When Contemplating Conference Growth, Think Next Audiences Which Includes Next Gen


Too often when we think about conference growth or sustainability, we assume it means attracting next gen customers.

We pinpoint a specific generation, usually Millennials. Then we discuss how to plan, program and market to that specific age group.

Eventually our planning discussions turn to generational differences. Those conversations can quickly digress into personal pet peeve complaints about each generation. Before we realize it, we’ve polarized current and future customers.

Instead of limiting our conference growth plans to a specific generation, let’s consider next audiences. Then we can discuss a variety of markets of any age, not just younger generations. When we address next audiences, we plan conferences for participants from four different generations, not just next gen.

Generational Differences: Sticking Points Or Opportunities?

We’ve all faced generational differences in our work. We’ve seen them in the organizations we support. And we have experienced them first hand in the conferences we plan and attend.

Generational differences show up everywhere people get together. They impact how we act, think, plan, sell and design conferences and events.

We can see these generational differences as sticking points—problems we need to solve—or as opportunities to leverage says author and thought leader Haydn Shaw.

When we focus on the why behind the what says Shaw, we can gain real understanding of our generational differences. This enables us to leverage opportunities of having multiple generations at our events. We can think and plan for next audiences.

Leverage These Five Generational Differences To Grow Your Conferences

Here are five generational differences, some identified by Shaw, that affect your conferences. You can either leverage them as growth opportunities for next audiences or allow them to become places for finger pointing and decay.

1. Ongoing conflicts around these generational differences.

How do you design conference programming so that the four primary generations – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials—purchase registration and play well together in your event sandbox?
Not all Gen X and Millennials see things the same way like Traditionalists and Baby Boomers.

Suggestion: Help your planning and advisory teams move from irritation to appreciation. Understand and appreciate what motivates each generation. Then instead of trying to manage them during the conference experience, lead them.

2. Motivating different generations.

Often our conference planning teams represent different generations. Our older team leaders try to direct younger generations with specific programming or experiences. Or our younger team members try to direct older generations. These differences can complicate things.

Suggestion: All generations are motivated by similar needs—solving their problems and helping them reach their wants/aspirations. How they seek to fulfill those needs differ. Focus on providing a variety of ways conference participants can help solve what keeps them up at night as well as what gets them up in the morning. Avoid programming that provides one standard, cookie-cutter experience.

3. Leadership development.

Where will you get your next leaders? Generation X is much smaller generation than Baby Boomers. And what worked with developing Baby Boomer leaders will not work for millennial leaders.

Suggestion: Focus on programming that helps participants reach their aspirations, their goals, their next step forward, and grow professionally.

4. Shifting markets.

Generations buy differently. What do they want and need?

Suggestion: In order to sell and market to different generations, you need to understand what appeals to each generation and learn to speak that language. Look for ways to leverage those differences in your programming and highlight those differences in your sales/marketing.

5. Connecting with four generations of customers.

Most conference professionals can relate well to two generations. However, rarely are they skilled at relating to four generations. Will your programming miss half your customers? Will it only appeal to your greying participants?

Suggestion: Focus on learning more about each generation and what they value. Then lead your conference planning and advisory teams to flex where they can to accommodate different generation’s preferences.

What are some other generational differences you can leverage as growth opportunities for your conferences? What have you seen successful conferences do to attract next audiences-four generations?

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1 comment
  1. Lisa Meller says:

    Sarah, thank you. Some of our clients are finding that succession planning in their business is a real challenge. Dad / Grandpa opened the business and now their son (maybe in his 30’s) is taking over. The topics around managing transition are hot. Do you have any advice to share?

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