Inside the Minds of Millennial Attendees

Looking to get millennial attendees to your next event? A new white paper by New York Times bestselling author Dan Schawbel offers some tips. Even better: Some associations are already heeding his advice.

There are 80 million millennials in the United States. And there’s good news for the meetings industry behind that number: They find value in conferences and meetings because they see them as a way to connect with great organizations face to face.

Millennials  want a true experience, something that is personalized, new, and enables them to meet the right people at the right time.

That’s according to Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding and author of New York Times bestseller Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, who recently released a white paper called “How Millennials See Meetings Differently.” In it, he offers nine tips on how to get millennials to attend your next conference or event. While all nine give associations plenty to consider, I’ll focus on three that stuck out most to me.

Market to their parents. I stopped when I got to this part of the report, because it sounded a little crazy to me. I am only a handful of years outside the traditional millennial age range, and the last thing I would want an association to do would be to encourage my parents to tell me I should be doing something.

However, Schawbel takes a different view and points to a study he did a few years ago, which “found that millennials view their parents as mentors, and influencers, over professors, friends, and coworkers.” He suggests that by getting their parents involved in your association and then having them invite their children, you will then have a better chance of getting this young generation to attend your meeting.

While not an identical approach to what Schawbel suggests, the National Speakers Association offers a youth program for attendees’ children during its annual convention. According to its webpage, the NSA Youth Program is designed for children ages 10 to 16, who “participate in educational and social activities that help mold them into the best individuals they can be.”

The four-day program—which includes everything from participation in a community-service project to parties and daily general session speakers—also allows participants to hear, learn from, and interact with professional speakers and peers. It is a great way for NSA to introduce the next generation to the association and the industry it represents.

Make learning fun. According to Schawbel, 85 percent of millennials want interesting and fun educational programs. He suggests that meeting planners use mobile apps and gamification to heighten their experience.

“The best conferences are layering technology on top of the event with a mobile site, with social network sharing, and with games,” he writes. “This way, attendees and exhibitors/sponsors are more engaged with the event, and it becomes a form of entertainment, not just learning, for them.”

One association that has taken advantage of gamification at its annual convention is the Competitive Carriers Association. At its 2013 meeting, CCA’s mobile conference app featured a scavenger hunt where attendees could unlock digital badges by performing specific tasks within the app while roaming the show floor or attending conference sessions. Users could also earn points for every action they made within the app, such as posting photos or offering speaker reviews. At the end of the conference, the attendee with the most badges and points received a prize.

Give them instructions. Schawbel suggests that you need to spell out everything for your millennial attendees in your conference program, including how to tweet, suggestions for sessions they should attend, and how to get around. “If you don’t do this, they won’t participate as much because they will be too overwhelmed,” he writes.

He adds that millennials are harder to please and “want a true experience, something that is personalized, new, and enables them to meet the right people at the right time.” Associations may want to consider creating personalized agendas for millennial attendees or having a “young professional” or “new to the industry” track at their conference. The latter is what the Music Teachers National Association did at its 2014 National Conference in March. For one day of its meeting—”Pedagogy Saturday”—MTNA offered five tracks, one of which was for young professionals and included eight sessions.

Now it’s your turn. Have any of these tactics worked for you to attract millennial attendees, or have you tried something else? Let me know in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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