Gen Xers and Millennials: there’s only a generation between them, but they’re a world apart when it comes to professional expectations. When you start comparing Millennials to Baby Boomers, they’re practically a different species.
Why? Because Millennials have grown up expecting meaning and engagement from their professional lives. They don’t really “get” the whole work-life separation – instead, they think of their jobs as vocations. Not money to pay the bills, but experiences to get excited about.
They’re enthusiastic about change, ambition and innovation, and depressed by the cynicism of their older counterparts. Plus, they’re more likely than any other generation to voice their frustrations and demand to be inspired.
In many ways, this is great. So long as you’re prepared to lead rather than manage, create opportunities for meaningful work and contributions and give them space to try out different ways of working, you can harness all that energy and passion for the good of your organisation.
But here’s the downside: this is a generation with a short attention span and low tolerance for boredom. And that means you have to work extra hard to keep them engaged.
Plus, you can’t afford to ignore the problem. Millennials now dominate the workforce, meaning that this is where you need to focus your efforts to grow your business.
When it comes to corporate events, this poses a particular challenge.
Many companies are still running their conferences the way they’ve done for decades: get everyone in a room, put PowerPoint-wielding speaker on a stage, and make sure there’s plenty of wine afterwards. “Interaction” means passing a mic around the audience for a quick Q&A; and letting your guests get on with some networking.
This might go down fine with baby boomers who either a) revel in face-to-face networking and/or b) are happy to get out of the office to go on a “jolly”. But it won’t cut it with Millennials, who are more likely to be muttering darkly into their canapés about meaningfulness and storytelling than thanking you for their invitation.
So what can you do to get your younger colleagues on side?
First: remember that this is the digital native generation. You’re going to need to work technology into the fabric of your event if you want to get them involved.
As the leadership expert George Brandt puts it: “Leverage and let them leverage the electronic tools they are so familiar with. Text and chat are as valid forms of communication for this generation as were PowerPoint slides in darkened rooms for Baby Boomers.”
To be really effective, this should start before they even get to the event. Choose a user-friendly, intuitive platform to manage your online registration and ticketing – and think about offering check-in via a smartphone app to make the process sleek and techie-friendly.
Put some thought into how you’ll go about fostering an online community about the event too. This might include forums or Facebook pages for attendees to chat and pose questions in advance, or even a digital “members area” for pre-networking. Encourage guests to follow you on Twitter and establish a relevant hashtag for the event, to help steer and track the conversation, and to engage with people before, during and after the event.
When it comes to the conference itself, interactive elements will make all the difference. Millennials want (and expect) to contribute – not to sit and passively observe. Being able to submit questions, respond to polls or upload user-generated content like photos during the event, whether through social media or bespoke digital channels, helps to keep your youthful audience involved and interested.
Most importantly, focus on keeping the quality of your presenters and materials as high as you can. Inspiring, well-rehearsed speakers with a powerful sense of narrative are essential to win over any audience, but add a tough crowd of Millennials to the mix and they’re more important than ever. Great graphics, upbeat presentations, and plenty of video clips will all help to take your conference to the next level in their youthful eyes.
What are your top tips for making conferences more engaging and digital-friendly? Let us know in the comments below!