They’re here, but will they attend your meeting?
I am Gen Z. As a cohort, we make up over 25 percent of the population. And as we rise in the workforce, planners of conferences and events will need to connect with us. So, what does Gen Z expect from you? Let’s start by saying traditional conference formats are highly unlikely to appeal to us. Here are my suggestions for what will.
Creating Unique Experiences
To truly capture the attention of Gen Z, conferences must create even more unique and engaging experiences.
Meeting in a hotel doesn’t feel special if every other conference is doing the same thing. Organizers should either try to find a more exciting venue, or transform one themselves—like the recent convocation I attended where attendees were greeted with a DJ and a light show to capture their attention before the actual program began.
Gen Z craves Instagram-worthy experiences they can post about. Creating special experiences that gain immediate attention on social media is what will get our phone cameras going and begin to win our hearts and minds.
Here’s what that might look like: Start by creating a grand entrance worthy of a festival or themed party. Choose well-lit locations with cohesive decorations and unique signage to create notable backdrops; then play upbeat pop music from a Top 40 playlist. If the conference is virtual, use technology to make the most of your format and online trivia games or upbeat background music.
Increasing Accessibility and Networking
Although keynote speakers generally drive conferences, Generation Z is fueled by a need for networking. Younger generations tend to thrive in low-pressure situations, so a more relaxed networking environment works best. At the same time, Gen Z doesn’t favor traditional top-down conferences. We want to interact with the speakers and leaders. Making all areas of the conference more accessible will work best.
Here’s what that might look like: Have breaks between speakers so attendees don’t forget their questions. Create a “meet and greet” area where speakers hang out, answer questions and discuss their topics in more detail. Make it an open forum, where attendees won’t feel hesitant to ask questions. For virtual conferences, randomly assign attendees to small group chats or breakout rooms, so they’re able to meet new people. You might even rotate the speakers through these groups, so they can answer questions or expand on their ideas.
Facilitating Virtual Discussions
The COVID-19 pandemic has led many conferences to migrate online and unlock the potential for flexibility, which Gen Z-ers definitely enjoy. Making at least a portion of a conference easily accessible online through recorded keynote addresses and hashtags stimulates online discussions. Make it possible for attendees to comment during videos or speak to others directly, in chat rooms or through live tweeting.
Don’t expect Gen Z-ers to simply stay put and listen all day long to what are essentially lectures. By creating a virtual forum, attendees can directly interact with the material, reflect on it and provide input in real time. Another effective strategy is having a virtual messenger for FAQs, so attendees are able to immediately access key information.
Here’s what that might look like: You’re likely already creating hashtags, so try creating a separate hashtag for an online Q&A section, whether the meeting is in person or virtual. This lets people raise questions and see the responses of others. As an avid Twitter user, I really enjoy these discussion threads, and I know a lot of Gen Z loves to live tweet.
Ensuring Diversity is a Focus
Whether the conference is virtual or live, a key factor for a success with Gen Z-ers is diversity, especially diversity in specialties. To appeal to us, conferences need to showcase experts in a variety of fields who can highlight different methods of thinking and deliver their content in different ways.
Here’s what that might look like: Bring in entertaining speakers who can offer interesting perspectives on hot topics while remaining high-energy and engaging. Gen Z tends to gravitate toward nano-influencers (small social media “gurus” who have 2,000-10,000 followers) who demonstrate genuine, distinctive values. These lesser-known speakers are truly relatable and feel less commercialized than many popular conference speakers.
Before you hire them, have your speakers tell you how they’ll make 30 minutes of their best content interactive. This is especially important for virtual conferences, as it can be harder to get attendees to interact.
Overall, Gen Z-ers don’t want to be passive onlookers. We value meaningful interactions, in person and online. We want to be stimulated by unique experiences, more networking time, virtual discussions and increased diversity.
Sakshi Krishna is a student at the University of Texas at Dallas studying biochemistry as part of the National Merit Scholars Program. She is also a National AP Scholar and has an insatiable need to buy every highlighter in every color.