Collaboration, community and belonging were themes at the heart of Smart Monday, powered by MPI, which marked the start of Imex America.

The power of partnership-working was one of the core messages from AVoice4All: The Google Experience Institute (Xi) – why we became champions for inclusion and belonging. Megan Henshall from Google and Naomi Clare Crellin of Storycraft Lab joined together to champion inclusive event design. “Belonging is good for business – our data is undeniable”, explained Megan. A high sense of belonging is linked to a 56 per cent increase in job performance and a 50 per cent drop in turnover risk.

Naomi explained ways in which event planners can involve attendees at the outset to foster inclusion: “It’s not about what you’re designing, but who you’re designing for, and with.” Engaging the target audience through focus groups, audience profiling and questions at the point of registration results in valuable data which “provides a line of sight into who’s going to show up and enables you to evolve the event accordingly.”

Later, keynote artist, composer and entrepreneur, Kai Kight spoke, and played, to a standing-room-only audience. Focusing on presence, connection and disconnection, he said: “We talk so much about the importance of being present, but I ask myself what’s going on in reality that makes us want to disconnect? Surely we need to work to create environments and experiences that make us want to put our phones down and pay attention?” Kai’s keynote was sponsored by Visit Anaheim.

Fostering a diverse community can open up fresh thinking as EDI consultant Zoe Moore explained in her session with Courtney Stanley: “Ain’t I a woman? A conversation around visibility and advancement in the workplace.” The joint session was part of She Means Business, a joint event by Imex and TW Magazine, supported by MPI and sponsored by Discover Puerto Rico. Zoe explained how our understanding of cultural differences can evolve by embracing the lived experience of others. She challenged the audience to ensure their way of thinking isn’t entirely shaped by “people who walk, talk and look like them” and to broaden their information gathering and sources to ensure they challenge their thoughts.

The Event Strategist’s founder, Nicola Kastner, delivered a highly practical session on the tactics needed to balance attendee needs with business needs in Corporate Focus. “What is the value of your meeting to your business – this is a core question to ask,” she stated. Nicola, a strong advocate of “measure what matters,” took the audience through a step-by-step process to determine the most valuable data for their organisation with an emphasis on measuring the impact of behavioural change.

“We have a focus on internal meetings and Nicolas’s session had made me realise the importance of going through the data to analyse and extract learnings,” explained attendee, Tamara McLaurin from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

In a climate where resources are stretched and recruitment is a business priority, the Association Leadership Forum shone the spotlight on mental health and burnout, with a panel exploring how organisations can use wellness to create better workplaces and communities. In ‘Taking care of community’ associations were reminded of their unique position in providing a place of community, comradeship, information, and support. “Following a challenging few years for the whole world, the conversation has shifted to mental health and we need to build resources to support employees,” explained Michelle Mason, Chief Executive Officer, ASAE.

Mary Wu from Convention Management Resources said: “I found the mindfulness session very helpful. We’ve been operating with less staff and need to get more accomplished now things are picking up. It can be very overwhelming. This session made me realise you can only do so much.”

Imex America continues tomorrow and runs until October 13 at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas.