In-person events are and continue to be one of the largest marketing channels for most companies — so much so that the 2019 event marketing trends report from Bizzabo found most marketers (41%) believe events are the most effective marketing channel, up from 32% in 2017. But we’re at a unique time in history with four different generations in the workforce who attend group meetings under the same roof.
With such a broad landscape of event attendees, how can corporate event planners make sure they’re providing content that appeals to people across all generations?
Generational learning differences: fact or fiction?
If you’ve been in the meetings and events industry long enough, you’ve probably heard that different generations learn differently. Boomers like a lecture-based environment; Gen Xers want to be able to ask questions and engage with the presenter; millennials need some sort of digital component to stay involved; Gen Z needs you to cater to a short attention span.
But is it true?
Most of these assumptions are based on anecdotal evidence at best, and in fact, studies that have been done that show there aren’t generation-specific styles of learning. Instead, different people simply learn differently.
Does that mean you shouldn’t take into account the fact that different people may have different learning styles — that someone might prefer a lecture versus another attendee who may be more interested in a panel discussion? Not at all. In fact, the best way to meet attendees’ event content needs is to provide this sort of variety and make it clear on the front end what type of education session they can expect when they walk through the doors of your trade show, convention or conference.
Look to generation values over learning styles
So how then do you identify the best content for your event? Instead of trying to think about how a Boomer’s learning style differs from someone from Generation Z, focus instead on helping your members find the educational content they need during all stages of their life and career journey. A more topic-focused approach to content is going to better enable you to provide educational sessions that actually interest your attendees.
One place to start is by look at what each generation values and then building that into your education sessions.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) Age in 2019: 73-55
While this generation didn’t grow up with today’s technology, they still want to learn and be valued for their contributions according to a recent Forbes study, contributing to their company’s success.
Generation X (1965-1980) Age in 2019: 54-39
Gen X largely grew up in families with higher divorce rates and two-income households, resulting in a lack of adult presence, which has made them more peer-oriented and entrepreneurial in spirit, according to Business Insider.
Millennials (1982-1996) Age in 2019: 38-23
Millennials were the most racially diverse adult generation in America’s history and came of age during the height of the 2008 economic recession. Representing almost a quarter of the U.S. population, they’re a large mix of today’s event attendees. The generation that brought our world into the technology age, millennials think fast and multitask, and they want to be acknowledged with clear communication and expectations.
Generation Z (Born after 1996) Age in 2019: 22 and Younger
Though Generation Z is just coming on the scene in the workplace, they make up 27% of the U.S. population and are even more diverse than millennials. Technology as we know it has always been a part of their lives, so they’ve been connected to a broader world from the start. But unlike millennials who worked jobs as teens, fewer Gen Zers have entered the workplace with that type of experience and are looking to learn.
Strategies for learning sessions
When it comes to planning education and content sessions, these strategies can help with all generations, regardless of topic.
1. Keep your audience interested by keeping content short. No, we’re not saying trim down education sessions because millennials and Gen Z audiences can’t pay attention. Instead, maybe it’s time to take a broader look at making event content digestible and easy to remember for all attendees. There’s a reason TED talks, which average 18 minutes, span across generations.
2. Think about new ways of delivering content that get all generations involved. When putting together a panel, consider bringing on a panelist from each generation. This provides a variety of perspectives and allows everyone to feel heard.
3. Make space, even in your education sessions, for attendee interaction. A study by American Express found that networking is the second biggest motivator for event attendees after content.
As we look ahead to the meetings of the future and what it means to have so many generations under one roof, instead of focusing on how the generations are different, maybe it’s time to try focusing instead on bringing people together. After all, that’s what meetings are all about.