MillennialsMarch 11, 2024

Decision-Making Influencers By
March 11, 2024


Decision-Making Influencers
Millenials desire more variety in trip destinations. Pictured: Sales incentive winners and Brightspot program managers enjoying a group yachting experience. Courtesy of Brightspot Incentives & Events

Millenials desire more variety in trip destinations. Pictured: Sales incentive winners and Brightspot program managers enjoying a group yachting experience. Courtesy of Brightspot Incentives & Events

Throughout all industries, millennials are having a significant impact on product development, marketing strategies and the overall structure of consumer-centric products. Within the meeting and events industry, millennials are also having an impact on how today’s events are designed, thanks in part of their interest in tech-focused experiences and interactions.

As Paulina Giusti, senior manager of meetings & events at Cvent, explains, as the first generation to grow up alongside the transformational evolution of the internet, millennials are very comfortable around technology. So, it’s probably no surprise that they expect to see at least the fundamentals — such as social media ops or mobile-friendly tech — be incorporated into their meetings and events.

“Millennials are also used to having information immediately at their disposal, so while it may seem like they have trouble putting down their phones, event planners who want to engage this generation will have a better chance of succeeding if they view these habits as opportunities, rather than challenges,” Giusti says.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways event planners can incorporate technology into their events that won’t just appease millennials but will make the event more streamlined and engaging for everyone. Some tips from Giusti include:

Capitalize on mobile screen time: According to recent reports, average daily smartphone use has increased to more than four hours, so having a customized mobile event app — or at the very least an interactive mobile-friendly website — is a no-brainer. “An app is a great way to not only share real-time updates with all your attendees, but it also allows for greater event personalization — which millennials expect,” Giusti says. You can use custom push notifications, session recommendations, in-app messaging to drive meaningful engagement and help attendees get more out of your event. Younger attendees will also appreciate being able to build their agendas and sign up for events instantaneously. In the same vein, ensure your internet connection onsite is reliable. There’s nothing more frustrating to tech-savvy attendees than spotty Wi-Fi during an event.

Don’t shy away from social media: Although apps like TikTok are all the rage with Gen Z and much younger generations, as Giusti points out, millennials were the first generation that really embraced the early days of social media (Myspace, anyone?). Since then, millennials have branched out to other platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat and X (formerly Twitter), and they still want to share with their connections that they were part of a fun, unique event. Plus, millennials are more likely than older generations to turn to social media for business recommendations, professional inspiration and industry news.

Creating a hashtag for the event is one way to help them get the word out, while unique onsite activations or livestreaming big keynote moments encourage further reach and social engagement.

Make the event experience easy: From the moment they register for an event to the post-event survey submission, millennials expect an easy, streamlined experience. “Pre-event, create a seamless online registration process (make sure it’s mobile-responsive and ask relevant questions to customize their event experience),” Giusti says. “During the event, if they attend in-person, provide self-serve check-in kiosks and sustainable badging options.”

If they’re attending virtually, provide a more interactive experience with live session Q&A, chat and attendee-to-attendee online networking options. Post-event, use AI-powered technology to deliver a personalized recap message straight to their inbox — with notes and key highlights from the sessions they attended, along with on-demand content they can consume later to continue their learning at their leisure.

Chandra Major, CMP, DES, events manager at Purchasing Power, points out that millennials prioritize engaged, interactive and authentic event experiences, valuing learning, networking and meaningful connections over traditional, passive conference setups. This includes interactive sessions, engaging speakers and immersive experiences, aligning with their love for both fun and travel, fostering curiosity and growth.

“Millennials perceive events as crucial for professional development, seeking genuine connections over forced interactions,” Major says. “They look for networking avenues such as roundtable discussions, mentorship programs, or themed networking sessions focusing on shared interests or industries, particularly valuable when seeking job opportunities.”

Seamless tech integration is a priority, especially at tech-focused conferences. Millennials expect event apps, interactive displays, charging stations and social media integration for enhanced engagement. “Digital business cards and QR codes for instant information sharing are increasingly favored, alongside hybrid or virtual components enabling remote participation,” Major says.

According to Kristin Spencer, senior manager of experiential marketing at Ecolab, one key point to remember is that millennials spent COVID balancing work-from-home with parenting-from-home, which has blurred the lines between the two, for better or for worse.

“Meeting attendees have become much more discerning with their time, choosing only the events that will drive the most benefit to their careers. They want meetings that will fit into their busy agendas,” Spencer says. “Even when attending events as a part of their role, they want a more personalized experience that fulfils both their professional obligations and their personal development.”

Millenials enjoy smart snacks and fun swag, but they expect sustainability, diversity and wellness at an event. Photo by Christian Purdie / Courtesy of Paulina Giusti

Millenials enjoy smart snacks and fun swag, but they expect sustainability, diversity and wellness at an event. Photo by Christian Purdie / Courtesy of Paulina Giusti

The Value of the Experience

Millennials value experiences over material goods, so what does this mean for today’s meetings and events?

Millennials are the largest segment in the workplace (they make up 46% of the full-time U.S. workforce), which means that they get a lot of executive attention. According to Michelle Crosby, CMP, CITP, account executive, Brightspot Incentives & Events explains, “ombre” travel is a new term for “bleisure,” which embodies the mixing of business travel with a few days of leisure vacation. This is popular with millennials who are looking to explore and experience a destination outside of the four walls of the hotel meeting room.

“This means mixing in new places for the next annual meeting or sales kick-off to take place,” Crosby says. “Millennials desire more variety in trip destinations. A recent SITE research study said that 67% would be more motivated to attend a new destination than if the meeting or event is booked in the same destination year over year.”

Variety then leads into wellness and overall well-being for millennial meeting and event attendees with an emphasis on mental health. They appreciate a choice in how and when they recharge their batteries.

Crosby points to a recent company that decided to incorporate a come-and-go wellness lounge throughout the days of their meeting. This room included a variety of 15-minute treatments like lymphatic massage, facial treatments and meditation practices. Participants could indulge at their leisure to relieve stressors of the day.

“Combined with smart snacks and a variety of toiletry style sundries provided the attendees with exactly what they needed when they needed it with minimal waste,” Crosby says.

Millennials, shaped by our rapidly changing landscape, do tend to prioritize meaningful, unique experiences, and event planners can lean into this by sourcing destinations and hotels or venues that offer stand-out amenities, or environments that encourage exploration, adventure and “shareable” moments.

“Planners can partner with their hotel or CVB partners to help highlight these experiences through their pre-event marketing promotions or creative in-room amenities,” Giusti says. “The right pre-event promotions can also benefit your host hotel/city as many millennials are now old enough to be well established in their careers and are more likely to tap into the ‘ombre’ travel trend by tacking vacation days onto work trips. During the event, planners can incorporate unique experiences into their agenda such as dog petting lounges, food truck tours/street food strolls, pop-up wellness spaces or unique “mini” performances from local artists — or offer an interactive songwriting workshop that attendees get to record and take home as a keepsake.

“Some events integrate gamification, live polls and live DJs in session rooms, offering VIP ticket tiers with exclusive perks and dedicated networking apps,” Major says. “These apps facilitate pre, during and post-event connections, fostering community and excitement, especially beneficial for first-time and solo attendees. Unconventional venues and experiences like VR/AR or pop-up events enhance memorability.”

Major adds that millennials value event experiences that create lasting memories, often compensating for fewer travels during their upbringing. Diverse workshops, wellness activities like mindfulness and yoga, culinary experiences, fun unique company sponsored events and community engagement initiatives resonate well.

Meeting attendees also are craving experiences beyond the traditional networking format, instead interested in more cultivated experiences that pairs them with like-minded attendees. Spencer says that, whether through event technology or agenda layout, meeting planners should consider ways to connect attendees with their peers for thought-leadership sharing, career development and long-term relationship building.

“Many apps and other event tech now offer matching-making functionality, a great way to support networking before the event even starts. At events, things like curated ‘birds-of-a-feather’ conversations help drive meaningful connections in ways the traditional event experiences aren’t able to accomplish,” Spencer says.

Gone are the days of week-long events. Millennials are looking for concentrated, meaningful experiences that will support them professionally, both in their current roles and their careers long-term.

“Attention spans are shorter and so content needs to follow suit. This can be accomplished through shortened breakout sessions, interactive content and more movement throughout the event days,” Spencer says. “I encourage our business stakeholders to consider non-traditional delivery mechanisms when creating content plans. An information exhibit, interactive workshops, and micro-sessions are a great way to deliver information quickly, aligned to the desires of meeting attendees.”

A shift in preference from goods to experiences can provide planners the opportunity to drive more meaningful connections with their attendees. Interactive gifting hits the trifecta of millennial values: experiential, sustainable and personalized; gifts that offer an interactive experience, driving longer-term brand awareness as those items become a part of the attendee’s “home life.”

New Events Landscape

Another aspect of today’s meetings and events landscape that millennials have shaped is an emphasis on sustainability and social responsibility. As Giusti explains, millennials’ formative years were marked by increased awareness of global issues that has stayed with them. So, event planners should keep environmental and social impact top of mind when thinking about how to attract millennials to their events.

“Research by Deloitte has found that millennials (and Gen Z) stand out particularly for their climate change activism, to the point where they research a brand’s environmental impact before accepting a job,” Giusti says. “The meetings and events industry is already one step ahead in that regard, with over a third of event planners reporting that sustainability, diversity and wellness will predominantly shape their planning priorities this year, according to the latest Cvent Planner Sourcing Report.”

The good news is that there are plenty of steps that are already widely implemented:

  • Providing attendees with virtual attendance options to reduce carbon emissions from business travel
  • Leveraging mobile event apps and websites to remove the need for any printed materials onsite
  • Asking attendees what their meal preferences and restrictions are ahead of time to minimize food waste
  • Sourcing food, attendee gifts and performances locally to reduce carbon emissions from transportation
  • Providing attendees with their branded water bottle
  • Working with the venue to incentivize smart water consumption and heat usage

“Millennials advocate for more diversity, inclusion and relevant discussions at events, stressing representation in speakers, panels and discussions focused on mental health and social responsibility,” Major says.

Further Appealing Efforts

Almost all meeting and event attendees today are tech-savvy and expect the seamless integration of technology throughout the event experience, and many attendees expect there to be sustainability goals or guidelines put in place by the organization hosting a meeting or event.

“When it comes to learning, millennials like to learn in ways that involve interactive and engaging activities. Mobile meeting apps that provide gamification and accessing speaker or meeting materials long after the event are at the top of the list,” Crosby says. “Gone are the days of the slide after slide presentations and single-sided conversations. More ‘un-conference’ experiences, workshops, TED talk style education and experiential events are gaining traction.”

Millennials also appreciate effective engagement efforts throughout the event. As Major explains, effective engagement involves personalized experiences, flexible scheduling, pre-event community building, reduced paper usage and emphasis on digital sustainability.

“In that same vein, millennials have been known to respond well to opportunities for direct engagement and participating at an event, but this isn’t exclusive to this generation. All attendees would respond well to opportunities for more meaningful interactions and perhaps some friendly competition,” Giusti says. “In all, it’s good to remember that as event planners strive to meet the evolving needs of millennials, they inadvertently elevate the overall event experience for diverse audiences, creating environments that foster engagement, connection and a shared sense of purpose.”

Spencer stresses that as meeting planners, she and others should consider the whole person attending the event as they make decisions about the experience. “I like to take a step back to consider how I would interact with a decision being made. Would I still be able to catch a flight if the event ends mid-afternoon? If I bring a carry-on, do I want a large welcome gift I won’t be able to fit into my suitcase? Do I want an app that is released weeks in advance, or one that includes more relevant and up-to-date information?

Spencer adds, “Our attendees’ needs should be at the center of decision making. And be sure to listen. Millennials are more than happy to share their opinions on what they want and need. Provide easy, relevant opportunities to share feedback and use the information given in future decision making.” C&IT

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