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June 24 2012

Making Sense of the Millennial Generation

By David McMillin, Staff Writer


It's arguably the most critical question for a successful planner's future:
how do you attract young attendees to your next meeting or convention?

However, so many meeting professionals are struggling to find the answer. In an effort to fill in the gaps, the PCMA Education Foundation commissioned the largest survey ever conducted on millennial attendees.

"The industry is aging," Brad Lewis, Executive Director, PCMA Education Foundation, says. "We have a whole new generation of people who are starting to get involved, and we're aiming to understand how we can best appeal to them."

"Ultimately, the Foundation is looking to answer how we can captivate them to build a stronger future for meetings and events," Lewis adds.

Gathering the Facts and Figures

The Foundation funded a research grant for a team of academic hospitality and human science leaders to investigate: George Fenich, Ph.D., East Carolina University; Sheila Scott-Halsell, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University; and Godwin-Charles Ogbeide, Ph.D., University of Arkansas. These three experts collected feedback from more than 2,000 respondents ages 18 – 30.

The resounding conclusion? It's time to break up with old-school meeting formats.

"It is imperative to discontinue programs of straight lecture or basic PowerPoint presentations to satisfy an emerging generation of attendees," the research team says. "If you motivate the Millennial with an inspiring and fun event, they will come."

Personalizing the Value of a Meeting

One of the easiest ways to inspire this generation is to demonstrate the individual impact of attending.

"Sometimes known as the 'Entitlement Generation', it isn't surprising to find that they have a strong predilection of 'what's in it for me?'" the research team writes. "They want to personally benefit."

"As a group that's grown up with Apple products and Amazon, Millennials expect something they use to anticipate their needs and speak directly to them," Mary Reynolds Kane, Director, Online Marketing, PCMA, says. "If you create a generic experience for them, you may lose their trust and a potential member or customer for years."

Earning their trust may start with helping them identify career opportunities. According to the research, these potential attendees are looking for ways to network and create new connections. Eighty-six percent of respondents listed job opportunities as a primary motivation for attending.

Capturing On-Site Attention

Getting this audience to a convention or event is only half the battle. Planners have to solve the riddle of captivating the minds of a generation of attendees who have grown up texting, surfing the web and finding distractions for, well, anything that's in front of them.

Here's the good news: there are ways to motivate this generation to log out of their social lives and log in to learning. When asked what they value in meetings, events and conventions, respondents all ranked "education with entertainment" at the top of the list.

"Edutainment makes attendees feel like they aren't 'learning' in a traditional sense because they are enjoying themselves so much," Kelly Peacy, SVP, Education and Meetings, PCMA, says.

Whether that enjoyment comes from an engaging speaker or an interactive setting, Peacy says there are plenty of ways that planners can effectively deliver that edutainment.

Comparing Communication Strategies

Plenty of rules from yesterday's meeting playbook have been broken, but the survey reinforces one key reality: the value of face-to-face is irreplaceable.

Sure, virtual tools have helped build bigger communities while keeping travel costs low, but 81 percent of respondents still ranked face-to-face as one of their most preferred methods of communication.

While the survey shows that this generation does love technology – email was a close second to F2F – that online addiction varies based on age. While older Millennials use LinkedIn, younger respondents don't care much for the professional networking site. It ranked last among methods of preferred communication. Reading Twitter feeds appears to be age-dependent, too, with younger Millennials enjoying 140-character updates.

Planning for the Future

So what can meeting professionals do to answer that critical question? Here are five key findings you can put into action at your next convention.

  1. Make decisions for them. Millennials want short, simple and structured meetings.
  2. Help them connect. This generation expects Wi-Fi at their meetings. After all, if they can get it for free at a café, shouldn't it be available at their next convention?
  3.  Make learning fun. All these respondents are looking for education with entertainment. From gamification to visual learning, think of ways to transform learning into an engaging and electrifying experience.
  4. Show them individual impact. If you demonstrate what they'll earn for attending (job opportunities, scholarships and career coaching), they will register.
  5. Know your audience. Needs and expectations vary at opposite ends of the millennial age spectrum. Planners should remember that older Millennials are less interested in social activities and more interested in being mentally challenged.

Access the complete research findings here

More on the PCMA Education Foundation Millennial Series

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