A Thing Or Two About Events and Conferences



Here’s the deal. Like you, we attend industry events and conferences (just more of them).

Every year, we travel all over the world speaking at 50 or more events organized by companies, associations, and other entities. Every event is different in size, scope, audience, and effectiveness. Having done this for a dozen years, we’ve learned a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two (hat tip to Farmers Insurance).

Now, we know meeting planners have hard jobs. They have to find the venue, speakers, sponsors, a/v partners, and other content providers. Then they have to figure out schedules, food and beverage, activities, and everything else associated with the meeting. They have to set expectations, manage them, and exceed them with the leaders of their organization as well as the attendees. They get little recognition or credit when things go off as planned, and all the blame when things don’t.

We’ve got some advice for them: focus on Millennials.

That’s because Millennials are shaping our culture now, and will continue to do so for the next few decades (read more about this new reality here). That means you have to design and program your events and conferences for them. Winning events are aligned with modern culture, and Millennials drive culture.

How do you do it? How do you design events and conferences that attract Millennials? Based on our work on generational dynamics and our first-hand experience at 500 or more meetings and conferences, here are our top five insights:

Make it collaborative — find ways to engage Millennial attendees in developing the event, from content and programming, to activities and even event marketing. Give them a role and ask them to contribute. They are wired to work together and are willing to pitch in and contribute.

Make it shareable — sure, this is a no-brainer, but it’s important. From serving an “Instagram-able” dish at a meal, to setting up the ideal selfie location, create ways for Millennials to tweet, post, and share their experience at your event.

Make it about community — create times and places for serendipitous interactions to occur among attendees. The best events and conferences are not back-to-back-to-back speakers, panels, and workshops. They have breathing room. They have times and spaces for serendipity and spontaneity to occur beyond the basic reception or cocktail hour. They are more intentional about connecting people to others with similar interests, including using apps that “find” like-minded attendees and put them together.

Make it enriching — since birth, every Millennial has been repeatedly told they are “special.” Build specialness and uniqueness into your professional or personal development content, so each Millennial sees how it reinforces their self-identity.

Make it about the greater good — tie some aspect of the event to something larger than what it is, who it’s for, and what they learn. Add a component about “why” the event is happening and who beyond attendees will benefit. Link to a local or global charity, if needed, to give the event a broader purpose (see more on purpose here.)

The best part about following these suggestions is that they also appeal to the older generations as well. Gen Xers and Boomers today want modern meetings and events to align with what’s happening in the culture, and not be a throwback to days gone by. In fact, if you’re still organizing events the same way you did five years ago, you’re already behind.

Designing your event around the orientation of Millennials towards their “we” culture will appeal to everyone, strengthening engagement, participation, and deepening the relationship between event and attendee.

It’s the future of events and conferences. You’ll see.