Designing a Multigenerational Event Experience

February 15, 2018

It’s no secret that younger audiences have different approaches to learning. While Baby Boomers prefer personally focused learning and classroom environments, Gen Xers are fiercely independent, self-directed and would rather learn on their own time.

Millennials prefer technology and social media and expect to have the infrastructure available to work anywhere and everywhere. Now, we also have Gen Z in the mix: the generation of instant gratification. Born into a world where everything is digitized, they expect their environment to deliver a “wow” experience – and if it doesn’t, they’ll just move on to one that does.

As event audience demographics continue to shift, it’s imperative that event design also changes. How can you design an experience that will attract and engage audiences of all ages? The Expo Group recently held a webinar in which they discussed generational differences and how to leverage these to build a new kind of event experience.

The primary focus of the webinar was on Millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Millennials expect flexibility. They are more likely to travel frequently for business and are used to working from any location, often choosing social locations such as coffee shops. The average millennial owns 7-8 connected devices – laptops, tablets, phones, wearables, IoT devices – and that number is growing.

Having a positive impact, giving back to the community and “making a difference” is highly important. According to research quoted in the webinar, 54 percent of Millennials want to start a business - or already have.

Traditional faceless brand push marketing isn’t going to resonate with this audience: they need a personalized experience, which is why brands that represent themselves through real people, with real personalities, tend to do better.

Gen Z now makes up 26 percent of the market. By 2020, 40 percent will be consumers. This generation has an eight-second attention span, which is predicted to go down to a mere four seconds. Multi-tasking is second nature for them. For events, this means you need to make an impact fast, or you will lose your audience. It also means that traditional lecture-style sessions simply aren’t going to work.

Innovation is highly valued. While nobody likes failure, Gen Z attendees will think more highly of an organization who tries something new and fails – and acknowledges and learns from their mistakes – versus one who just sticks with the status quo.

How does this translate to event design?

Nicole O’Leary, creative director of the Expo Group, said that a successful multigenerational event is “all about learning, connection and experience.”

It’s really about providing a consistent experience that includes flexibility and choice.

Holding your event in an urban environment with restaurants, coffee shops and shops within walking distance is ideal. If you are in a more remote area, see what you can do to design the event in a way that provides a similar experience.

Your attendees care about helping others – so let people know what your show is doing to help the environment and the local community. Allow attendees to make donations to offset the carbon footprint entailed with attending the show. Charitable events, such as a pre-event activity working in a soup kitchen or helping to build a local playground are nice options.

As our audiences change, floor plans need to evolve as well. Instead of the traditional grid of booths, consider more demo pods, interactive spaces where attendees can try out technology themselves, more education on the show floor and of course, plenty of community lounges or hangouts.

Event design tips:

  • Create spaces where people will engage with each other, as well as some quiet spaces for people who don’t concentrate as well in open environments.
  • Be sure to have power outlets and working Wi-Fi throughout your event space – poor technology will not be well-received.
  • Offer a variety of food stations or outlets.
  • Use eco-friendly, sustainable materials when possible.
  • Try a mix of styles for educational content: participatory, interactive sessions that engage the attendees will have more of an impact.
  • Music can help amp up your event, creating a feeling of excitement and signaling that the show is “open for business.”

All of these can also be great sponsorship opportunities.

How do you attract these younger audiences to your event in the first place?

Consider offering special rates for first-time attendees, attendees who are in the first year of their first job and/or students. Many event organizers now offer special sponsorship packages for start-ups, such as a turnkey exhibit pod, or shared space where one organization will use the pod for one day and another will be assigned the following day.

In summary, O’Leary’s advice is to keep it simple and authentic. Create memorable experiences through little details – don’t skimp. And remember that eight-second attention span: layer your information so it can be consumed in manageable yet memorable sections.

When asked for advice on designing an event that will engage attendees from across all generations, O’Leary replied, “Respect the past but design for the future.”


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