Experiential Event DesignMay 6, 2024

How Millennials Are Redefining, Redesigning Events By
May 6, 2024

Experiential Event Design

How Millennials Are Redefining, Redesigning Events
At Cvent CONNECT, they customized the agenda in a way that helped millennials more easily choose events to best fit their needs, leading to increased engagement. Courtesy of Cvent

At Cvent CONNECT, they customized the agenda in a way that helped millennials more easily choose events to best fit their needs, leading to increased engagement. Courtesy of Cvent

Millennials make up 35% of the U.S. labor force, with 49.5 million workers, as of September 2023. This makes them the largest working generation. By 2025, millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce.

As the millennial generation gains strength in numbers in the workforce, their needs and wants are shaping the meetings and event industry. According to a study from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 61% of millennials ages 18-27 believe that exhibitions, conventions and annual meetings are more valuable today than they were two years ago. That’s the highest of any generation.

According to Amanda Ma, CEO of Innovate Marketing Group, an event management agency, millennials are redefining the meetings industry in various ways, including the emphasis on experiential design, sustainability, diversity and technology integration. They prioritize authentic and meaningful interactions, driving planners to create events that foster connections and personal growth.

One of the ways millennials have impacted the meetings and events industry relates to their value of experiences over material possessions, with a preference for unique, immersive and memorable experiences that go beyond traditional formats. This has led to an emphasis on experiential and interactive elements, such as hands-on workshops, networking activities and themed events.

“The demand for customization and flexibility has led to innovative approaches to content delivery and engagement,” Ma says. “Additionally, millennials’ social consciousness shapes event agendas and initiatives, reflecting a broader commitment to positive impact and social responsibility within the meetings industry.”

Immersive Engagement

Carrie Davenport, lead meeting planner for Altria and CEO of www.ceocarrie.com, says millennials value collaboration, networking and community building. They seek opportunities to connect with like-minded professionals, share ideas and build relationships. Meeting planners are incorporating more networking opportunities, collaborative activities and community-building initiatives, such as roundtable discussions, mentorship programs and social events, to facilitate meaningful interactions and connections among attendees.

Davenport, who also founded the Association for Women in Events in 2015, to help elevate women’s position and power in the meetings and events industry, is a millennial whose job is to create memorable engagement experiences between staff and top customers for her company.

“The best thing about millennial event planners is that they truly understand the holistic engagement experience and want events to be not only about compelling content, but how attendees feel walking away afterwards,” she says. “I’ve watched events evolve from ROI being the financial bottom line to ROI being more qualitative. I’ve watched meetings evolve from talking heads in a large room with florescent lighting to engaging peer to peer experiences with health and wellness components. The industry today is not the industry that I started in 20 years ago and I’m thrilled with the meaningful evolution.”

Crystal Zawilinski, sales director, meeting & incentive programs for Fox World Travel, says to satisfy millennials’ preferences, planners should deliver interactive and social experiences that encourage networking, collaboration and socialization. “This can include live music performances, DJ sets, themed parties and interactive social media activations. These activities create opportunities for millennials to connect, share experiences and create social media-worthy moments.”

Ma concurs that in recent years, meeting planners have had to incorporate various strategies to make events more engaging, interactive and fun for millennials. This includes utilizing technologies like event apps that allow attendees to participate in polls, Q&A sessions and networking opportunities. Gamification elements, such as scavenger hunts or interactive challenges during sessions, have also become popular.

“Additionally, incorporating live entertainment, like interactive performances, or incorporating unconventional venues, such as rooftop bars or trendy co-working spaces, adds an element of excitement,” Ma says. “Planners have had to adapt by focusing on experiential design, curating unique activities and fostering a sense of community within the event space, incorporating photo moments at events, QR codes and more.”

Davenport adds, “Millennials understand that in a world where information, entertainment and content is truly at our fingertips either through social media or streaming, we’ve had to learn how to engage in compelling ways. In the past several years, I’ve seen engagement going from a single source of entertainment to receptions with several styles of entertaining engagement and activations that suit several types of people.” She says the opportunities for engagement are thoughtful and can apply to everyone, from introverts to extroverts.

“It tends to be authentic and personalized,” she notes. “Millennials appreciate that not everything is a one-size-fits-all approach, and through surveys and data-driven analytics, they are adjusting to make sure they touch all their audience — not just a core demographic.”

When it comes to trade shows, Davenport also sees more thoughtful engagement opportunities today. Some changes include more interactive experiences rather than a static setup. “I’ve long said that we need to take away the traditional trade show booth, and in recent years, I’ve watched ‘booths’ evolve and make way for pure engagement experiences on the show floor. Lounges, activations, receptions and more are the ‘new’ trade show of the future, and millennials have really led the way with their desire to connect on a whole new level,” she says.

She also has watched the traditional programming of hours of back-to-back speakers morph into more networking sessions and other interactions, from escape rooms to 1:1 ‘speed dating.’ “Millennials want fast, quick content while getting the most ROI out of their spend so they are often engaging in the quickest yet most meaningful way possible,” Davenport says. “As a millennial, I’ve learned that time is precious and my attendees have a lot of choices, so my content needs to be compelling, bite-sized and valuable.”

Along with more options for engagement, younger attendees crave more personalized event experiences, according to Rachel Andrews, head of global meetings & events for Cvent. She says event professionals have met this need by finding creative ways to help attendees choose their own adventure.

“For instance, creating different event ‘tracks’ is an easy way to appeal to specific interests and specialties,” Andrews says. “At our annual Cvent CONNECT, we offer the ability to filter our agenda based on nine different roles, such as event professional, marketer, travel manager, etc. We’ve also gotten great feedback for our curated ‘attendee guides’ — like for Higher Education or Life Sciences. The reality is millennials are very strategic in how and where they spend their time and money, so we want to make it easy for these attendees to get real, tangible value out of their experience.”

Zawilinski emphasizes that meeting planners need to give millennials choices in their session offerings. She says that allowing a millennial to choose a custom agenda specific to their needs is the easiest way to increase engagement with the meeting. “In addition, the delivery of your meeting sessions must be diverse enough to appeal to all learners and personal preferences. This can include traditional presentations, panel discussions and hands-on peer-to-peer learning. All sessions should allow millennials to participate in meaningful interactions with their fellow attendees.”

Meeting planners are catering to millennials by prioritizing networking opportunities and curated experiences. Events now often feature designated networking zones, facilitated icebreaker activities, and themed meetups based on shared interests or industries, according to Ma. Planners also integrate elements like mentorship programs, volunteer activities or charitable initiatives to provide attendees with opportunities for personal growth and social impact.

Diversity and Inclusion

Millennials value diversity, inclusion and representation. They expect meetings and events to reflect these values by featuring diverse speakers, panelists and content that represent a variety of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. Meeting planners are striving to create more diverse and inclusive programs that celebrate and respect the diversity of their attendees.

“Diversity and inclusion initiatives are emphasized, with efforts to ensure representation among speakers, panelists and attendees,” Ma says. “Moreover, events may include sessions or workshops focused on social responsibility and activism to align with Millennials’ values and interests.” Planners also now prioritize sustainability by choosing eco-friendly venues, reducing waste through digital materials, and incorporating sustainable practices into event logistics, according to Ma.

Millennials are also more conscious of neurodiverse learning styles and making sure to provide more diverse learning experiences for all types of people, Davenport says. She notes that CSR (corporate social responsibility) is hotter than ever, but along with offering that to attendees, she has also seen many millennial planners weaving it into their RFP and contracting strategy as well.

“Gone are the days of standard contracts. Now, language where we are asking partners and venues to be socially responsible and environmentally sustainable is not the exception; it is the norm,” Davenport says. “I think what I appreciate the most is the drive millennials have to make events and engagement more inclusive. They realize the power we have to touch hearts, minds and communities and they utilize that power for the betterment of society and the world.”

Digital Natives

Millennials are also digital natives who are accustomed to using technology in their daily lives. They expect meetings to incorporate the latest tech tools and platforms, such as mobile event apps, virtual and hybrid event platforms, live polling, and interactive presentation tools, which means meeting planners are adopting more tech-driven solutions to enhance engagement.

Millennials expect events to offer options for remote attendance, allowing them to join sessions or conferences from anywhere in the world, according to Zawilinski. “This technology enables broader participation, expands the reach of events and enhances accessibility.”

She notes that mobile apps and event platforms have become a minimum requirement for most meetings. “Millennials expect event organizers to provide dedicated apps or platforms that offer personalized agendas, session information, networking features, interactive maps and real-time updates. These technologies streamline event logistics, enhance engagement and provide attendees with instant access to event-related information.”

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are transforming the event landscape by providing immersive and interactive experiences. Millennials appreciate events that incorporate VR and AR elements, such as virtual tours, interactive product demos or gamified experiences, Zawilinski says. These technologies offer a unique and engaging way to showcase products, services and event content.

Andrews adds that the wealth of tech tools not only increases event engagement but they generally make the experience more interactive and immersive. She offers tips to planners regarding integrating tech, including streamlining the event experience. “Younger attendees are used to being able to order items online with the click of a button, and that preference extends far beyond grocery shopping or ordering a cab. They also want to be able to register for an event with a few clicks, have their agenda at their fingertips and be able to customize their experience to their taste,” Andrews says. “Event planners need to build their event websites and apps with these preferences in mind.”

She also suggests planners can tap into the power of social media by giving millennials easy ways to share event highlights or curate their own unique content — for example, leveraging solutions like Snöball to amplify the event or Gather Voices to create fun, user-generated content at scale.

Andrews adds, “I think there’s a compelling opportunity in leveraging AI to enable more authentic and personalized attendee-to-attendee connections based on specific roles, interests, regions, etc., which also helps planners build more authentic networking opportunities.”

Both Ma and Davenport spotlight the emphasis on tech tools. “We love leveraging the various tech to enhance engagement with the attendees, especially when it’s virtual,” Ma says.

Davenport utilizes tech in her meetings, such as Story Craft Labs. “They’ve created personas that help attendees understand their learning styles and choose their own adventure at conferences and choose their engagement style with other attendees — a truly revolutionary approach to conference learning.”

Davenport also uses Popshap’s AI kiosks. Attendees can engage with realistic AI and get fast answers and experience wayfinding engagements and 3D walls that are more sustainable and reusable.

Wellness and Life Balance

Another aspect of the millennial attendee, according to Zawilinski, is that they appreciate meetings that provide wellness amenities and resources. This can include dedicated wellness lounges, relaxation areas, hydration stations and access to fitness facilities. Meeting organizers are partnering with wellness providers to offer services like chair massages, wellness consultations or wellness-related giveaways.

“Millennials prioritize holistic well-being, including physical, mental and emotional health,” Zawilinski, says. She adds that meeting planners can meet these needs by providing healthy food options, active breaks and movement, wellness amenities, mental well-being opportunities and work-life balance. “They appreciate breaks that incorporate physical activities, such as stretching sessions, yoga or meditation breaks, walking meetings or even fitness classes.”

Millennials value work-life balance and appreciate meetings that take this into account. They prefer meetings that respect their personal time and provide flexibility in scheduling. Meeting organizers are incorporating strategies like shorter meeting durations, flexible session formats and opportunities for remote participation to support work-life balance.

“As an elder millennial, I think I’m most proud of the shift away from 9-5, always in the office working styles,” Davenport says. “I’ve seen millennials build, cultivate and sell their companies from their traveling office while building the exact life they want to live. The notion of retiring at 65 and then allowing yourself to enjoy your life is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Millennials want to connect, engage and enjoy now — and I think that is allowing the event and human connection experience to be better than ever.” C&IT


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