Seven Tips To Make Your Conference Millennial–Friendly

This article was written (well, ghostwritten by me in collaboration with Dave Lutz) for Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s June edition of Convene.

Photo by Quang Minh (YILKA) http://www.flickr.com/photos/yilka/1829139871/sizes/o/

Many associations are trying to find a way to reach a generation that’s eager to be entertained and informed, yet resistant to the familiar, in-your-face, 20th-century approach.

The target is the Millennials, defined as those born in the1980s and now between the ages of 18 and 28. They’ve grown up wired – constantly in front of devices with screens – and they socialize via cell phones, computers, and video games. It goes without saying that they have a different mindset than Gen X and the Boomers, making traditional meeting/conference/convention marketing and education delivery obsolete.

A 2010 Pew Research Center report on Millennials defines them as confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and receptive to new ideas and ways of living. But, when it comes to your conference, how can you be sure they’ll want to attend? Here are seven insights to keep in mind.

1. Millennials like virtual bling.
The Young Adults Revealed global survey, conducted by Synovate in partnership with Microsoft, found that

  • 28% of Gen Y-ers talk about a brand in a discussion forum
  • 23% added brand-related content to their instant-messaging service
  • 19% added branded content to their homepage or favorite social site’s wall.

Tip: Provide virtual conference badges and buttons that include HTML code linking to the conference website. Include taglines such as “I’m attending. Are you?” or “Will I see you there?” Encourage all attendees to post them on their homepages, Facebook walls, blogs and LinkedIn accounts. Create a FourSquare or Gowalla virtual badge that they can secure when they check in as well.

2. Causes help create emotional connection.
Today’s social currency has more to do with authenticity than being avant-garde. The definition of coolness has shifted. Gen Y (also called “digital natives”) believes that today, the cool kids are the doers – the ones who are fixing, leading, changing and advocating in order to make a difference in the world.

Tip: Add a social-cause program to your conference schedule. This gives Gen Y another reason to attend, join and make a difference.

3. Make your conference content relevant and new.
Millennials are in the here-and-now. They will rush by you if you blink. The concept of forever is lost – literally. Your conference needs to be the new transformer of our time – capable of renewal, regeneration, and reinvention. It must demonstrate the essential I-can’t-live-without-you shiny feature (without being gimmicky). The content can’t be designed six to 12 months in advance and marketed as current.

Tip: Leave some session slots open for hot, new, forward-thinking content – designed 30 days before the event.

4. Hands-on is high value.
The NetGeneration prefers experiential trial and error without penalty learning. They learn by doing, and enjoy immersing themselves in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORGs) with rich 3-D virtual environments, engaging narratives and collaborative play. They loathe lectures and monologue presentations because these limit interactivity and feedback.

Tip: Secure facilitators for breakout sessions that use structured small-group discussions, activities and hands-on interactive strategies to increase Gen Y’s participation and learning.

5. Nomadic 24/7 communication styles rule.
Echo Boomers are prolific communicators. They have more friends and communicate with them more frequently using IM (instant messaging), text messaging, and cell phones than traditional communication channels. They generate 300 percent more text messages than 35- to 44-year-olds, and 617 percent more text messages than 45- to 54-year-olds. They expect communication mobility to remain in constant un-tethered touch wherever and whenever.

Tip: Invest in a text-messaging marketing solution with an opt-in feature that allows you to send relevant text messages to their mobile devices. Keep the messages short, succinct and fun. On site, schedule and send text reminders about special events, receptions and parties.

6. Social media is the new inbox.
The killer tool during the first part of the Internet boom was e-mail, followed by e-commerce, search, music, video and now social media. E-mail has held on as the king of the Internet, used by old and young alike. However, the new inbox is shifting toward social media. Seventy-five percent of Millennials – compared with 50 percent of Generation X members (ages 30 to 45) and just 30 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 46 to 64) – have created a profile for themselves on a social-networking site. Millennials expect news about your conference or event to find them in their social networks and be texted to them on their mobile devices.

Tip: Set up social-media conference sites on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, where Gen Y can post comments, photos, and videos. Encourage them to post frequently and tag their posts. Have them Yelp photos and reviews of conference meals and city restaurants.

7. It’s about them.
The Trophy Generation has grown up with an array of options and free choices, and the ability to customize and personalize. They expect free Wi-Fi in the conference venue. You could almost say they believe it’s their birthright. They also want to feel as if the conference and exhibit hall belong to them just as much as to the Boomers.

Tip: Set up lounge areas with recharging stations in the exhibit hall and prefunction areas. This lets Gen Y know that you’re catering to their expectations. These areas are also great sponsorship opportunities – which brings us back to my first point about Gen Y’s comfort with branding. 

Start ‘em off Right
The health and wellbeing of every association requires new blood. Many organizations have successfully implemented student chapters and programs to help build loyalty during the career-development years. Associations that provide opportunities for young professionals to be mentored or actively involved in their first year of membership stand a greater chance of retaining those members over the course of their career.

This post was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010 www.pcma.org

What other tips would you add to this list? Which tip concerns or delights you the most? How would you add these strategies to your conference format and still attract Baby Boomers as well?

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the comment Carrie! I still need to dig into the rest of this months issue of Convene. I really like when they take one major planner issue and delve into it from different perspectives. Lots of associations are challenged with getting new blood as both members and attendees. For long term sustainability, cracking the code is critical.

  2. says

    Dave

    I am catching up on a whole bunch of posts here! So expect lots of comments!

    The main lessons I’m picking up here is making your event anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

    There have to be lots of social channels and social content that allow people to engage when THEY want to.

    In reality, I could spend all year getting these things right! But I guess the main thing for me is enabling participation and making it as easy as possible

    Scott

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