According to U.S. Census Bureau population projections at the end of 2014, millennials — ages 18 to 34 years old — will bypass baby boomers as our largest (living) generation. And by 2050, it is expected that the U.S. will have roughly 79.2 million millennials living in its borders.
The front-end of this generation has been in the workforce for at least a decade. They continue to fundamentally transform business at large and, in particular, onsite-meeting experiences such as personal networking, panel and breakout sessions, exhibit environment design and immersive digital communication and feedback functions.
With mobile apps, online platforms, content management systems and a myriad of wireless communications, events are now characterized by multiple dialogues in which event designers and audiences take co-ownership and co-creation of what unfolds, often in real time. This is in large part due to Gen Y’s urging but what many companies don’t know is that millennials aren’t the only generation engaging in this way.
While they may be one of the first truly digital generations, the truth is most of the U.S. considers itself somewhat digitally savvy. According to Nielsen’s 2014 U.S. Digital Consumer Report, Americans own four digital devices (on average) and are spending 60 hours each week consuming content across multiple devices, such as HDTVs, tablets and smartphones.
Also, while millennials are more comfortable with virtual interaction, they’re only slightly more so than their older counterparts. A 2014 IBM Institute for Business Value Millennial Study found 35 percent are happy to use self-paced interactive modules, apps or online simulations, compared to 33 percent of Gen X and 30 percent of baby boomers. The same study found 39 percent of millennials prefer a face-to-face event experience with a vendor or brand in the initial stages of decision-making rather than online.
In fact, in 2011 Forrester uncovered in-person events, trade shows or conferences are the most important source of information in the B2B decision-making process, second only to websites. Why is this important? It means creating tech-forward, digital-savvy events melded with face-to-face components can broaden a brand’s ability to engage with all professionals — not just 18 to 34 year-olds. This may be in the form of some sort of virtual event in conjunction with an event planner like SmartWorks (https://www.smartworksevents.com/services/online-streaming/) who can create an entirely online event with plenty of opportunities for interaction that can be just as memorable as an in-person event. An all-access approach to events creates a more seamless, universal method to more memorable and effective experiences.
With this in mind, here’s how you can create an event that engages professionals at every age and level for maximum success:
Embrace technology and attendees will embrace you.
Determine where your digital prowess lies and figure out how to make it stronger. Use the latest technology to generate engagement and feedback. For instance, a relevant, robust, and flexible event app suite like TouchScope can help you gain more traction and personal engagement during all phases of an event.
Design a creative and collaborative environment.
Make sure you’re curating experiences rife with connectivity and uniqueness. Offer both access to technology and hands-on elements can encourage interaction between attendees and brands. To promote dialogue and interaction, develop main-stage events with multiple voices and viewpoints. Don’t forget to think about the lighting, seating arrangement and comfort of the space as ways to encourage more interplay as well.
Understand your audience’s business and educational goals.
Create programming that offers a mix of face-to-face and digitally interactive paths to learning, such as panels and workshops with multiple voices and points of view. Allow for a combination of descriptive and real-world simulations of your product, as it enables both conceptual and hands-on learning, and tailors to different learning styles of your audience, including auditory, visual, and tactile.
Decrease the distance between leadership and ‘rank and file.’
Consider events opportunities to make major breakthroughs by bringing together people from all levels and disciplines. Arrange seating in sessions and at meals to “mix it up,” enable inclusive dialogues where all can contribute and encourage senior executives to talk with the full spectrum of participants.
Take advantage of online and social media to keep your experience alive.
Automatically think hybrid when planning event experiences, threading physical and digital together at every step. Make your content and subject matter experts available post-event to extend the time and reach of your audience knowledge opportunity. Think about how your attendees can tap into their networks and communities to amplify your message in their own words.