The tech-savvy, experience-hungry, and social media-sharing generation now coming into the workforce is not ready to settle for the same old meeting model. In a recent MeetingsNet webinar, Play With a Purpose’s Chief Idea Sparker Sharon Fisher outlined nine characteristics that drive this latest addition to the conference scene, and some ideas on how to get them involved and keep them engaged. (For more, see 9 Effective Ways to Engage Millennials at Your Events.)
But most meetings are for more than Millennials, of course. You may find yourself challenged to plan a meeting that spans as many as four generations, all with different experience levels, educational needs, networking goals, and learning format preferences. During the webinar’s Q&A, people had a lot of questions about how to balance the expectations of a mixed-generation crowd.
The Melding Meeting Pot
Fisher stressed that the first thing to keep in mind is that we’re all more alike than we are different. When it comes to meetings, attendees of all generations are coming primarily to learn and network. And everyone wants to be engaged in the learning, not sitting in a dark room staring at Powerpoint slides as a speaker drones on. And as more of the older generations experience the participatory, fun, and engaging meeting elements that Millennials are demanding, they start to want those elements as well.
As Fisher said, Millennials are already changing the way we meet. Baby boomers used to be content to go along with the group norms, even if they personally weren’t thrilled with some of them. “Now Boomers are falling in line with Millennials and saying, ‘It’s all about me.’ We’re seeing it on menus, which have become increasingly personalized, but also in the learning world,” she said.
“We’re seeing a lot of different opportunities offered for introverts, extroverts, buyers, sellers, generations—it’s hard to balance all of that, but it’s all about looking at the individual needs of the audience members, and providing things that everyone will enjoy and do together.”
To Label or Not to Label
When it comes to education, you probably will want to do some tracking specifically aimed at young professionals, and label it accordingly. But for networking and social events, she suggested it’s best to build in activities that all ages and personality types will enjoy.
Some activities, however—think a dodge ball tournament—are going to be more focused for Millennials than older participants. One person asked Fisher if she recommends offering activities by age group—“Here’s something for Millennials; here’s something for Boomers.”
“That’s not what I would do,” Fisher said. “Millennials aren’t necessarily coming to your meeting to meet other Millennials. They may like to meet their peers, but they are also coming to meet the people in the industry who can teach them things they don’t already know and take them where they want to be in their career.” She recommends just saying, “We’re going to have a dodge ball tournament—everyone who wants to play, come play.”
How Do You Get the C-Suite to Come Play?
“We get asked all the time how can we get C-suite execs to want to participate in activities that are focused on fun,” Fisher said. There’s a perception that they won’t want to jump in, but she said that, in fact, even CEOs want to have fun. “They like to laugh and engage with everyone else, too. It just has to not be too silly or put them in an awkward position. People say, ‘My C-suite people won’t do it,’ but they do when we offer it.” As they should, especially if it’s a teambuilding activity—if they won’t be a part of that, what are they saying about their place in the team?