Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 03 2014

4 Tips To Manage Your Multi-Generational Attendee Base

By David McMillin

multi generational

Many companies are dealing with multi-generational madness. Young employees are entering the workforce with new perspectives that challenge the status quo of the business world. Middle-aged employees are looking to step into leadership positions, but seasoned veterans aren’t ready to leave the workforce. In many cases, these differing needs are creating serious challenges.

In the meetings industry, generational divisions can also create issues for designing and developing a successful program. How can a meeting satisfy all the differing expectations? What can planners do to encourage attendees to learn from each other rather than writing each other off as out-of-touch with reality? To ensure your next meeting is positioned to please a wide audience, here are four tips to help you manage your multi-generational attendee base.

SEE ALSO: The Next Generation of Meeting Attendees

1) Don’t just focus on the future.

Every planner wants to know the secret to attracting Millennials to meetings. However, giving so much consideration to an emerging generation of attendees can lead to losing out on something very important: your existing audience.

“We’re living in this world where people under thirty are getting this unbelievable amount of attention,” Kim Lear, a consultant at generational research firm BridgeWorks, said at Convening Leaders 2014 in Boston. “Think about what a great place you could be in if you tap into the optimistic energy of the Boomer generation.”

Baby Boomers have been unfairly stereotyped as a generation that doesn’t use and/or doesn’t want to even understand technology. To debunk this myth, Lear pointed to statistics of Boomers selling their suburban homes and moving to big cities and Boomers who are equally as interested in cutting-edge tools as young professionals.

“Do not assume that Boomers aren’t interested in technology,” Lear said. “Focus on reengagement, reinvention and cutting-edge content for this audience.”

Reengagement is particularly important for future attendance numbers, too. Seventy percent of Baby Boomers expect to work past retirement age, which is getting older than the traditional 65. In many cases, extending their work lives is not simply due to the need to earn more money, either. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 40 percent of employees want to work longer.

SEE ALSO: How To Manage A Multi-Generational Trade Show Audience

2) Solve the ‘what’s in it for me?’ equation.

While every attendee wants to understand what he or she will take home from a meeting, that question is particularly important for those who were born between 1965 and 1980.

“Generation X wants to know why they should leave their kids at home to come to your events,” Lear said.

These parents are missing out on going to soccer games and helping their children with homework.

“Accept their skepticism and be willing to prove your worth,” Lead advised.

Proving that worth begins with offering career development opportunities for X-ers who are looking to get ahead of their peers. Planners should provide content and networking opportunities to satisfy their needs for enhanced leadership skills.


Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau

3) Create an event that can’t be found on the Internet.

Millennials may have been raised staring at screens, but these young attendees are looking for learning and interaction that cannot be found with the simple click of a button.

Jaimie Rooney, Digital Project Manager at Weber Shandwick and a Millennial panelist in the session, pointed out that members of her generation do not need much help tracking down data or statistics. Instead, they come to meetings to find someone who can offer a personal perspective on its impact.

“The type of speaker I like to listen to is somebody who has an experience or is very storytelling-driven,” Rooney said. “I don’t want to hear the top three facts on how to start your own business because, to be honest, I can just Google it.”

Millennials crave authenticity when it comes to the actual location of your meeting, too. A survey from PGAV Destinations shows that 78 percent of Millennials want to learn something new when they travel. While more seasoned attendees may be looking for the comfort of traditional business travel, members of this younger audience are looking for opportunities to discover, explore and immerse themselves within the local culture of the host destination.

SEE ALSO: Making Sense of the Millennial Generation

4) Help them break up with their comfort zones.

Regardless of different learning preferences and different expectations about meeting environments, Lear believes that attendees of all ages share one common trait: they want to be challenged.

“The very progressive meeting planners who are willing to step outside of what their constituents are comfortable with always receive better reviews,” Lear said.

The best place to start? Lear recommends embracing a more diverse speaker selection process.

“It’s always more powerful to hear from people of different races, different religions and different ages,” Lear said.

Think you’ve mastered managing so many generations? There’s more work ahead. Click here for a preview of who you’ll need to connect with next.

This educational article was brought to you by the home of the premier multi-generational event, SXSW. In Austin, no matter your age, you’ll find Texas-sized opportunities to learn, discover and engage with the future of technology, medicine and music. Click here to learn more about why your attendees will love Austin.

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