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  • Meaningful Experiences – Hurt states that many of the outdated formats at conferences focus on speeches and lectures.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