In the first quarter of 2015, the Millennial generation passed Generation X to now constitute the largest share of U.S. workers. Last year, Millennials surpassed Boomers, whose numbers are declining as they retire.
The Pew Research Center reports that today, more than one-third of workers in the United States are Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. The Millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, is characterized by its members’ tech savvy. In addition, many Millennials grew up seeing their parents working long hours in stressful jobs, and they strive for work-life balance.
In the event planning industry, these young professionals are making their mark in a number of ways. Event attendees of the Millennial generation also are expressing preferences for how they engage and interact at events. What are some of the new ideas Millennials are bringing to the table, and how are these new ways of doing things being received?
Modern meeting design
For years, Millennial event planners have proposed meeting design that’s more modern. In 2012, a comprehensive study of Millennial preferences for meetings and conferences found that the young workers care most about networking and job opportunities. Surprisingly, this generation known for its heavy use of technology preferred to communicate face-to-face in professional settings. However, respondents also expressed a desire for better web-based interactivity as part of meetings and events.
Some ideas promoted by Millennial event planners are beginning to take hold, albeit slowly:
- Sustainable, green venues and nature-based event spaces. The theory behind green spaces is that a connection with nature is hard-wired into humans. Time spent in nature relieves stress and improves cognitive function, leading to a more positive event experience. Spaces designed with nature in mind are ideal, but bringing in natural elements, preferably vegetation indigenous to the locale in which an event is held, can customize other spaces.
- Use of gamification concepts, which can motivate and engage attendees and reward desired behavior.
- Unique event locations. Some Millennial event planners are looking to unexpected locations like historic houses or mountaintop resorts.
Better event tech
Millennials do know their technology, and they say it needs work at most conferences and large meetings. For many Millennial planners, tech takes on a complementary role to live engagement and networking before, during, and after an event.
Using more and better tech at conferences provides a great opportunity for tech vendors and sponsors to network with attendees. Some conferences are welcoming guests with tech assistance as part of the registration process. Tech providers help attendees install needed smartphone apps and get the most out of the conference by using the supplemental technology.
In addition, a number of ideas promoted by Millennials are starting to make their way to events:
- Mobile event apps evolving to work in closer harmony with mobile devices. For instance, sensors in modern smartphones can be employed to get instant feedback from attendees on every aspect of an event. Information can be used to make immediate adjustments and to improve future events.
- Second-screen technologies, which use participants’ mobile devices to provide an enhanced viewing experience and interactive features in real time during presentations.
- Use of image-based social sharing. Among Millennials, social media outlets like Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest — which make heavy use of images — are providing stiff competition to Facebook and Twitter.
- Incorporation of the Internet of Things. With new technologies connecting people and their objects in unprecedented ways, savvy meeting planners are using the same concepts to enhance guest experiences. From smart door locks on guest rooms to sensors that automatically adjust lighting, cooling and other venue functions, the Internet of Things is just starting to make its mark.
- Use of wearable technology. Smart watches, smart bracelets and even smart name badges are a new way of engaging with event attendees.
Better ways to connect face-to-face
Millennials as a group seek networking and personal interaction that can enhance their careers. They highly value developing their professional networks, and they want continuing education that can help them advance. At conferences, attendees expect all these needs to be met.
The move toward open-learning meeting spaces is helping by providing a more organic, spontaneous environment at events. Networking breaks allow conference attendees to engage with vendors and sponsors. Small learning groups — a few attendees meeting briefly with a sponsor, then moving to another sponsor — are another way to promote networking and maximum face time.
Impediments to new ideas
For a variety of reasons, the meeting industry has been slow to embrace significant changes to traditional formats and venues. However, fear of change doesn’t appear to be the problem. Instead, tight budgets have meeting planners constantly being asked by clients to do more with less.
Thanks to the Millennials, the meeting industry is entering a time of innovation and experimentation. Unfortunately, experimentation may not always work, and it can be expensive. Permanent changes to room setups to allow differently sized spaces, natural lighting and green elements can be prohibitively costly, especially when there is no guarantee that changes will enhance attendees’ experience.
What do Millennials want?
It turns out that Millennial meeting planners and attendees want what most in the industry want: events that make best use of the latest ideas and technology to engage, educate and entertain. To move toward those goals, professionals of all ages must strive to educate clients about the benefits and potential ROI of embracing modern meeting concepts.
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