I spend two or three days a week at conferences and formal, large group meetings. And it’s ever more obvious that this part of our business lives is out of date. Most of this is because events and conferences are not keeping up with the new expectations and demands of the younger generations of attendees and delegates.
Pete Roythorne, Joint Editor in Chief of Meetings:Review recently wrote about this – read his article here, or an extract below. He makes some very good points, but I would add a few to his list, too. Here’s a summary, without much explanation – read on for some detail:
- Your communication has to be short, to the point, visually stimulating, with beautiful design, customised and targeted for individuals as far as possible
- Your conference spaces should also be visually enticing. What would your event look like if Apple designed it?
- Be creative about using interesting spaces and venues
- Use technology better, especially interactive, collaborative and social media
- Make sure your venues are technologically enabled – lots of power points, good quality wifi, and experiment with interactive technologies
- Sustainability is vital – Gen Y demand a green mindset
- Have shorter sessions, with lots of changes in energy and flow
- Your event can start before people arrive and finish long after they’ve left – keep connected using technology
- Ensure your content is top quality, with world class speakers – don’t skimp on costs here (there are many mediocre speakers who will talk for free or cheaply; be careful of using them).
- Allow space in the programme – Gen Y want experiences, they want to network, and they need space to keep connected to their world.
These suggestions might be targeted for Generation Y, but they’ll work for other generations too and improve the quality and take-home value of your events.
IT’S GOOD TO TALK : Why Generation Y is leading the way we communicate at events
Generation Y is currently the most economically influential demographic group. Pete Roythorne looks at why its members demand fruitful dialogue rather than a stream of marketing messages, and how meetings and events organisers can best engage with this key audience.
Typically defined as those people born after 1980, Generation Y has, like every generation before it, been influenced by the cultural, political and business environment in which it grew up. For Generation Y this means being born into an era that is more technologically advanced and more ethnically diverse than any that has preceded it.
What sets Generation Y apart from other generations is its acquaintance and aptitude with technology in all of its forms from an early age. It has been said that ‘Y-ers’ regard electronic devices as ‘extra limbs’, and technology has created a multimedia generation learning to juggle many more ideas simultaneously than their parents did.
“This is the first demographic to grow up with the internet and it is clear that its members view the web as a two-way communications tool,” explains marketing and events expert Professor Rob Davidson from Greenwich University. “Their high level of technological skills and preference for instant communication and social networking tools have made them into efficient multi-taskers. But persistent exposure to high-tech tools is also cited by several commentators as a contributory factor behind the phenomenon that Generation Y appears to desire everything on demand anytime, any place, with a pronounced tendency towards the need for instant gratification and markedly shorter attention spans than previous generations.”
Generation Y’s attitude to work is another distinguishing factor that sets it apart from previous generations. “Y-ers are comfortable working in groups or collaboratively. They also value flexible arrangements, such as home working, telecommuting, flexi-time and other forms of virtual activity,” says Davidson. “These appeal to their desire to balance their job with their personal life. Consequently for this generation, there is a significant blurring of the lines between socialising and work.”
Fighting against tradition
Davidson believes that anyone struggling to find new ways to communicate more effectively with Generation Y needs to know that using traditional media really does not hit the spot. “You need to be progressive in your approach to reaching this market,” he says. “Communicating with Generation Y relies on creativity and clarity. Clear messages in a creative format are the key to succeeding in communicating with this cohort.”
Davidson continues: “Y-ers respond to communication that understands their uniqueness, their particular way of receiving and processing information. The use of too many words in marketing messages is a guaranteed turn-off for Generation Y. Think in text-messaging format – short, very short, efficient copy is required. Many commentators point to the effectiveness of images in marketing to Generation Y.”
Another important differentiator is that members of Generation Y base most of their purchase decisions on their emotions. This makes face-to-face communication one of the most powerful ways to interact with this group. But there are several things that organisers need to take into consideration when targeting this demographic.
“When it comes to planning events, communication has to be efficient and enticing,” says Miguel Neves, vice president of marketing of the UK and Ireland Chapter of Meeting Professionals International and director of European Operations at SYNAXIS Meetings and Events. “Although the temptation is to follow the mass media approach, other strategies have proved more effective. Sending one email with one single message, for example. While this may increase the number of overall emails sent, it prevents valuable information being lost in long and hard-to-read emails.”
Say what you see
Neves echoes Davidson’s thoughts adding that visual communication at events is also very important.
“Careful colour-coding of sections and reference maps is an almost sub-conscious and often overlooked way to make a trade show more manageable and easier to navigate,” he says. “Frequently, non-verbal communication works best, with logos and diagrams going a long way to explaining complex conference schedules and agendas. Session formats are also more and more diverse and need not fit into a regular category. Meetings held in the open air or in unusual rooms and spaces are proving very popular with Generation Y.”
Effective use of technology is another prerequisite of engaging Generation Y. Y-ers expect all information about the event to be online – in an attractive and intuitive format. But it goes further than that.
“The full capabilities of technology must be exploited before, during, and after a meeting, as this allows Generation Y to feel part of the process,” says Davidson. “Blogs, mobile phones, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, podcasts, virtual meeting environments, RSS feeds, videos, widgets, mashups, wikis, moblogs and social networking sites… Gen-Yers who use these technologies every day expect the same technology to be seamlessly interwoven into meetings.”
And overlook corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental issues at your peril. Generation Y has a great concern for CSR and likes to have some interaction with the local community at the conference destination.
“Arguably, much of the impetus towards ‘greener’ meetings is being driven by this younger generation of participants, whose members are far less tolerant of waste and the negative impacts of events on the natural environment,” says Davidson.
Speaking your mind
More effective use of speakers is also something to aim for.
“It is often said that Y-ers’ short attention spans make them a difficult audience, at any conference,” explains Davidson. “But all of the psychological research indicates that for delegates of any age, attention levels drop dramatically after the first 20 minutes of any presentation. The drive towards shorter, more interactive sessions will intensify as Y-ers account for an increasingly large proportion of participants in business events.”
Generation Y participants also expect interaction, in real time, with each other and with speakers, through having the opportunity, for example, to text-message their questions to a big screen during sessions.
While there is no magical answer to reaching above the noise and effectively communicating with Generation Y, TED conferences are perhaps the best example in the meetings and events world of how to do it effectively. “TED blends brilliant keynote speakers with TV-like rehearsals and presentation to make an event that costs many thousands of dollars to attend, yet is always sold out and has now spawned several smaller versions all over the world that are proving equally as popular,” says Neves. “Generation Y wants to feel that it is experiencing something new, that it is special and most of all that the user experience oozes quality from all its pores. When marketing to Y-er making messages louder, faster, bigger and more annoying will almost certainly have an undesired effect. Generation Y will be asking that key question, why?”