What an Aging Attendee Population Means for Meetings

People are living and working longer, so it’s likely that you have some meeting attendees who are older. Here are some implications to consider as you plan and execute events for an aging population.

A few months ago, I was having lunch with my Oma in the restaurant at her senior living community. As you might expect of any grandparent with a grandchild visiting, she took me around to “show me off” (her words, not mine) to her friends and neighbors.

Toward the end of our meal, a woman, who was using a walker, came up to our table and introduced herself. She immediately began telling my Oma how upset she was. She shared that she had just come from a meeting that was held in a space that didn’t accommodate her walker very well.

In the moment, I’ll admit that I thought to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m sitting here listening to two 80-year-old women vent their frustrations about navigating life with a walker.” But, for some reason, that conversation popped into my head the other day. This time, I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe this conversation is going to inspire a blog post.”

We all know that associations spend a lot of time thinking about how to get younger attendees to their meetings and how to engage them and meet their needs onsite. But as people live and work longer, they’ll also continue to attend meetings, which will require associations to accommodate and engage the aging global population.

The ASAE Foundation’s new environmental scanning project, ForesightWorks—which identified 41 drivers of change that are particularly relevant to the work of associations—hits on this topic.

The “Aging World” action brief [free to ASAE members], which provides key data points and insights, suggests steps for leaders who want to tackle this driver of change from both a staffing and a member perspective.

For example, the United Nations predicts that the share of Americans 65 and older will grow from 13 percent in 2010 to 22 percent of the overall population in 2050. And, globally, the share of elderly citizens is poised to double during that same period. Meanwhile, 37 percent of boomers say they want to keep working beyond the traditional retirement age.

The brief suggests that associations identify and address specific risks associated with an aging membership. According to the report, “Event planners will need to support the accessibility and comfort level of aging members.”

So, the question becomes, “What can we do to accommodate an aging attendee population?”

Older meeting attendees will look for accessibility. This could involve making sure those who require canes, walkers, and wheelchairs (like my Oma’s friend) are able to navigate the venue easily. Older attendees may also have more specific needs for travel and hotel accommodations.

But their needs extend well beyond getting around; they can also affect meeting format, room setup, and audiovisual tools. While meetings tend to offer a young professionals track or conference-within-a-conference for those new to the industry, planners may also want to consider specific programming for their more seasoned attendees. And marketing the meeting to these attendees may require a different approach, too.

How is your association working to accommodate its older attendees? Please share in the comments below.

(AzmanL/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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