in these places, and so it's absolutely a priority, and we have incredible partners to help us execute there, for sure.

Rachel Andrews:

A lot of it's corporate-driven, right? What is your company doing? But our events, I feel like the meeting, I don't know, maybe I'm just such an industry advocate, but our industry, when we get together, we can do such amazing things. I think we wear a lot of hats, too, in the industry. A lot of us, yeah, we do events, but we're also involved in some HR things, employee morale, or other initiatives of the company, a center around travel, for example. And I feel like that's one area where, if we just band together a little bit more, I think we can do a lot better. I think we could do a lot more. I think we can really push the needle if we start these commitments together.

But anyway, that's for another podcast, I think.

Megan Henshall:

That could be a whole other TED Talk, right?

Rachel Andrews:

Well, Megan, thank you so much for joining today. I know you mentioned IMEX, but where else can people find you and find all the tools? We're going to share some of the links that Megan talked about today.

Anything else you want to share with our listeners before we close today?

Megan Henshall:

Yeah, I will shout out an organization that is new in the industry, but that is focused on eco-consciousness, sustainability, and climate changefully. It's called Order of the Wild. If you're looking specifically for some way to plug in to that effort in a new and fresh way, I would encourage you to check them out.

We'll also be, the XI folks, will be at the World Experience Organization Summit this summer in New York. So if anybody's new York-based are going to that, please find us. We'd love to meet you and hang out, and we're going to be sponsoring some stuff there. And then we'll see you in IMEX at IMEX in Vegas.

Rachel Andrews:

Yes, either Imex really, right.

Megan Henshall:

This was fun. Thank you so much for having me.

Rachel Andrews:

Oh, yes. No, it's a pleasure. It's all ours, I hope our listeners enjoyed today. We're so excited that Megan joined us. They're doing some incredible, incredible things, and it's all there to help you, and help the industry, so definitely don't be shy. She's very much open to meeting everyone and having these think tanks, so I encourage you all to collaborate with her.

So thanks again, Megan, and thank you so much everyone. Great Events. See you next time.

Alyssa Peltier:

Thanks for hanging out with us on great events, A podcast by Cvent. If you've been enjoying our podcast, make sure to hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode.

Rachel Andrews:

And you can help fellow event professionals and marketers, just like you, discover Great Events by leaving us a rating on Apple, Spotify. Or your preferred podcast platform.

Felicia Asiedu:

Stay connected with us on social media for behind the scenes content, updates, and some extra doses of inspiration.

Rachel Andrews:

Got a great story or an event to share? We want to hear from you. Find us on LinkedIn, send us a DM, or drop us a note at greatevents@cvent.com.

Felicia Asiedu:

Big thanks to our amazing listeners, our guest speakers, and the incredible team behind the scenes. Remember, every great event begins with great people,

Alyssa Peltier:

And that's a wrap. Keep creating, keep innovating, and keep joining us, as we redefine how to make events great.