Meetings & Conventions Xcommunication December
Younger attendees demand more kinetic, involving
By Amy Drew TeitlerI
n 1991, a writer named Douglas Coupland wrote
a novel about three well-educated
twentysomethings disenchanted with society. The media drew
parallels between the book's characters and the youthful members of
the population, and a market segment was born.
Loosely categorized as those born between 1965 and 1975,
Gen-Xers often are described as frustrated, unmotivated slackers
who still live in their parents' basements, a hopeless lot of
college-educated Starbucks employees whose conversations are
peppered with irony, pop-culture references and generous doses of
sarcasm and apathy. (Whatever.) Also, conventional wisdom suggests,
Xers are a little cynical having been left a legacy of financial
deficit and environmental disaster and are the most media-savvy
segment around, television and technology being cornerstones of
their personal development.
For planners, what is important to understand about Generation X
is that its members make up 33 percent of the work force, and odds
are good you already are planning meetings for them.
If you subscribe to the stereotypes, you're aware that Xers are
easily bored and have a dire need for perpetual entertainment.
Here's how to find speakers who won't have Xer attendees setting
new records in the Olympic eye-roll event.
Keeping things moving is the key in presentations for Gen X. Watch
popular soft drink or clothing commercials. The key elements?
Music, motion, color, humor. Instead of setting the seminar up
classroom-style, try it in the round. Instead of hand-held
microphones, why not have the speaker wear a headset? Go for an
environment that facilitates mobility, motion, mental massage.
"They say that with any crowd, you have 20 minutes before you
lose their attention," says Mark Baltazar, director of creative
services for New York City's LCI Communications Ltd., a corporate
communications firm. "With a Gen X crowd, you don't have that much
time before they disconnect. They need more something that's part
"A lot of Xers like speakers to mix it up," says Kevin Johnson,
the Charleston, S.C.-based director of entertainment and speaker
research for ESP-3, a division of David J. Richardson Inc., a
full-service meetings management company. "They don't want anything
dry... They want it fast-paced, high energy."
Johnson adds that although these elements are a recipe for
success, you always have to take the client's vision into account.
"It's definitely dependent on the message you're trying to
Whether it's motivation, education or involvement, Xers want it
served up differently every time, in a way that sets it apart from
anything they've tasted previously. Because Xers continually are
trying to increase their marketability in the business world, and
that is based primarily on what they know, they are always on the
hunt for more skills to pay the bills.
"Seminars offered to Gen X need to be done in a 'how-to'
format," Johnson suggests. "Teach them how to get where they want
to go. Gen X likes goals."
Pass the mike
Cam Marston, self-titled "guy who does some of everything" for
Charlotte, N.C.-based Marston Communications, is a popular speaker.
He lectures not only to Gen X, his own generation, but to baby
boomers and beyond as well, teaching them how to manage and
"I speak in the round when I talk to Gen X," Marston explains.
Along with music, graphics and video, he positions four assistants
around the room with microphones. "When I ask a question," he says,
"one of them will stick that mike in someone's face and get an
answer. There's no anti-participation option." Generally, he says,
as soon as the mike gets in front of them, the ideas and debates
When the speaker at your last meeting brought
out a sock-puppet sidekick for a musical bit on maximizing profits,
did you hear a noise akin to Velcro strips being pulled apart? That
was the sound of the Xers mentally detaching. Maybe it’s time to
look elsewhere for engaging presenters to motivate the masses. From
team speakers who can teach employees to close the generation gap
to “corporate” jugglers who get the audience participating, there
are people out there who can talk to Generation X and actually get
them to listen.
Bridge Works. Lynne Lancaster, baby boomer, and
David Stillman, an Xer entrepreneur, do programs for corporate and
association audiences on bridging the gap between their
generations. Presentations include How to Attract, Manage,
Motivate and Retain the New Work Force and When Generations
Collide: Marketing to the Generations. (843) 795-9095
The Juggling Matrix. This Nyack, N.Y.-based
program appeals to Xers with its motion, color, pace and highly
visual method of educating. Using juggling as a centerpiece, a
program is customized for the message the client wants to send.
Team-building exercises, keynote performances and in-booth
promotions at trade shows are some of the options available. The
firm’s client list includes West Coast Video Entertainment, Intel
Corp. and the Texas Restaurant Association. (914) 348-8780; www.jugglingmatrix.com
Village Music Circles. This program, based in
Santa Cruz, Calif., has been described as “interactive or
experiential team-building through the use of rhythm,” says founder
Arthur Hull. Xers use drums and percussion instruments to interpret
the company’s message through their own rhythms. (831) 458-1946; www.drumcircle.com
The era of the talking head has passed. Gone are the days when one
expert could stand before hundreds and hold court as the
all-knowing guru of "insert- corporate-buzzword-here." Gen X
doesn't buy it. Show them. Teach them. Challenge them. Put up or
shut up. How is what the speaker has to say going to make the path
to goal achievement more direct?
"Gen Xers feel that they're working for themselves, even if
they're working for a corporation," says LCI Communications'
Baltazar. "The more that a company can do to support that, the more
productive its X employees will be."
Perhaps this explains why many Xers find successful
entrepreneurs riveting as speakers. Someone like Anita Roddick,
founder of The Body Shop, hits Xers in two soft spots: She's a
financially successful woman, and her company's policies are
extremely eco-conscious. Other heavy hitters include Frank Meeks,
one of Domino's Pizza's top franchisees, and Richard Teerlink,
former chairman and current board member of Harley-Davidson.
What else appeals to the X factor? Brand recognition. They've
all eaten Domino's; they've all admired the chrome on a Harley at
one time or another. These are staples of popular culture.
And then there's technology. It may have started with Pong, but
we've come a long way, baby. There are hundreds of examples of
young people teenagers, even who have gotten rich on the Internet.
Now that the World Wide Web has greased the path to enlightenment,
ideas are flowing more freely than ever before. "It's easier to
connect now," says Baltazar, who believes online meetings are the
next step. "I still think there's a need to physically get
together, but the Web is the wave of the future."
Although older generations might balk at the change, Xers
embrace new waves of technology, eagerly looking for gadgets and
modes of communication to make them more efficient and valuable.
Speakers who incorporate new technology, or new uses for existing
technology, seldom will fail to reach an Xer audience.
Marston says, "The way to engage that generation is to give them
actionable info, whether it's new technology or ways of thinking
and doing. It's information with handles on it, so they can pick it
up and use it immediately."Y: The Next
And you thought Gen X was confusing? Meet
Generation Y, 60 million people who will be coming of age in the
new millennium. They were born after 1980 and have never known a
world without compact discs, laptops or MTV. Soon, they’ll be
attending your meetings.
“If Gen X has proved a difficult animal for corporate America,
imagine an animal that is more complex and three times the size,”
says Eric Chester, president of Generation Why, a speaking,
training and consulting firm based in Lakewood, Colo. Chester uses
the term “Why” to describe them “because they demand validity in
everything they do.”
Planners should consider the following when planning for Gen Y
Interactivity. Give them part of the spotlight.
“There’s a large percentage of this generation who have experiences
and talent they want to use,” says Chester. “Put them into small
groups, and let them share and shine.”
food choices. “These are people who grew
up on food courts,” Chester says. A simple choice of fish or
chicken just isn’t enough. Give Generation Y a lot of options.
More social time built in. Members of Gen Y
“want activities that will get them away from the meeting site,”
says Chester. “Things that are fun and innovative.”
Y points to ponder: “If X is the ‘me’
generation, Y is the ‘what’s in it for me?’ generation,” says
Chester. Try to plan accordingly.
Back to Current Issue indexM&C
| Events Calendar
| Incentive News
| Meetings Market
| CVB Links
| Reader Survey
| Hot Dates
| Contact M&C