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Effective Meeting Execution

Are You Responding To Generational Shifts For Your Meetings?
By David Gabri, President & CEO, Associated Luxury Hotels International

We often hear reference to the differences between the generations. But while we acknowledge there are dissimilarities, are you responding to these generational differences and shifts in the planning of your meetings and programs?

It is interesting to note that we now have four generations in the workplace. This includes the “Traditionals” (those born 1900-1945), “Baby Boomers” like me (those born between 1947 and 1964), “Generation Xers” (born 1965-1980), and “Generation Y” (or “Millennials”), who were born 1981-1999. Each group possesses unique characteristics that derive (in part) from the social, economic and political climate when they were young.

For your meetings and programs to be most effective, it is beneficial to plan programs that communicate to these different age groups. While this can be a challenge, it certainly is possible.

Involve Different Age Groups

The best way to start is to evaluate who will be attending your meeting or program. If you expect a large number of Generation X or Generation Y attendees, it can be helpful to involve this younger generation in the planning stages to garner insight into what is most appealing to their group, according to Robert W. Wendover, Director of The Center for Generational Studies.

Wendover says this can pertain to the program content, location, means of registration, entertainment, speakers, desired hotel amenities, and post-program follow-up. So, take your constituency into account when setting each of these aspects of your program.

Appealing To Various Generations

To appeal to each generation, it is helpful to know their preferences. According to Sara J. Welch in her informative article, “The New Age: Planning Meetings For Three Different Generations” (Successful Meetings magazine, January 2007), Generation Y:  “likes short meetings with no breaks; loves PDAs, Wi-Fi, and IMs; likes to be asked questions and to get involved; and craves interactivity.”

Welch describes Generation Xers as: “liking short meetings with no breaks; opting for food on the go; preferring speakers that present relevant information they can’t get elsewhere; disliking team events and awards dinners; and hating wasting time.”

In providing an overview of Baby Boomers, Welch describes this group as: “liking meetings with long breaks; loving awards dinners; enjoying motivational speakers and celebrity speakers; loving golf and spa; and enjoying group activities.”

Bridging The Gap

So how is this news helpful in planning your next program?

By recognizing there are differences, you can plan accordingly to try to bridge this gap. Here are a few things to consider:

Program – Since keynote speeches and awards-night banquets appeal to Baby Boomers, but not necessarily Generation Xers, you may consider having a shorter presentation with an optional awards reception before the final banquet, according to Ann Fishman, president of Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp. (as cited in Welch’s article).

Registration – While Baby Boomers and Traditionals are more likely to read material sent through the mail, the younger generations prefer to “click on a link that takes them to the registration page, auto-fills the information the organization has collected about them before, and then sends them a confirming e-mail, all within a minute or two. If the confirming e-mail includes an incentive for booking hotel rooms early, they’ll like it even better,” according to Wendover.

Entertainment – While musical acts featuring the 60s and 70s have been a meetings mainstay for years (as they appeal to Baby Boomers), consider offering alternative entertainment for the younger generation. Wendover suggests this could be a contemporary comedy act, a fun run, or even the option to fly home early.

Incorporating Technology – Most young professionals prefer informative sessions that involve them. One option is to invite attendees to text-message or e-mail questions pertinent to the session, which are reviewed, edited and posted on a big screen during the presentation. Or consider incorporating a funny clip from “You Tube” to support the meeting message. This can benefit all involved. But to keep attendees focused, consider barring cell phones, PDAs, and Wi-Fi in the session, but immediately provide it to them when they leave the room.

Post-program – To appeal to younger generations, provide resources such as downloadable documents or a webinar as a follow-up to the program.

These are a few ways to increase the appeal to all generations for your program. Since the various generations have different learning styles, customizing your program to appeal to your specific group is destined to pay dividends in the end.