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Demographic Shift

Tailor your meetings to make sure all audiences—from Matures to Millennials—are happy and engaged

By Angela Kryhul

Doreen Ashton Wagner works with a client that is trying to attract more young people to its annual conference. Most of the participants are over age 60, so the organization has discounted the registration fee to make it more affordable to twentysomethings. Problem is, the client is reluctant to revamp the annual program. “It’s too long. It’s not exciting or dynamic. But if they rejuvenate their program they might lose their older members, their bread and butter. It’s a real challenge,” says Ashton Wagner, co-founder and managing director of Greenfield Services in Alexandria, Ont.

Those twenty-somethings—Millennials, or Generation Y—are a force to be reckoned with. According to the 2011 Canada Census, there are nearly as many Canadians born between 1972 and 1992 (9.1 million) as there are Baby Boomers (9.6 million). (See “Defining the Generations” timeline, p.32.) In fact, 2015 is reported to be the first time that Millennials outnumber Boomers in the workforce. Millennials are the fastest growing, most active, most responsive and most vocal attendee base, says Trevor Lui, director of operations and sustainability for the International Centre in Toronto. (See “Spotlight on Millennials”.)

Yet planners are currently grappling with how to deliver content and meeting experiences that resonate across multiple generations—Matures, Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials.

How to find a happy medium? Lui envisions a Venn diagram that represents distinct generational preferences. The sweet spot is the intersection of mindsets, goals, needs and expectations. Lui uses catering as an example. Millennials tend to be vocal proponents of sustainability, healthy living and avoiding food waste. While Boomers may share those values, they also tend to be revenue driven and tasked with proving return on investment to stakeholders, Lui says. “If you really took a look at your catering, chose healthier, locally-sourced foods and reduce the portions, you would spend less money because you’re buying less food, reducing food waste and you’re providing a healthier, sustainable experience. That appeases Millennials, and you’re driving down the bottom line for your Boomers,” Lui explains.

Ashton Wagner says understanding generational preferences is important, but planners should pay just as much attention to learning styles, which transcend generations. “We have to think about engaging people the way they want to be engaged.”

Whitney Wilson, CMP, project manager, meetings and events, for Eventive Group in El Segundo, Calif., couldn’t agree more. She’s a Millennial who speaks to planners about understanding her age group.

“I’ve heard people say that Generation Y doesn’t like to meet face-to-face, that we'd much rather be on our phones or Skype. But I think we’re very much old-school in wanting to do meetings the way they’re supposed to be done and that’s to meet people, shake their hands and get acquainted with them.”

Generational Preferences in Meeting Location Selection
The International Association of Conference Centres worked with Development Counsellors International to create a survey exploring generational preferences among meeting planners. Here are some of the key insights:

Millennial planners are concerned about costs, favour chic/modern facilities, and are engaged by technology and entertainment (i.e., evening activities, recreation onproperty, off-site activities).

Gen-Xers value proximity to the airport and restaurants, renovated facilities, vibrant activities, uniqueness and access to Wi-Fi and the latest technology.

Baby Boomers desire proximity to the airport, ease of getting around, cleanliness, comfortable rooms with reading chairs and access to Wi-Fi and food and beverage.

Matures, the pre-Boomer generation, favour proximity to the airport, ease of getting around, cleanliness, shorter walking distances within a venue, level of service and wheelchair access.

Spotlight on Millenials
Yes, Millennials love their mobile devices, but they value face-to-face, and that bodes well for the future of meetings. Here, curated from a wide selection of studies and media reports, are some of the distinct preferences of this age group:

Travel & Destination Millennials like big cities with access to public transportation and plenty of nighttime activities. When it comes to incentive travel, Millennials crave experiences that are rare and extraordinary so they can share their unique stories on social media.

Networking & Connecting Engage with Millennials weeks before an event begins. A well-defined social media strategy includes tools for sharing information, photos and hashtags. Millennials desire creative face-to-face networking opportunities such as icebreakers and group activities. They also want to exchange knowledge with, and be mentored by, seasoned Gen-Xers and Boomers.

Personalization & Content Millennials have a low tolerance for hour-long plenaries, so consider breaking sessions into shorter, TED Talks-style segments. This age group also wants to know how they will personally benefit by attending your event.

Interactivity Millennials expect their opinions to be heard. Include audience polling and lots of Q&A time. They want to interact with leadership, so advise speakers and panelists on how to handle attendee-generated content on the fly.

Tech-friendly Free Wi-Fi, adequate bandwidth and charging stations are a given. Don’t forget an app that streamlines the registration process and keeps attendees engaged throughout the event.

Gamification Millennials like to have fun while they learn. Set the stage for success including stating desired goals, offering a feedback system and making participation voluntary.

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