En Route For Next-Gen Conference Audiences


Will Millennials be joiners and conveners? Who are some of your next audiences to attract? Will your organization accumulate comparable lifetime customer value from next-generation members as it did from loyal Boomers?

This is the first of two posts that are intended to be a helpful resource for conference organizers as they develop their attendee succession-plan strategy.

Key Indicators For Most Conferences

While every association and profession has its unique issues, I’ve picked up on a few key indicators/principles that apply to the majority.

For organizational and product sustainability, you must:

1. Own the mid-career-professional demographic

These are usually the most active practitioners who are 10 to 20 years into their career. While it’s helpful to plot attendance by age, years in the profession is likely a better indicator for sustainability.

2. Understand that labels and actions matter

Instead of using terms like young professional or beginner, consider terms like early-career or emerging/future leader. Next-generation audiences want community, not judgment; conversation, not doctrine; activity, not bureaucracy; and participation, not dictation as Dr. Josh Packard states. Transparency and trust are the future currencies for engagement.

3. Have leadership that is present

Don’t schedule committee, board, or invitation-only events during your main program. Hierarchy, cliques, and exclusivity are big turn-offs for future attendees.

4. Don’t put people into boxes

Segmenting by age — like Millennials — can be divisive, and is rarely productive or effective. Instead, consider mapping out societal trends and behaviors that are rapidly changing the world we live in. It’s not just Millennials who are changing, most of us are — and it turns out most of us like what they like.

Four Areas To Consider For Future Audiences

As you reimagine your conference program for future audiences, there are four main areas you need to consider:

  • Engagement and Community Strategy
  • Learning Experience Design (LXD)
  • User Experience Design (UXD)
  • Purpose and Passion Alignment

We’ll cover the first one here and the next three in our next post.

Engagement And Community Strategy

When it comes to engagement and community strategy, here are some Next-Gen Audience approaches that you can consider that other conference organizers have used:

1. A Seat At The Table

This usually involves placing a token Millennial or two on a board or committee, or assembling a special task force. This can be extremely effective when voices are heard and action follows. Agility is critical to success.

2. Get ’Em While They’re Young

Some associations offer free or discounted conference registration to students or early-career professionals. We’ve found that this strategy has a very poor conversion rate for future attendance. You need to have a get-’em-while-they’re-young strategy, but placing big bets on your premium conferences is unlikely to pay off as well as other forms of engagement.

3. Mentor Programs

These can be extremely effective when mentors go out of their way to help new attendees get connected. When the onus is placed on attendees, results are spotty, but well-intentioned, connected mentors can do wonders for two or three early-career practitioners.

4, Crowdsourcing and Micro-Volunteering

Co-creation and participation are growing in value as important organizational traits. The call for proposals will be replaced with a call for ideas. Peer review and committee decisions will be improved with more active engagement, direction, and feedback from conference participants. Opportunities for micro-volunteering opportunities will accelerate loyalty.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2018

How is your organization reaching out to it’s next audience for your conference and events? What strategies have you used to build engagement and community with new audiences?

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