by Ruth Hill
The U.S. Census Bureau made it official: Millennials, or America’s youth born between 1982 and 2000, now outnumber Baby Boomers by 83.1 to 75.4 million.
As Boomers exit both the workforce and the population, "Millies" are capturing the attention of meetings and hotel designers and marketers, destination promoters, and meetings technologists among others.
While it's not news that Millies are changing the world, some popular concepts about them are giving way to researched realities. One of the most significant is that though these first generation digital natives are heavy users of technology, they—like every other generation before them—prefer real life encounters for making contacts and networking. In other words, they prefer face-to-face meetings to online encounters.
Serving and Engaging Millies
Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC), the U.S. Travel Association's meetings advocacy initiative founded in 2009, recently released research findings in the report What Millennials Want in Meetings.
The report's key finding obtained in partnership with Skift, a travel industry intelligence and marketing platform, is that like every generation before them, this generation values face-to-face meetings for driving business; initiating and maintaining professional relationships; and for better than other media delivery of personal and professional development.
Meetings industry professionals and destination management organizations (DMOs) are among those who are sifting results from the MMB report as one resource for guidance on designing face-to-face meetings and events that attract and engage attendees of all ages and career stages.
"We are challenged to add value to meetings for this new generation which has some different expectations from others before them," says Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO of MPI. "While they are significant decision makers now, we continue to want to design events that produce value for all generations in attendance, no matter what their experience."
Many Millennials are laser-focused on designing their own career paths, he said. They aren't depending on any corporate ladder to lift them to where they want to go. And, at any point in their career, they are willing to change paths if they find something more exciting and fulfilling. They are pressuring companies and associations to help them design their own career paths, find mentors, get education, and improve themselves—at live meetings.
Strategies to Engage
Millennials, like most others who attend meetings, don't like sitting in a room for two hours to get their education, Van Deventer says.
“They like customized choices, such as shorter talks with the option of a deeper dive with the speaker, as well as small intimate interactive groups known as ‘campfires’ where 10 to 20 people hold discussions and individuals can move in and out of the groups at will,” he explains.
Other key planning strategies for engaging millennial meeting attendees that emerged from the MMBC research besides customized event education include these:
Hybrid meetings with exclusive virtual content. Because Millies like to share digital content while they are attending face-to-face events, make sure to give them something to share. Planners can experiment with what stakeholder messaging engages attendees most.
Include Millennials in social media and website development. Create a Millennial task force for special projects like creating social media campaigns, pre/post online content, app content conversion to web-based platforms, etc.
Redesign or ditch the cocktail reception. Many millennial respondents to the survey said the traditional cocktail reception intimidates them because if feels unnatural to walk up to someone they don't know and try to start a conversation without some kind of shared interest beyond the event theme. Consider intentional networking and apps like MeetingMatch, DoubleDutch or Quick Mobile, which help attendees find people with similar interests.
Create young professionals interest groups. Everyone loves special interest groups (SIGs) because they're smaller gatherings of people who identify with a topic. Planners should consider creating one solely for young professionals where Millennial attendees can let their guard down and network in a more relaxed ambience.
Destinations that Attract Millennials
Event organizers aren't the only industry people who seek millennial appeal. DMOs that represent cities this population group favors are also focused on extending their appeal for meetings and events.
Rachel Benedick, vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Denver, said her city's outdoor environment is part of what attracts and engages Millennials, as well as the innovation culture which is spawning new tech startup businesses.
"A lot of associations are focusing on this audience," Benedick remarks, "and so we are doing a lot of upgrades on our convention center to appeal to Millennials. We're creating more informal networking areas with portable pods, contemporary tech features and dramatic new space on the roof for meetings that affords great mountain and city views."
Cities that endeavor to connect local business and industry experts - "intellectual capital" - with meetings groups are also out in front with appeal to Millennial attendees who are looking for career connections at meetings.
"Clients are definitely looking for more help in this area, and we have our Denver Ambassador program that puts our local rock stars in certain technologies like bio science available as meetings speakers ," Benedick says.
Karl Pietrzak, vice president of convention sales for Visit Pittsburgh, says his city is on the Millennial track as well, with plenty of jobs for college graduates and career experts for meetings programs. His city which lost its steely profile long ago, is now ranked by Forbes magazine and websites like niche.com among the top U.S. cities for millennials.
"Engineering is a big focus for us now, and we have 2,500 jobs that are unfilled, thanks to shifts in the energy and high tech sectors," Pietrzak says. "We work with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to not only attract businesses here, but also to provide experts and sponsorships for groups like the National Society of Black Engineers and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair that are on regular rotations with us."
Besides the jobs and career resources for meetings, there's the city's downtown core that has been revitalized in recent years to include lots of restaurants and plazas that are popular gathering places for concerts and meetups. Pittsburgh's plentiful outdoor recreation like river kayaking and cycling add to the city's Millennial appeal as well.
So while recreation and digital tools appeal to the Millennial generation, so do face-to-face meetings that are designed with them in mind.