3 Ways to Engage a Millennial Event or Meeting Audience

May 3, 2017 |

You’ve likely heard a lot of talk about millennials spanning topics from employee attraction and retention to effective advertising. And we’re adding one to the mix: audience engagement at your annual meeting or corporate event. Exceeding expectations with millennial attendees doesn’t just capture the attention of this connected, brand-loyal group. You’ll also deliver a better, more interesting and memorable event experience to all of your attendees, which keeps them coming back for more—and, in the meantime, ready to help your company achieve its goals.

Why Focus on Millennials?

First, a quick refresher. The Pew Research Center defines millennials as those ages 18-34 in 2015—in other words, born 1981 to 1997. Why the focus on this particular audience? Size, for one thing. Pew reported in April 2016 that millennials overtook Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, based on population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau that showed a millennial population of 75.4 million. Millennials have also emerged as the “most brand-loyal generation,” according to a Forbes article. And instead of reaching this group through more traditional means, like advertising, millennials crave a more experiential connection.

“This means that what the brand has to say about itself and its products is of little to no importance to this generation,” writes CrowdTwist’s Geoff Smith for Forbes. “What does work, however, is delivering authentic and quality experiences every time the customer has an interaction with your brand, no matter where the encounter happens.”

We’ve already seen this generational preference influence notable shifts in corporate event and meeting planning: content driven by storytelling, rather than an agenda; or replacing traditional annual meetings with a high-energy brand summit. Yet as outlined in the 2017 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast, industry stakeholders are focusing more time on planning how to capture and engage millennial interest.

“As millennials make up a growing and significant portion of meeting attendees, approximately one-fifth of all global travelers, meeting owners and suppliers are looking for ways to appeal to this population,” according to the report.

What follows are three ways to help you engage a millennial audience at your next corporate event or meeting. You don’t need to necessarily ditch your existing event format and start from scratch. The key, however, is to look for opportunities to make a meaningful change and start there.

Focus on Experiences, Not Swag

Millennials, for the most part, crave experiences. They want to see, do and share with their online and in-person networks. And as a meeting supplier explained in the American Express report, they value these experiences more than material goods.

To make a big and lasting impact on a millennial audience, make your event or meeting more experiential. Maybe you have a DJ play music between presentations and other transitional periods. Or a lunch-and-learn that features a carefully crafted menu from a local chef, complete with plenty of opportunities to take and share photos. Increase the “wow” factor of your keynote presentations with unexpected entertainers, professional lighting and sound and other thoughtful touches, like a stage in-the-round.

Again, the goal is to captivate your attendees’ attention. Keep them engaged, informed and entertained. Oh, and you don’t necessarily need to ditch the swag. Just keep it minimal, thoughtful and useful. And if you do want to sell or distribute a variety of branded items, consider creating an on-site company store that delivers a retail experience within the context of the larger event.

Consider Different Venues

If you’ve planned and hosted a number of corporate events or meetings, you no doubt have favorite venues. And although those longtime relationships can make planning much less stressful, it’s worth considering other options to entice millennial attendees. Don’t overlook hotels, which are experiencing their own demands for more engaging experiences.

“More and more, though, hotels are working to meet the demand for unique experiences by setting themselves apart form other hotels with differentiated brand identities or through unique design elements and offerings, such as flexible outdoor spaces, high-tech rooms, an increase in spaces using natural light and partnerships with theaters or other local attractions,” according to the American Express report.

And if you find yourself unable to move from a longtime venue, work with the venue staff to see if there’s a way you can make some subtle yet impactful changes. Create a few comfy seating areas to encourage relaxed networking and conversation. Or offer “recharging stations” with beverages and snacks. You might also consider changing the evening entertainment to some sort of fun gathering that highlights an appealing attribute of your host city.

Encourage Involvement

The majority of millennials love to be—and feel—involved. And if you can help them feel like they have a stake in your event, they’ll be more likely to stay engaged long after.

Start small by encouraging online sharing. Create and use an event hashtag and encourage attendees to share photos and info. Consider creating a contest or providing some sort of incentive to further encourage social media participation. Another suggestion? Identify clear calls-to-action that relate to your strategic event plan, then reiterate those throughout the event. Let your attendees know how they can help you and what you’d like them to do. They’ll feel empowered with that information, ready to take a more active role in your company’s success.

And as we mentioned earlier, although you’ll be making those changes to entice a millennial audience, you’ll find that all of your attendees benefit from these thoughtful, memorable experiences—and they’ll be counting down the days until your next event.