Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

September 2013

Futurist Mike Walsh on The Next Generation of Meeting Attendees

By David McMillin

Think big. Think new. Think quick. 

That’s what Mike Walsh told attendees at the PCMA Education Conference in Denver on June 26. As meeting professionals look to the future, Walsh urged them to recognize that the future is upon us - now.

While it’s important to look at trends and statistics, Walsh cautioned against making assumptions about what attendees will prefer at tomorrow’s meetings. “It’s quite dangerous to make generalizations about the next generation,” Walsh said. In fact, the futurist doesn’t even think in traditional Gen X, Gen Y, or Millennial terms. “I don’t believe in generations,” Walsh said.

GEN IPHONE

Instead, Walsh looks to the future for one group: the smartphone generation. From 2007 (the year the iPhone was introduced) and beyond, everyone will grow up with anytime/anywhere access to making connections and reading content. “The next generation of attendees,” Walsh said, “will have a radically different mindset and communication paradigm shaped by a childhood of disruptive technology.” It’s important to note that this places significant pressure on planners who are still waiting to develop mobile applications for their meetings. While some planners may attribute the lack of an app to an older audience, that excuse is problematic, Walsh noted. How will you replace that aging audience if young, prospective attendees perceive your meeting as an old-school experience that is failing to keep up with technology? Indeed, Walsh’s Education Conference presentation posed a question that every meeting planner should ask: If your meeting isn’t mobile, will your audience even know it’s happening?

WHERE TO TURN FOR YOUR EDUCATION

For meeting professionals with children, you might not need to go far to get advice on how to be innovative. “If your kids had your job,” Walsh said, “how would they do it differently?” If you can’t turn to your own kids for help, Walsh suggested turning to someone else’s by setting up a youth lab, recruiting some young people, and asking them to imagine the kind of event they would like to participate in.

As your organization looks ahead and works to determine how to stay relevant, Walsh recommends taking a step back and answering one additional key question: Are you fighting the future or training for it?

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