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4 Takeaways from Big Attendee-Preferences Survey

Freeman’s annual gauge of event participants reveals a few differences between attendees of different generations—but many important similarities too.

Released in early January, the 2024 Trends Report: Attendee Intent and Behavior from trade-show, exhibit, and event-production agency Freeman addresses the key factors that influence people’s decisions to attend in-person events and their satisfaction with those events.

And while the report, based on responses from nearly 2,100 businesspeople, finds some event-related distinctions between the four generations represented in the work force—Boomers (born before 1965), Gen X (born 1965-1980), Millennial (born 1981-1996), and Gen Z (born 1997-2012)—the commonalities are striking, even as technology related to individual personalization of the business-event experience is quickly advancing.

In fact, technology is centrally related to one commonality, according to the report: “We all want to be seen, accommodated, and valued for our individuality.” That, in essence, is the definition of inclusion, and the leveraging of data can help events get there.

Some examples of other common preferences among different generations of attendees, according to the survey results:

• With keynote and other general-session presentations, content comes first. “Attendees want substance, not celebrity,” says the report. “A relevant, thought-provoking topic will outweigh even the most prominent name” when it comes to driving attendee interest.

From a wider perspective, the four factors that are most important for driving interest in keynote and general-session presentations: The topic; the type of speaker (industry expertise and experience in innovation are most preferred), the session format (some attendee interaction is most preferred), and the duration (40 to 60 minutes is most preferred). “Striking a balance between informational and inspirational is key” to impactful main-stage presentations, says the report.

• Attendees want business events to offer activities with peer-to-peer interaction, including opportunities for both conversation and hands-on activities. “When it comes to networking, they are less interested in discovering new career opportunities or finding/providing mentoring,” the report says. “Instead, attendees view networking as most valuable when they can exchange ideas with peers regarding their shared challenges, meet new colleagues, and speak with industry experts who might otherwise be out of reach.”

• When it comes to the commercial aspect of business events, “attendees consider samples of products or service as well as hands-on demonstrations—seeing solutions and actions in real-life scenarios—as the most valuable” activities in exhibit and sponsor spaces, says the report.

• Attendees have a clear desire for immersive activations and personalization, but the “low-hanging fruit” of morning yoga sessions, group jogging events, and other wellness initiatives are not moving the needle, according to the report. Instead, focusing event-staff efforts on “business-related immersion and customization opportunities will yield higher returns for attendees and event hosts alike.”

However, there is at least one area where the youngest generation of businesspeople differs from the others: “Next-generation event-goers tend to care more about authentic connection and social causes than other generations,” says the report, “and it is imperative for event organizers to act upon this” in order to maintain an event’s momentum into the future.

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