Survey: In-Person Meeting Attendees Are Younger, Want Personalized Experience

In-person meetings are bouncing back, according to a Freeman report, but millennials and Gen Z attendees are more particular about what they want out of them.

Meetings are attracting younger attendees, a new study has found, but there’s increased pressure on planners to restructure and communicate those meetings to satisfy them.

The Freeman Trends Report: Event Attendee Intent and Behavior Q1 2023, released in March by the events services company, found that the average age of a B2B event attendee has dropped significantly, from 51 pre-pandemic to 45. The study is based on a sample of more than 5,500 attendees of mid- to large-size B2B conferences, conducted online between September and January.

Freeman Vice President of Strategy Ken Holsinger attributed the age shift to a combination of more Baby Boomers entering retirement and growing interest among older millennials—now in their early 40s—in pursuing the networking and educational opportunities meetings offer.

“There’s a need for millennials to fill the void in middle management, which are the decision makers around meetings,” he said. 

Networking was always important, but it was typically behind education and keynotes at most meetings. It’s now at the top.

Freeman VP of Strategy Ken Holsinger

Holsinger added that while millennials and Gen Z-ers are often perceived as being more interested in online-only ways to engage, they do appreciate in-person meetings—so long as their value proposition is attractive. According to the study, 85 percent of survey respondents aged 22-44 say “inspiration about my field” is an important element of an in-person meeting experience, and 59 percent say “up-leveling my career” is. Both substantially outpace the overall averages.

“If it’s just basic didactic learning for CMEs or CEUs, they’ll say, ‘I can do that online,’” Holsinger said. “What they can’t do online is networking. Networking was always important, but it was typically behind education and keynotes at most meetings. It’s now at the top.”

But the report suggests that meeting planners will need to provide new ways to draw people to that old-school engagement. Holsinger pointed to a recent HubSpot survey that found the top ways Gen Z discover new products include social media, YouTube ads, internet searches, and streaming—but not email. “Email is not there,” he said. “Will they come? Yes. How will we reach them? We’re going to have to change the way that we drive things.”

The good news is that associations are particularly well-equipped to engage with younger cohorts of attendees, Holsinger said, because they’re more interested in engaging with events tied to organizations with clear social missions. “The number-one thing that I would challenge associations to do around millennials and particularly Gen Z is to move away from the concept of an association as a club—features, benefits, meritocracy, awards—and instead toward community, which is about social impact.”

One practical step meeting planners can take while they address that: Reduce the amount of time dedicated to keynotes. According to the study, the ideal keynote speech is around 40 minutes long. And relevance is essential: there’s a strong preference for talks that highlight “innovation and new ways of thinking” (39 percent) and  “industry leaders and experts” (37 percent); receiving low marks were motivational talks (12 percent) or speeches by celebrities (1 percent). 

Fail to get it right, and you might still attract meeting attendees. But they won’t necessarily be where you ask them to be. “They’re not willing to sit for 90 minutes or longer at long keynotes,” he said. “What are they doing? They’re in the lobby, they’re in the hallway, they’re at the local bar. They’re connecting with each other.”

(Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/iStock)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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