By Kaitlyn Wallace
Millennials have become a divisive generation. Older generations often characterize them as “entitled” or “lazy” and blame them for travesties like “the death of golfing!” or “the decline of proper business.”
Others, however proclaim that “young people are the future.” They look to Millennials and Gen Z for leadership and innovation, and place the responsibility of the world’s future on their shoulders.
It seems impossible to reconcile these attitudes at all, much less in a business environment, which historically scrutinizes age and tends toward hierarchies. But business has always found ways to adapt, and intergenerational communication is no different– only a bit more creative. To this end, Meet Kansas spoke to top meeting planners and destination marketers and discovered three main ways for other generations to appeal to Millennials in the meeting and event space: technology, innovation and effectiveness.
Perhaps the most obvious way to appeal to Millennials in business is to integrate technology into all aspects of your meeting, conference or event. The classic advice regarding reaching Millennials is to utilize social media in marketing your events. But this is not enough to keep a younger audience actively engaged. Regarding social media, Chasley Bradbury, Vice President of Cosmopolitan Events, explains, “Millennials and Gen Z thrive in constant and dynamic communication. Social Media, texts and apps… need to be woven into the conference or meeting experience to effectively deliver the message home… the universal business card exchange has been replaced by an AirDrop contact exchange or Instagram account sharing.” She also suggests that programming be tech-rich and interactive in order to keep attendees of all ages engaged. Many apps are available to presenters that allow real-time feedback, virtual Q and A, and various forms of audience engagement. These are guaranteed to keep presentations interesting and engaging. Another suggestion is to incorporate sessions on the intersection of technology and business itself, a topic sure to draw any up-to-date business professionals of all ages.
The second way to appeal to Millennials is a bit more difficult to define. As a generation, Millennials are used to a fast-paced world that is diversifying more quickly than ever before. They therefore appreciate and are increasingly fascinated by innovation, dynamism, high energy and entertainment in their meetings and events. This can be embodied in interactive content and new and engaging presentation topics. “We are looking for sessions that provide not only compelling speakers, but also experiences that will help us provide a memorable, interactive experience, be that through audience engagement, technology or open and honest dialogue,” Jason Fulvi (President and CEO of Visit KC) explains. More than any other generation, Millennials deeply resent being bored, and, unfortunately, are often also the easiest to bore.
Or, for meeting planners who are interested in the bold and original, incorporating trendy topics is an excellent way to individualize your event. For example, as Chasley Bradbury explains, “Wellness-centered or ice-breaking sessions can provide the attendees a brain break and a fresh outlook to absorb the educational content. At the 2019 IMEX Las Vegas the attendees were welcomed into meditation pods, laughter labs, and yoga and relaxation rooms.” Ideas such as these can draw in Millennials, who participate more actively in trends, particularly in wellness trends, and make them feel welcome in a space that can seem to them more focused on other generations. They also bring a human and authentic touch to meetings and conferences which can tend towards the cold and impersonal. As Nathan Hermiston, Senior Vice President of Sales & Services for Visit KC, explains, “Millennials and Gen Zers are looking for authentic and organic experiences… They ask themselves, ‘Am I going to experience something unique… that will benefit me both professionally and personally?’” For a generation steeped in media-mediated perfection and images of not only flawless celebrities and influencers, but also increasingly flawless friends and colleagues, authenticity and a personal touch can go a long way in an event.
Finally, now more than ever, Millennials appreciate effectiveness. As Jason Fulvi explains, “I believe that all of our budgets are tight, and our time is limited, so attendees of all ages are now valuing exceptional content that is authentic, experiential and educational.” Millennials (as well as other generations, to varying degrees) are obsessed with cost vs. value and concrete gains in education, experience, or networking for their time and money. Karen Hibbard, Executive Director of Visit Manhattan Kansas, suggests less general sessions, more specific breakouts, and networking. Emphasizing that sessions “get to the point” and don’t “waste time,” Karen highlighted one of the most important characteristics of young business professionals– their laser-focus on time and efficiency.
These tendencies point to an attitude that, though stemming from younger generations, has begun to spread throughout mainstream business. As Nathan Hermiston summarizes, “An observation I continue to see it that attendees– more so within the Millennial/Gen Z world– but not limited to them exclusively, is the entire concept of work-life integration, not work-life balance. They want a career that provides that and they know we don’t work in a 9-5 world. Their trade-off for that is the opportunity to integrate work experiences into their personal development.” As the workplace becomes more and more competitive, the time, energy, and commitment required to be successful in business has increased almost insurmountably. This requires young professionals to commit not just their nine-to-five, but most of their waking hours to their work. 24/7 work, however, has never been sustainable for professionals of any generation. Therefore, young people have begun to expect that their work life becomes more personal, that it provide more opportunities to live within, between, and during work. Understanding this expectation, rather than fighting it, is the only way for other generations to properly harness Millennial energy.
In this way, and in most others, Millennials are not at all separate from major trends in business. They are merely extensions of them, sometimes exaggerations, often over-publicized and made into caricatures. Millennial professionals are just that– professionals– with particular attitudes and quirks just like any generation. They are also a generation of incredible energy, with the ability to live and breathe technology in ways previous generations were never able to. With the proper tools, collaborations between Millennials and other generations have the potential to be extraordinary. In the business world, it is the understanding of the difference between work-life balance and work-life integration. In the meeting and events world, we just have to remember the three keys to successful collaboration with Millennials– technology, innovation and effectiveness.
Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis.