In today’s ever-changing world, the generational gap looms large. This is also true in the workplace — and at professional events — where generational stereotypes, as well as changes in industries and technology can further widen the gulf.
The introduction of millennials and Generation Z into the workforce has begun to influence the world of event planning, and for good reason: Planners who aren’t prepared to cater to an audience that’s diverse in age risk creating meetings and events that fall short. But this means planners must find a way to appeal to these younger generations without leaving Generation X and the baby boomers behind.
Crafting meetings that appeal to multiple generations takes some extra thought, but it’s well worth the effort. Here are some tips from meeting experts who have found effective ways to bridge the generation gap.
It Begins with Leadership
Meetings and events begin with ideas and objectives. It’s a planner’s job to develop these ideas and meet these objectives with their event design, and this is usually done with the help of a team. One way to ensure a meeting appeals to multiple generations is to include people who belong to those generations on that planning team.
“If your leadership team is diverse, it’s going to be easier to attract a diverse audience,” said Alexa Carlin, CEO and founder of Women Empower X, a business training company for women entrepreneurs.
As a millennial leader in business herself, Carlin recommends incorporating people of diverse ages because they know how to attract others from their generation. Having a representative from each generation is also a good way to generate new ideas and strategies and keep a fresh perspective throughout the planning process.
Each generation brings something to the table when it comes to the event design in the initial stages. Millennials and Generation Z may have excellent ideas about how to reach a younger audience through social media marketing, while baby boomers and Generation X may be able to use their experience in the industry to make calls about content. This distribution of diverse ages and ideas within an event’s leadership is critical to generating an audience that’s equally diverse.
Consider their Differences
Every generation is used to doing things slightly differently; each has its own preferences and strengths. While there are members of each generation who may defy the norm, some generalizations allow planners to guess at appropriate aspects of meeting design.
“You need to be mindful, because each generation has a different learning style,” said Chris Ballman, director of professional development at the American Society of Safety Professionals. Baby boomers tend to expect lecture-style formats, he said, while Generation X is used to group work. To satisfy more than one learning style, planners should vary the format of their meeting sessions, such as incorporating breakout sessions that give the opportunity for group work in between speakers.
It’s no secret millennials and Generation Z are associated with a level of tech savvy that older generations may lack. Many event planners use mobile apps, websites or social media to streamline their events, but this could alienate some attendees who aren’t up to speed with their tech. To appeal to an audience that’s diverse in age, avoid relying entirely on technology.
Attention span also tends to differ from one generation to the next. Shorter, more engaging sessions with breaks in between may be more likely to appeal to millennials and Generation Z, and the older generations may not mind them either.
Another issue that often divides generations is in-person vs. virtual events. Now that many planners and attendees have experience with events in virtual or hybrid formats, it can be an attractive option to consider.
“Generation X and baby boomers are really invested in live, human to human event configurations,” said Kevin Iwamoto, CCO and head of enterprise at Bizly, a software platform designed to streamline meeting planning. He added that the younger generations are more willing to attend events virtually.
In fact, some may even prefer it, especially if they’re only interested in attending a portion of a conference or meeting. A compromise might be adding a hybrid component to your event so that millennials and Generation Z can attend select sessions if they choose, while ensuring others are still satisfied by their in-person experience.
Get to Know Your Attendees
To design a meeting that best meets the needs of its attendees, a planner must be familiar with the audience. Knowing what to expect in terms of demographic makeup can help planners gauge what expectations the attendees have for the event and determine how to deliver the best event possible to them.
“Content should always be skewed to the majority of the attendees,” said Iwamoto.
Iwamoto recommends analyzing the generational makeup of an event’s attendees to select the best strategy for appealing to the majority of people. For example, if a large percentage of an event’s prospective attendees are baby boomers, it might not be wise to book virtual keynote speakers, whereas a majority-millennial crowd might not mind that.
However, just because one generation makes up the majority of attendees doesn’t mean you should entirely neglect the others; make sure to still appeal to them when designing your meeting.
“If you’re not hitting the generational needs, you’re missing out on all that’s important and why they came,” said Ballman.
Ballman recommends distributing surveys before the event, such as during registration, and using the data to design the meeting. Likewise, using post-event evaluations to determine the success the event had with members of different generations gives planners an idea of how to tweak their strategy in the future.
All About Connections
Connecting with others is one of the primary functions of events, whether it’s business networking or forming personal friendships. It’s also something that increases engagement among attendees from every generation, which means offering opportunities to connect should be at the forefront of all successful multigenerational meetings.
One way to do this is formatting the meeting sessions to encourage conversation between attendees. This can be something as simple as asking prompts that require them to talk to the person they’re sitting next to or as involved as completing whole sessions in small groups.
Another way to encourage those peer connections is through collaborative efforts and problem-solving. This may look like providing case studies or real-world examples for attendees to examine and discuss in small groups.
“When you engage everybody and get people working together, it kills two birds with one stone,” said Ballman. “You’re networking and you’re learning.”
Each generation has something to teach the others, but this can only happen if they’re communicating.
“There’s a big need for events to really capture diverse ages because the younger generation can learn so much from the older generations and vice versa,” said Carlin.
Connections also stem from common ground. To appeal to multiple generations, Iwamoto recommends finding that common ground. Carlin agrees, saying a mission that resonates across the board can draw in and appeal to people from multiple generations. It may seem difficult to find common ground among a group of people who are so diverse, but causes or issues that appeal to many people — such as sustainability — are often a great place to start.
“If you take the time, you can find common ground and build the sessions according to that,” said Iwamoto.