Knocking on

Quite rightly, many convention bureaus, venues and meeting planners are
desperate to know how they can adapt their products to match the needs
and tastes of this latest generation of potential conference attendees,
Generation Y (broadly speaking, people in their ‘20s). Their preferences
and values are so different to those of the Baby Boomer delegates that
radical changes in the way we do everything in this industry will be
required, or Generation Y will simply vote with their feet and stay away
from face-to-face meetings.

I’ve already written in these pages
on the issue of Generation Y, so I’d like to focus on those at the other
end of working life. According to a recent survey from the Transamerica
Center for Retirement Studies, 39 per cent of workers said they’d work
past the age of 70 or simply never retire, while 54 per cent said they
planned to retire between 60 and 69.

A major reason for still
clocking on while knocking is a financial necessity, but for many of the
more financially secure a longer working life seems to be a lifestyle
choice. There is a happy band of workers who simply love what they do
and will keep on doing it as a matter of choice, maybe part-time, but
still keeping their hand in as long as they are able.

I’ve
always said that I’ll probably shuffle off this mortal coil in the
middle of some Powerpoint presentation. Well, there are worse ways to
go. But the point is, if people are working longer, that means that more
people will also be going to conferences into their 60s and 70s.

So, what can we do to ensure that this age group gets value and satisfaction from the conferences they attend?

Older
people, even when they are 100 per cent mentally sound, clearly have
physical needs that planners need to take into account.

For
example, for those with failing eyesight, tiny print on conference
programmes will be a challenge. Use bigger fonts. Hearing, too, can be a
lot less effective for the older delegate, so pay more attention to the
acoustics and go easy with the background music.

Many older people need more ‘comfort breaks’ than your 20-something delegates, so avoid marathon sessions.

And
allow enough time for less sprightly delegates to get from the plenary
session to the breakout rooms. Remember, many of our convention centres
are huge buildings.

Finally, technology. Sure Gen Y delegates
will enjoy online registration, tweeting questions to the speakers,
blogging on your conference’s website, etc. But those in their ‘60s and
‘70s may well have a preference for more traditional methods of engaging
with the event – can they do that, for the meetings you organise?

It’s
a tough balancing act: satisfying all delegate age-groups. But an
effective conference is one that meets the needs of all attendees, and
where no-one feels excluded on any grounds.

In a world where
we’ll soon have four different generations working side-by-side, we’re
going to have to meet that challenge. Conferences will be enriched by
the continuing presence of older delegates with a lifetime of experience
and different perspectives to those of our bright young things. Let’s
not make them feel like second-class citizens.

Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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