Five Strategies for Attracting “Angry Millennials” to Conferences

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April 7, 2014; International Meetings Review

Jeff Hurt has written an interesting blog post on conference planning and how many old-fashioned practices of conferences are preventing the Millennial generation from attending. Hurt labels Millennials as “angry, vocal, and hungry for social change”— as CEO of Nancy Lublin has articulated—and states that organizations need to change the structure of conferences or they could be leading to their ultimate demise.

By using traditional lecture formats, many organizations are failing to get in touch with the younger generation, which thrives off of communication and technology-driven experiences. So how can we adapt conferences to relate to Millennials? Hurt lists five ways organizations can expand their audiences:

  • Meaningful Experiences – Hurt states that many of the outdated formats at conferences focus on speeches and lectures. They’re “forged on tradition and uphold all white males in their speaker lineups.” Making sure diversity is incorporated into conferences is becoming increasingly more important, as well as breaking up the day with interactive experiences. Bring something authentic and memorable to the table.
  • Break the Rules – “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” Hurt encourages organizations to think outside of the box and to find conference hosts and organizers that aren’t afraid to break some traditional guidelines.
  • Integrate Technology – Most of today’s Millennials live for tools that can engage through social media and mobile technology. Texting and posting on social media are their two main forms of communication, so in order to tap into this generation, organizations must send updates through multiple channels. Stay engaged on Facebook and Twitter, and respond to questions or comments that are left regarding the conference. Two other important tools worth exploring are sending text updates and creating a mobile app for the conference.
  • Avoid Information Overload – It’s admirable that conferences provide their attendees with such an extensive amount of material and data, but this can leave Millennials experiencing an uneasy feeling of “information overload.” As Hurt says, “Trying to attend as many education sessions as possible and cram learning actually has the opposite effect.” Providing too much content actually allows us to retain less in the long run. Instead, focusing conversations on how to tackle real global issues can be much more effective in allowing Millennial attendees to be more absorbed in discussions.
  • Go Against Traditions – Millennials want a sense of hope in tackling tangible problems and have lost faith in many traditional institutions such as government, education, and business. Hurt suggests that you will retain more of this age group by leaving attendees with a feeling of fulfillment, as participants solving important global issues.

Nonprofits should consider these five strategies if they are aiming to reach younger audiences at conferences. Has your nonprofit tried engaging Millennials? What tactics do you find successful when reaching a younger demographic at events?—Aine Creedon

  • Alissa Sevrioukova

    We couldn’t agree more with Jeff Hurt’s sentiments on how to better attract and engage millennials at conferences! We’re working on a new project, Collaboration Match, that uses an app-based service to match you with nonprofit professionals, development practitioners and social entrepreneurs with complementary objectives. We envision this being a great help at conferences, when you’re looking for like-minded practitioners but are limited on time!

    Check it out and let us know what you think!

  • Mazarine Treyz

    Speaking AS an angry millenial,
    weird term by the way
    how about aside from having more diversity in your speaker lineup,
    you actually DO SOMETHING during the session as you learn, to help you learn it better?

    pay people to speak instead of expecting them to speak for free
    get people with passion in their eyes
    do more than just pay lip service to diversity
    make scholarships specifically for the kind of person you want to attract to your conference
    feature those people in your conference marketing materials
    have one or two people on your conference planning committee that are angry millenials

    ‘What do you think?

    Mazarine Treyz

  • Kari Saratovsky

    Thanks for the great post. I’d add a sixth strategy to the mix – make sure to include a diversity of perspectives, including a diverse mix of panelists and presenters (by ethnicity, sector, age, etc). Millennials are eager to hear different perspectives that can help them build toward their own conclusions.

  • 0110101

    So: More interaction to “tackle global issues”, more ‘diversity’, “break some traditional guidelines” in staging the event, integrate social media and maybe a one-off mobile app, don’t overestimate the amount of jnformation they want – they’d rather just talk, and make sure they leave feeling fulfilled.

    Does that pretty much sum it up?

    The blog post being referred to in this posting is actually a glom on a FastCompany interview entitled, “Adapt Your Business to Social Change or Die”. Looks like lots of posting going on and not too much original work. No surprise that he wants conferences redesigned to provide less information and conclude with personal fulfillment.

  • Sarah G

    Don’t forget to have free wifi for conference attendees. It is difficult to engage with social media in real time without it.

  • Paul Ponniah

    The mentioned criteria are well thought for the development and people’s progress when they begin to think, this what the aggressive dominant personalities in power as mentioned in ‘they have lost faith in many traditional institutions such as government, education, and business. Hurt suggests.’
    The facts is that people are afraid to change because of fear to hurt the ruling and the bossess.
    A change is needed. But how???????????????????