Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 20 2015

5 Ways Millennial Planners Are Going To Change The Meetings Industry

By David McMillin



Over the past three years, planners and suppliers alike have been focused on how Millennial attendees will change the convention industry. How will their behaviors impact meeting design decisions? Will the digital age continue to shorten their attention spans? Is social media really the best communication channel to reach them?

While the answers to these questions are key ingredients for the future of meetings, the Millennials at the helm of the industry are equally important to the conversation. We caught up with some of the members of the 2015 class of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties to get a sense of their big plans for the future. Here’s a look at five ways these emerging leaders are going to change the course of conventions.

1) By embracing a shorter, sweeter and less structured approach to education.

“From a meeting design perspective, we’re trying to help attendees feel more comfortable with less structured time,” Katrina Dunn, Meetings and Foundation Manager, American Society for Nutrition, says. “While some of our scientists are unsure of what to do with white space and open time, we’re hoping to move away from long two-hour sessions. It’s not necessarily a TED-style format, but we want to embrace more succinct presentations and education.”

Some academics may be a bit resistant to shorter presentations, but the change seems to be happening naturally in the organization.

“More young people are being drawn to nutrition as a career, so we’re seeing our attendees ask for experiential learning opportunities, workshops, panels and case studies,” Dunn says.

2) By adding new destinations to the consideration set.

Millennials aren’t just focused on altering what kind of education will be in the program; some of them are also aiming to change where that education takes place.

“I hope we can encourage our Boards and the leaders of our organizations to think about hosting meetings in cities that may not be top of mind,” Dunn says. “Meetings represent such a great opportunity for economic growth in smaller markets.”

While everyone is familiar with annual lists of top convention destinations, Dunn hopes to push the envelope and introduce attendees to new places.

“I hope more of us will be willing to take the risk to host programs in smaller cities so that we’re not all going back to the same places year after year,” Dunn says.

3) By accelerating adoption of new technology.

“We skew to an older male audience,” Danielle Foster, Meeting Planner, Certified Angus Beef, says. “Getting that demographic to adopt what’s new and what’s next in terms of technology isn’t always easy.”

However, Foster isn’t letting tradition stand in the way of spurring widespread adoption of cutting-edge tech at the organization’s annual conference. Rather than waiting for attendees to catch up with rest of the pioneers on the tech-savvy frontier, she’s helping push that movement along at a faster pace.

“This year, we’re venturing into the beacons world to help our attendees at our annual conference recognize the value of the mobile app,” Foster says.

“There is constant advancement in event technology,” Foster adds. “One of our duties as meeting planners is to help usher our attendees along with the progress.”

4) By driving home the reasons why face-to-face fuels success.

As virtual education opportunities arise across all industries, Millennial meeting planners recognize the need to better articulate the value of coming together in-person instead of logging in behind a screen.

“In general, the biggest current challenge is promoting what someone can get from face-to-face time,” Cara Pratt, Vice President, Business Development, Destination Partners Inc., says. “That’s going to continue to be a challenge as the members of younger generations grow more accustomed to doing everything with a computer.”

“We need to do an even better job of demonstrating the real ROI of coming to a meeting,” Pratt says.

5) By balancing the power of the past with the promise of the future.

The industry can often feel obsessed with a need to innovate. However Millennials aren’t looking to change everything.

“My biggest challenge is simply keeping the integrity of a meeting yet also enhancing it,” Katharine L. Gausmann, CMP, Program Manager, National Association of Secondary School Principals, says. “In every organization, there are traditions and a history behind each program.  This really applies to every meeting planner, especially those new in their roles.”

“Getting buy-in from other colleagues who perhaps have been doing a meeting a certain way for many years is difficult,” Gausmann adds. “However, it is up to meeting professionals to understand the history and contribute to and build off this history in shaping the event for future years.”

This educational article was brought to you by Austin, Texas, a city committed to engaging and empowering emerging leaders. Click here to learn more about how Austin can create new opportunities for your attendees.

As the face-to-face industry evolves, Austin continues to stand at the forefront of innovation by leading new initiatives to support an emerging generation of meeting professionals. The support of the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Austin Convention Center helped the leaders in this article attend Convening Leaders 2015 and will continue to help fuel the early stages of their careers with discounted PCMA memberships and mentoring opportunities.

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