Bridging the Generation Abyss at Your Next Meeting

Is it just me, or are meeting audiences getting more diverse? Or are they just less uniform than they once were? Or are they simply not wearing uniforms anymore and I’m totally confused?

Since there’s a good chance it is just me, I should probably stop here, but you’ve probably guessed by now that that really won’t slow me down.

So let’s look at the facts surrounding audience diversity (or as Fox News might say, let’s make up our own, but state them really, really confidently), starting by understanding the four different generational groups.

#1: The Perennials are Coming! (Post 1980)

You may have noticed that although speakers and meeting planners have managed to somehow circumvent the aging process, our audiences are actually getting younger and younger as more bigstock_Smiling_Little_Boy_With_Cell_P_6509497perennials enter the workforce.

Perennials grow best in the dark, dank basements of their parents’ homes. (And they’re never leaving – hence the term “perennial.”) You may also know them as the “Y Generation,” so named because many boomers wonder WHY they have to put up with them.

Perennials are often considered lazy; though many prefer the more politically correct “work-challenged” or “couch-centric.” These young upstarts rise head and shoulders above the rest of your meeting participants, mostly because they are sitting on their mommy’s laps.

Key question for meeting planners: Do I, like, have to, like, actually come to the meeting, or can you just, like, text it to me?

#2: The X-Factor (1965-1980)

The gen x-factors are so named because they possess that certain je ne sais quoi: a mysterious inability to remain loyal to anything other than their Frisbee golf team.

Expectations are very different with this generation: Gen x-factors have no expectation of staying at the same meeting for an entire three days, and can be easily lured to another meeting with the promise of more flexible meeting hours and a cool games room. And whereas the typical boomer might attend only one meeting per year over their entire career, X-Factors will attend no less that 8,746,212 meetings over their lifespan.

A word of caution for meeting planners: Be careful hiring boomers to speak to Gen X-Factors – they will often maim or mortally wound boomers in an effort to steal their jobs.

Key question for meeting planners: Since gen x-factors are notoriously unimpressed with authority, how will you ensure they wear their name tags properly?

#3: Booming With Boomers (1946-1964)

Previously known as “baby boomers” until someone cottoned on to how stupid that sounds, boomers are the T-Rexes of the modern world: They’re big, they’re loud, they have a massive ecological footprint, and, somewhat surprisingly, they have tiny little hands. (Plus, of course, they’ll soon be extinct.)

Golf, tennis, travelling, finding new ways to stay in their jobs to spite the younger generations, and slowly making the planet unfit for future habitation are just some of the relaxing pastimes typical boomers partake in.

Meetings were essentially invented by and created for boomers as a safe refuge where they could meet to talk about the inadequacies of younger generations and exchange lactose-intolerant meal tips. (Your grandparents may have said they invented meetings, but a cursory glance at any Mad Men episode will reveal that what they really invented was the three-martini lunch and rampant sexism.)

Key question for meeting planners: Recognizing that what boomers really want from their meetings is to simply get away from their families for as long as possible, how can you extend the life of a meeting to 3, 4, or even 5 weeks?

# 4: The Beat Goes On (1835-1946)

There’s an entire generation born before boomers that are still highly active in meetings. They’re grumpy, they’re hungry, and they’ve driven all the way to your meeting with the left turn signal on Serious Boss– so they want action! The technical term for this group is the “silent generation,” but my experience with most of them is that they won’t stop talking…ever–partly because they can’t hear you speak; partly because they don’t care what you have to say.

The silent generation is highly suspicious of anyone outside their own age bracket, ethnic background, area code, waistline, toupee color, or Neilson rating profile.

Key Question for Meeting Planners: How can you use the vast reservoir of knowledge contained within the silencers to help save the planet from the boomers, the gen x-factors from themselves, and the perennials from their parents’ basements?

Michael Kerr is listed as one of Canada’s most in-demand motivational business speakers.  He is the author of six books, including “the Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank”

Copyright © 2016, Michael Kerr. All rights reserved.
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