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Changing demographics shape the meetings landscape

Who is your audience, and how is it changing? A few years ago, I sat in on a conference session called Xtreme Aging designed by the Macklin Intergenerational Institute. During the session, four meeting planners were plucked from the audience and placed on the stage. Cotton was stuffed in their ears, eyeglasses with filmy lenses were placed on their noses, and bulky gloves were slipped over their fingers. Two of the planners donned jumpsuits with weighted shoulders and arms. In less than five minutes, the planners aged by decades.

They became slumped, hard of hearing, visually impaired and less agile.

The point of the exercise was this: As your audience ages, meeting planners need to make adjustments: Turn up the volume. Be alert to physical obstacles. Enlarge the type. Whether you plan meetings for software engineers, primary school teachers, Vietnam War veterans, Catholic Church members, beer can collectors or softball players, your audience is changing.

And they aren’t just getting older. Your meeting attendees are changing in myriad ways. They might be older, but they could also be younger. In this country, it is almost a given that audiences are becoming more diverse. Levels of education and affluence could be rising or falling. With the new year a month away, it’s a good time to dive into some demographic projections and try to discern how your meeting attendees are changing. One good source for studies about demographic change is the Pew Research Center’s website (, but there are plenty of other sources that will help you understand how the people you plan meetings for will change in the future. Here are a few insights I gleaned from a visit to the Pew Research Center site.


Diverse, Digital Natives

Millennials (born after 1980) are our first generation of digital natives. Practically born with devices in hand, they are the first Americans who did not have to adapt to new technology. If your audience is dominated by this age group, pack meetings with device-driven communications and activities. Think about ethnic diversity too, because this generation is the most racially diverse in our history. Some 43 percent of Millennials are nonwhite. Such diversity can impact everything from menus to holiday observances. And speaking of diversity, Hispanics are the nation’s second-largest racial and ethnic group, accounting for 17 percent of the population, up from 5 percent in 1970. The median age of 27 for Hispanics is also a full decade lower than that of the U.S. population overall.


Fewer Young, More Old

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2022, almost 32 percent of those ages 65 to 74 will still be working. At the same time, only 67 percent of the post-college crowd, ages 20 to 24, is expected to be in the workforce by 2022, the lowest rate since 1969. Pew says that drop will be fueled by an increase in school attendance at all levels.


Audiences of All Ages

Many conferences will include all four generations — the silents, baby boomers, Gen X and Millennials. That means communication should take many forms. The American Management Association recommends relaying messages in multiple ways — orally or in print for the Silents and baby boomers; by email, text or social media for younger generations.


Make Way for Women

Women represent nearly half of the American labor force, and some 40 percent of all households with children under age 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of family income. That’s far different from 1960, when these “breadwinner moms” were 11 percent of the workforce. In terms of meetings, the increase in women in the workforce, especially working mothers, might inspire planners to develop shorter conferences, select meeting sites that emphasize safety and create more family-oriented events.


Vickie Mitchell is the former editor of Small Market Meetings. If you have ideas for future columns, contact her at