How Different Generations CommunicateNovember 1, 2016

And How They Can Bridge the Gap By
November 1, 2016

How Different Generations Communicate

And How They Can Bridge the Gap

Steinberg,Scott-TechSavvyGlobalScott Steinberg is an award-winning professional speaker, a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation, and the author of Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap and Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty. Among today’s leading providers of keynote speeches, workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 firms, his website is

Take a second to stop, pause and look around you the next time you’re at a meeting or event, and you may notice something surprising. The faces of tomorrow’s leaders are quickly changing. With 74.5 million members and counting, millennials, or Gen Yers (individuals roughly 19–35 years of age) are now the single largest generation in America, both in and out of the workplace. What’s more, the way in which they communicate, interact and process information is vastly different than any generation that’s come before. In addition, Gen Zers (the generation which follows, members of which were born after 1995) whose habits and norms vary wildly even from millennials, are quickly following right behind. Needless to say, as we discovered while researching my new book Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap, those of us looking to inspire and motivate these individuals must learn to communicate with them in vastly different ways than with the generations who have come before.

Millennial Messaging

With regard to Generation Y, several important points to note before crafting messages or outreach efforts are as follows. By the year 2020, a third of all adults will be millennials. Nearly nine in 10 won’t measure success in terms of money, but rather their ability to accomplish goals and make a difference in their business or community. Roughly 80 percent will want to work for innovative companies, and expect, in fact, to run their own forward-thinking entrepreneurial ventures at some point. Furthermore, like boomers, millennials will hail from a wide swath of age ranges — cultural touchpoints and references that speak to one group of millennials won’t necessarily make sense to all, as you’re actually looking at multiple generations rolled into one category.

However, it’s important to note that virtually every member of this generation will have grown up in an online and connected world, where they’re bombarded by media and messaging on a 24/7 daily basis. The net result? Attention spans are shrinking, millennial audiences are increasingly tuning out messages they don’t connect with, and — before they’re willing to invest their time and attention in efforts — young professionals increasingly need us to show them how, by getting involved in any given venture, their contributions will make a meaningful difference.

As for Gen Zers, who are following in the footsteps of millennials, also keep in mind that they’re the first generation who have ever grown up in a mobile world, where virtually everything is available on-demand, personalized to taste, and just a click or tap away. Within four years, these individuals will represent nearly a quarter of America’s population — and their attention will be harder to capture and hold than ever. Case in point: Gen Zers use five screens a day on average (smartphone, tablet, TV, desktop and laptop) — as compared to millennials, who use just three. What’s more, Gen Zers are far more social than their forerunners, spending up to eight hours a day interacting with friends and family — they love opportunities to interact, such as those meeting planners can regularly provide. But when you’re attempting to lead or communicate with them, it’s also vital to keep in mind that as result of growing up in a wireless world, their average attention span now lasts just eight seconds — less than that of a goldfish. As you can see, providing clear, concise and engaging messages as part of communications efforts will be key to engaging them. And rest assured, engaging them will indeed be vital to ensuring your organization’s future.

What Gen Y and Gen Z Want

Noting these points, as you go about empowering tomorrow’s leaders and designing programming and outreach efforts that support your endeavors, you’ll want to keep the following items in mind:

Gen Y and Gen Zers will expect clear goals, an engaging variety of assignments to tackle and to work for organizations with a go-getting attitude that encourages people to speak up, collaborate and be more proactive about sharing and acting on ideas.

These generations will demand greater access to professional training and development programs, as well as more hands-on opportunities to expand their experience and skill sets.

Going forward, young professionals will seek more mentorship and ongoing feedback in the workplace, and look to you for additional guidance, as the skills in demand tomorrow will look far different than the ones in demand today.

You’ll need to educate these natural-born innovators that teamwork and a winning attitude will be key concepts to embrace as projects become more complex, and a growing number of generations and backgrounds collide in the workplace.

Gen Y and Gen Z will increasingly look to your leadership to provide guidance and ongoing input about what’s going on in the organization, as well as ways that they can personally contribute to the cause and make a difference.

It will be necessary to help these generations master multitasking and time management skills, as professionals will growingly be forced to make more (and more important) decisions faster than ever in tomorrow’s business world.

Hoping to better connect with these generations going forward? It helps to understand a few points. Looking ahead, Gen Y and Gen Z will (1) Want to work for innovative organizations (2) Expect you to more dutifully teach entrepreneurial, critical thinking, leadership and dynamic decision-making skills and (3) Demand that you provide avenues that give them the opportunity to create positive, lasting change. (Not to mention quickly see how their contributions can going about effecting it.)

A few hints and tips for those hoping to work with these younger generations more effectively going forward are as follows:

Remember that millennials and Gen Zers will hail from a wide range of age groups. A Gen Yer could just as easily be a college student as a young parent. When crafting communications and outreach efforts, take care to leverage common themes or points of reference that all can recognize — and don’t assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will always be most effective.

Don’t market or promote: Tell stories others can empathize with. As researchers are increasingly demonstrating, millennials aren’t responding to routine advertisements or generic messages anymore. Instead, they’re looking for causes and efforts that resonate with their values and that they feel they can connect with and support on a personal level.

Keep messaging short and to the point, and grab others’ attention right from the get-go. To hold Gen Y and Gen Z’s interest, it’s best to lead with a strong, one-of-a-kind message — and, where appropriate, use vehicles such as humor or heartwarming tales to quickly differentiate. Highly visual, these generations also respond far better to short animations, videos, infographics, charts and other graphical points of reference than textual elements.

Make a point to stand out at a glance: Gen Y and Gen Zers are used to quickly dismissing the many messages with which they’re bombarded. To avoid falling into this trap, help them quickly connect the dots, and explain what makes you and your organization unique, what pain points or problems you can help them solve, and how they can quickly and simply interact with you to create positive outcomes. Give them points of shared interest and incentive to rally behind.

Clearly, millennials and members of Generation Z look at and interact with the world in far different ways than generations who have come before. But with a few simple shifts in perspective and positioning, it becomes far easier to connect and communicate with them on a meaningful level. Employ the strategies above as you go about crafting your communications efforts, or empowering tomorrow’s leaders to succeed, and you’ll find it far simpler and more cost-effective to drive interest, fuel ongoing engagement and get your message heard. C&IT

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