Meetings for the Generations



People want to attend events with purpose. However, when planning an event, realize “purpose” means different things for different generation groups.

Event organizers today must deal with an unprecedented reality – their audience may include people who fall into at least three and maybe four different generations. Yes, there are still people born before and during World War II contributing to the workforce.  Now, their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren are, too.

What does this wide range of ages, cultural touchstones and communication styles mean for meeting organizers?  We will explain some of the general behavioral preferences for each group, but you should understand that these apply broadly, and individuals are always different from one another.

Here’s the gist:

Traditionals, as those born before 1945 are called, make up a decreasing slice of today’s workforce. As they exit, they are taking with them vast amounts of institutional knowledge and skill. These could be your keynote speakers, trainers or honorees for lifetime achievements. But there are so few, you probably won’t see many of them at your event.

The next generation, the Baby Boomers, were born from the mid-1940s until the mid-1960s. This age range represents about 30 percent of the workforce, says Pew Research Center.  They are used to being recognized for their experience and are motivated by praise.

Generation X, children of the Boomers born from the mid-1960s to early 1980s, make up about 33 percent of today’s workers. This is the first generation to experience digital technology as children and young adults. They see training and professional development as a way to boost their versatility in the marketplace, not as a reward for sticking with one firm. In fact, unlike Baby Boomers who often spend their entire careers with one company, Gen Xers aren’t necessarily loyal to the company that gave them experience – instead they are loyal to themselves.

Gen Y or Millennials, those born from the mid 1980s to the early 2000s, recently surpassed Gen X to become the largest share of the American workforce – about 35 percent and growing. These “digital natives” never knew a time before cell phones, computers or the internet. They’re used to finding information quickly and easily, and are often at the cutting edge of cultural, media and technology change.

Meeting Purpose

One similarity all the generations have is that they need to feel the event they are attending has purpose. But purpose means different things for each. For Baby Boomers, the event’s purpose should include a celebratory, public recognition component with tangible awards they can hang on their walls. Boomers love praise.

Gen Xers, however, are more motivated by time off – so if your event gives them the opportunity for free time where they can balance work with play, they’ll be happy. And a more casual, flexible meeting schedule works for them versus an agenda programmed exclusively with workshops and trainings.

Gen Y, on yet another hand, wants to tie an event to a social mission that reflects the core values of your business. “They want to know why you are hosting an event and why they should be there. How will attending change their lives?” Says Jeff Gruber, Human Resources Consultant.  “To the degree that you can, speak to this audience with a cause. Frame it as what your product/service does that makes things better or solves a problem. This speaks to Gen Y’s need to belong to something that’s bigger than themselves.”

So, give them an opportunity to give back and connect with your mission, too, through volunteering or fundraising.

Digital and In-Person Connections

Here’s another meeting consideration that spans the generations in different ways.  While Gen Y (who many, by the way, hate to be called Millennials) are the most comfortable with technology, they do want to connect in person. For example, they enjoy having a meeting app to automate check-in, organize schedules, and engage them in the event.  Yet, first connecting in the physical world and then maintaining relationships in the digital realm is the new norm, says Smart Meetings. For them, create small groups, interactive workshops, and time for one-on-one socializing and in-person networking.

Boomers and Gen X aren’t technologically inept, either, so your meeting app works great for them as well.  In fact, Gen Xers’ love of pragmatism and efficiency means they’ll definitely use your app.  But these generations also want face-to-face time. Gen X wants it with a clear focus – networking, training, awards, me-time (self improvement). Boomers want all the face-to-face you can give them, because this is where they start, build and maintain relationships.

Gruber ads that Gen Y, again because of their digital upbringing, have shorter attention spans. “The more short, concise activity, and the more energy in your sessions, the better for them,” he says. “Baby Boomers will sit through hours of PowerPoint and not be fidgety. Gen Y will get up and leave. They want and need diverse enhancement and delivery of content that’s multimedia in nature. For them, use video, music, animation, etc.”

Memorable Events

Finally, your event must be memorable for everyone involved.  How do you do that if the majority of your next meeting’s attendees fall into multiple generation groups, especially with competing meanings of what’s important to them?

At Enliven, the best advice we have found is to ask your participants what they find memorable. Don’t assume that your idea of a huge gala with catered dinner will appeal to everyone. Some will prefer an Instagram-able meet up with beer flights in a local brew-pub. Others might appreciate yoga sessions with the hottest alternative guru, or a chance to build food boxes at the local nonprofit food bank.

Bottom line?  The make up of your audience matters – each generation group has different likes, dislikes, wants and needs.  What’s your experience with different generations at your events? We’d love to hear from you.

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