How to Tailor Your Event to Millennials

4 ways to give millennials what they want at your meetings.

For many years now, the association world has been bracing for the millennial tide, as they become an increasing percentage of association employees, leaders, and members.

Well, the tide is in, and the fears about millennials not wanting to join member organizations or attend their conferences have not come to pass. In fact, millennials appreciate face-to-face meetings as much as previous generations, according to a report by Meetings Mean Business and Skift. “This is because face-to-face meetings drive business, help maintain professional relationships, and promote personal and professional development better than any other medium,” the report said.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make some changes to meet some of their specific needs and preferences. Here are four things you can do at your next annual meeting to better appeal to millennials. And here’s a little secret: Much of this will appeal to many of your older members, too.

Invest in tech.

Quick question: How many of your millennial attendees don’t have their phones with them all day? That answer is probably zero or close to it. So give them what they want: The total download of your meeting at their fingertips with a meeting app.

You also want to consider what social media platforms will resonate best with this crowd. Facebook and Twitter aren’t as popular as they once were with millennials, according to what Robyn Neeley, senior manager of career programs for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Neeley organizes an annual conference for college students interested in the field of advancement, so she’s been up close and personal with millennials for years. Snapchat and Instagram are where it’s at for this group, she said.

“Any way we can engage them with tech is good since they are all on their phones all the time,” Neeley said.

Tour the local beverage scene.

Millennials go gah-gah for local fare. One recent survey found that 68 percent of Millennials prefer local sourcing of ingredients in the food they eat. So if you are planning a young professionals gathering, get thee to a craft brewery (or winery or distillery) for a fun night of tastings and card-swapping.

Chicago, for example, has a number of local breweries, such as Baderbrau, Motor Row Brewing, Moody Tongue, and Band of Bohemia, to name just a few. Or start things off with a cocktail class a local distillery, such as Chicago’s KOVAL Distillery, Rhine Hall Distillery, and Chicago Distilling Company.

Alternatively, you can keep it simple by offering a stunning view to take it over tipples. Choose an indoor venue or one with a retractable roof for all-weather enjoyment. Chicago’s I|O Godfrey Lounge, The J. Parker, and ROOF on theWit offer year-round views of the Windy City.

Encourage shorter more participatory presentations.

Real talk: It’s not just millennials who might chafe at back-to-back 45- or 60-minute presentations. So what if some presenters spoke for 20 minutes, and then attendees formed discussion groups to tackle the issues raised?

Or you could encourage a more robust Q&A time using technology. For the keynote session at a recent event, Neeley had attendees submit their questions online and everyone could vote on the ones they wanted the speaker to answer. All attendees could then be a part of the presentation, and the anonymous submission method encouraged more questions.

Offer fun excursions in the host city.

Bleisure travel—the incorporation of a vacation day or two into a business trip—is a growing phenomenon, particularly for millennials. One survey found that compared to Gen X and baby boomers, millennials are twice as likely to turn business travel into a leisure trip.

Sure, some of your attendees will want to do their own thing during off nights or before the conference begins, but others will appreciate a planned excursion that offers some insight on the host city. Architecture tours a great way to see a city and learn more about its iconic buildings and spaces—and are easy to organize. For example, the Chicago Architecture Foundation offers more than 85 tours by foot, trolley, train, bus, or boat.

As millennials have become the largest demographic in the workforce, it simply makes good business sense to figure out what they want in a conference and how you can deliver it. After all, your meetings have always evolved with the times.

Chicago is at the top of its game when it comes to hosting meetings. The city can accommodate any size group, offering a range of options for each meeting facet. Each article in this eight-part, how-to series tackles a specific piece of the meeting planning puzzle as part of the ultimate meeting playbook.

(Handout photo)