Promote Inclusion and Community at Your Conference With an "I Am" Wall

i am wall diversity and inclusion July 24, 2017 By: Jamal Turner

Building an inclusive environment—in a physical sense—adds value to meetings and learning events, especially when it creates a feeling of safety and encourages your attendees to share their many different thoughts and perspectives.

More and more associations are looking for ways to make their conferences and other events more inclusive. Identifying ways to actively engage attendees adds value to the meeting experience and gets them talking positively about it. The solution can be as simple as making a small change to the physical space.

Earlier this year, at the Annual Assembly of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), staff and volunteer leaders designed a unique interactive community experience. The space was anchored by a large wall located in a busy corridor of the conference center, where everyone, regardless of background or origin, could express themselves freely. We called it the "I Am" Wall.

The "I Am" Wall helped the more than 3,000 attendees—including representatives from more than 50 countries—recognize how similar they are to each other and reminded them that what they bring to their profession is unique, highly valued, and important to others. The wall also served as an impromptu gathering place that extended to social media, generating hundreds of tweeted images featuring the conference hashtag.

meeting attendees engaging with I Am Wall
The activity at the wall celebrated our profession's diversity and generated a sense of inclusion and connection, making attendees more likely to participate in all aspects of the conference.

High tables were placed near the wall, providing a comfortable space for colleagues to create their message and engage in conversation. Throughout the meeting, attendees stopped at the wall to share their stories and read the comments left by others. Many attendees inquired about how they could replicate the wall at the care facilities where they work or at their child's school.

The messages that gradually appeared on the "I Am" Wall over the three days of the conference were as varied as the attendees themselves. Many participants expressed enthusiasm for their work with the seriously ill patients they serve, while others reflected on professional challenges and struggles, heritage, home life, family, and even political strife. A few examples:

  • I am "looking at my own biases and working to change my thinking."
  • I am "using a camera to make patients' lives better."
  • I am "proud of who I've become and what I can do to help our patients."
  • I am "a cycling junkie."
  • I am "a mom with sons who have darker skin than me. I am worried about how they and others will be treated and what they will face."
  • I am "a lesbian liberal Christian social worker with a great life."
  • I am "proud and grateful to be working with such amazing people and attending this conference."

The "I Am" Wall added a new dimension and experience to the Annual Assembly. It gave the physicians, nurses, and other members of hospice and palliative care teams who attended an opportunity to reflect, express, and share a bit more about themselves than they might have otherwise. The activity at the wall celebrated our profession's diversity and generated a sense of inclusion and connection, making attendees more likely to participate in all aspects of the conference.

On a more practical level, the wall provided a real-time mechanism to learn what was on attendees' minds during the event. Additional input regarding ways that AAHPM and HPNA could improve equity and inclusivity at future events was collected through cards placed near the display.

Create Your Own Wall

Operationally, the "I Am" wall was inexpensive to produce and required little onsite coordination and support. Here are a few tips for creating a similar experience at your next conference.

  1. Find a space where the wall will be clearly visible and that will be heavily traveled by attendees.
  2. Determine the material you will use for the wall. We used a pressure-sensitive vinyl (PSV) printable graphic adhesive material, measuring 4 feet high by 33 feet wide, which our event services provider ordered and applied to a wall. If it's not feasible to purchase the material, you can tape multicolor 8x11-inch construction paper to a wall in the conference center in a brick pattern.
  3. In the center of the wall, place the phrase "I Am…"
  4. Place instructions and appropriate supplies on table nearby: small-tip markers (various colors) and construction paper and scotch tape, if applicable.
  5. Promote the "I Am" wall in your online discussion platform, marketing materials, social media channels before the event, and in onsite materials and more social posts at the conference.

Everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story and have their voice heard in an environment that is accepting of differences. When you encourage your members to speak and share in your community, you begin to build a reputation as an inclusive organization.

Jamal Turner

Jamal Turner, MSA, MJ, is manager of education and diversity initiatives at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in Chicago.