Google Xi Days: how to maximize return on emotion as demonstrated by a tech giant
Inclusivity. The idea of making everyone feel welcome is something meeting professionals talk about a lot, but Megan Henshall, Google strategic solution lead, Smart Women in Meetings Visionary Award winner and the first-mover behind Google Experience Institute (Xi) Days decided it was time to show what is possible by demonstrating the strategies to appeal to all types of attendees, including the half of the population that identifies as introverted.
The three-day event was designed for meeting professionals based on best behavioral science practices for designing truly inclusive events. Each day featured (and tested) was a different agenda format. Day one was a good old-fashioned general session with speakers on stage from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a truly optional F&B experience.
Day two was a “museum” format where people could walk at their leisure to explore different experiences (described as a cross between a trade show and an unconference, but structured and no one is selling anything) accompanied by TED Talk-style, 15-minute sessions about the activations being demonstrated, including an AR experience of a non-neurotypical existence by heightening a particular sense. A “tune bed” allowed participants to lay in a meditative state while a machine vibrates in conjunction with tones going through their ear. The variety of content delivery methods provided optionality and modality so everyone could learn in the way that suits them best.
Austin-based event design company Haute supported Henshall’s vision with their Return on Emotion Rules to Engagement approach to planning events. We downloaded after the event with Haute CEO Alisa Walsh and Head of Creative Development Jordan Valdez to harness tips meeting professionals for all types of audiences can learn from this tech leader.
Rebirth and Restructuring
“It was a meeting of the minds and hearts,” Valdez said of the collaboration. “The number of times the full team would end up in tears was really wild.” He described the eruptions as outbursts of joy and frustration that occurred over the almost two years they were planning the three-day event that went down at Pier 57 in New York City in March.
One of the sessions came about as a result of the personal experience Henshall had as the mother of a newly diagnosed child on the autism spectrum. She saw for herself how few resources were available for meeting professionals and decided to identify tips for neuro-inclusion from neurodiverse experts by crowdsourcing a document to capture new methods of inclusion, a survey Smart Meetings helped circulate last year. The goal of The Neu Project was to demystify and normalize neurodiversity, inspire event professionals to design events that are more considerate and inclusive of all neuro types. That includes a whole range of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome or brain injuries—a population that could make up as much as 20% of the population.
Valdez credited Covid with breaking the status quo so we could all envision new ways of meeting and with making the coordinated meeting in time and space more meaningful after being apart for so long. “Trauma begets rebirth and restructuring,” said Valdez.
Haute preaches the gospel of “meeting people where they are.” That doesn’t mean physically. The battle cry refers to accommodating people emotionally and intellectually, respecting how they learn and interact with words, people and information. “Despite pushing for change for a decade, that is simply not something that we’ve been seeing reflected in corporate events…up until now,” Valdez said.
The touchstone behind every decision, according to Valdez, was placing a priority on giving people agency, control of their experience. “We don’t want anyone feeling they are trapped in their seat,” he said.
On the first day, attendees were encouraged to come and go as they needed. “This allowed people to be in their body,” he said, explaining that when you feel antsy and your mind starts to wander, it’s your body saying, “Oh, no, I’m done.” By allowing people to get up, stretch, turn off, and then turn back on, he observed that they were more engaged when they were in the room. “We’re trying to play to human nature instead of fighting against human nature,” he said.
“We’re trying to play to human nature instead of fighting against human nature.”
– Jordan Valdez
For the more than seven hours the floor was open on the experimental day two, people were encouraged to come just in the morning or afternoon depending on their circadian rhythms and/or work/life schedules as everything was repeated.
Day three ended with a group Kumbaya moment. “Over the three days, it ceased to be an event and sort of became a movement,” Walsh said, one that is still gaining momentum in emails and relationships.
“Over the three days, it ceased to be an event and sort of became a movement.”
– Alisa Walsh
Valdez stressed the importance of this fresh approach because while some people may desperately need the breaks, everyone can benefit from being able to breathe. “That is what we did, we provided breath. Within that breath is where all the magic happens,” he said.