It is important to design conferences and learning programs with the recognition that participants may be in various phases of their careers and lives. An emerging professional is not going to have the same needs as someone who is nearing retirement. Employees with young children won't have the same priorities as empty nesters.
The fastest way to alienate any audience is to deliver generic content that is not customized or relevant to their needs. It happens more often than it should.
Here are examples drawn from conferences and workshops that have seriously missed the mark:
- basic or introductory content offered for audiences with inexperienced and highly experienced participants
- conferences for singles (or single parents) that don't address the specific challenges they face
- diversity sessions that discuss generic issues and fail to explore diversity challenges
- completely missing the mark with Boomers and Millennials by making briefings for networking events mandatory and focusing on generic branding and social media 101
Common threads in all of these examples are bait-and-switch tactics and serving up generic content regardless of who is in attendance. (It's similar to promoting a workshop for a specific industry or profession and never dealing with its specific issues or trends. For example, keynoters sometimes drone on about their experience in scaling mountains and never tie it back to how what they have learned is relevant to participants.)
Malcolm Knowles, the father of andragogy (the theory of adult learning) stressed the facts that:
- Adult learners bring a wealth of experience to learning. (Respect and draw on this experience.)
- Adults are self-directed learners. (Whenever possible, offer choices and avoid making sessions mandatory.)
- Adult learners seek out learning to glean strategies to deal with life cycle changes and transitions. (Be sure that these are addressed in a specific way.)
- Adults value learning when the immediate benefit is evident and it is clear how what they are learning can contribute to their success.
Here are 6 strategies for designing more relevant multi-generational meetings.
- To ensure that content is relevant and targeted, customize the following questions and include them on registration forms or participant profiles:
- What specific challenges are you facing in taking your career to the next level? (Alternatives: What specific challenges are you facing in growing your business? or What specific challenges are you facing as a single parent?)
- What roadblocks and obstacles are you facing in advancing your career (or growing your business)?
- What support or feedback would be helpful?
- What other programs have you attended with a similar focus and what were the key take-aways?
- Offer parallel, multi-track sessions. For example, offer a senior professionals roundtable and a session on launching a career for emerging professionals.
- Transform basic content for experienced participants:
- Career Development: Definitely, individuals can face challenges at any stage of their career. Instead of just covering career planning basics, offer a targeted session for experienced participants focusing on career stallers and stoppers and how to overcome them.
- Networking: Don't waste time by covering the basics of how to network. Instead, design a high powered networking session that gives participants access to key influencers in their field
- Provide opportunities for practice and feedback from experts.
- Use the experienced professionals as coaches.
- Give Millennials or Generation Z an opportunity to hone their leadership skills through reverse mentoring or acting as coaches in areas in which they are strong (e.g. social media, the use of apps.)
Carefully analyzing who will be attending a meeting or conference and delivering targeted content has always represented "best practices." With workforces increasingly consisting of multiple generations, it's more important than ever to remember that one size does not fit all.
More tips for designing multi-generational meetings How to Run a Learning Smorgasbord, Designing Meaningful Content for Executive Meetings and Events, The Millennials Are Here...What are you doing about it?, Event Planning Tips for Generation Z - Part 2, Music for Corporate Events: Appealing to Diverse Tastes, Music for Meetings and Conferences? Go for Baroque
Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani