Generational Blending: An Event Attendance Growth Strategy to Seize

generational blending

Post authored by Donna Kastner, Founder of Retirepreneur

Tribalization (aka “Take Me to My Peeps”) has ruled supreme at many events. And let’s face it – our brains are hard-wired to prefer mingling with like-minded people. People of the same gender, age, ethnicity, professional experience, etc.

But there are unintended and sometimes dire long-term consequences for this short-term tribal play.

For starters, we’re leaning into experiences that many of our event guests indulge in daily – in the workplace, at home, and at gatherings with family and friends.

To convince someone to attend our events, we need to serve up experiences that are remarkably different, yet relevant and meaningful.

Generational Blending is one design element that can unleash a flurry of richer connections and conversations that ultimately reveal new solution pathways – yet this age-blending dynamic isn’t happening at many events.

Keep in mind, it’s going to take great finesse and careful planning to spark these multi-generational exchanges… but get this right and your newly formed multi-generational community will be hungry for more… and they’ll bring their friends.

Generational Blending

Top Motivators Driving the Decision to Attend – It’s Not What You Think

For quite some time, we’ve marched to the beat of the same drum – namely, the top three reasons why people attend professional conferences and trade shows:

  1. Education
  2. Networking
  3. Business Leads

(PS: In a recent post penned by Jeff Fugate, The “Why” is the Most Important Aspect of Event Design, he identified a fourth motivator: The Party. We’ll be digging into that design element a bit more in future posts to discern if/when it’s a decision-to-attend trigger versus an experience that amplifies networking outcomes.)

But I was recently graced with a fascinating conversation that opened my eyes a bit more on decision-to-attend triggers.

In a chat with Janet Sperstad, one of our industry’s top thought leaders, she made a few careful tweaks to the list.

Janet shared that people attend events to…

  • Create deeper meaning
  • Meet people they wouldn’t normally meet
  • Have experiences they can’t have on their own

Let that sink in for a moment…

It’s a subtle shift that touches on both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

More importantly, it sets the stage for designing unique and meaningful experiences that yield better outcomes for everyone – our attendees, our sponsors and exhibitors, our organization, and our industry.

A well-designed generational blending experience checks all three boxes.

generational blending

Did You Know Multi-Generational Teams Outperform Same-Generational Teams?

There’s a growing body of research that shows why generational siloes must ease a bit, as we focus more attention on nurturing richer and more fruitful dialogue across the generations.

As noted in the headline above, it’s the secret sauce for high-performing teams.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what professional conferences and trade shows are all about? For industry events, aren’t we striving to help our industry advance and grow?

Now ponder this excerpt from a recent article in The Point magazine:

“There is emerging evidence that mixed-age teams can outperform both exclusively-young and exclusively-old groups,” says Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. “The first step to achieving this generational blending is to ditch the false assumptions that cause many firms to marginalize older workers or underinvest in them.”

False assumptions, you say? Pesky generational myths that go unchallenged?

As digital channels roar, you’ll find plenty of these.

By the way, it’s not just an elder thing. Have you ever witnessed a casual millennial snipe? We all have and when they go unchecked, they persist.

For the record, I’m a baby boomer and some of my best discoveries have come from millennials.

Today’s world is chock full of problems that need to be solved. Problems that will require a diverse set of brilliant minds at the brainstorming table.

Much like a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, no single person (or generation) can spot every puzzle piece.

But when we bring this group together, each looking at this puzzle through different life lenses, that’s when the breakthrough ideas emerge.

generational blending

Finding Your Sweet Spot Mix

Be careful not to go overboard with this generational blending strategy.

Many topics work better with like-minded or a more random mix of people. Others are better suited for generational blending.

Often, these are the more forward-leaning discussions where we need to imagine new ways to solve complex challenges.

One session model you might explore is the hackathon.

You’ll find a wealth of design tips here: Hackathon Design Playbook: Gathering Brilliant Minds to Reveal Breakthrough Ideas.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to experiment, starting with a series of small changes, but be sure to gauge reactions during your live event and interview participants afterwards to better understand what they appreciated.

Then fine-tune your plan and go at this again, because the innovation landscape is in constant motion.

How about you? To what degree is generational blending happening at your events – intentionally or organically? Do you see this as a fit for your event audience?


About Donna

Donna Kastner has spent good portion of her career as an event experience design consultant and is now building a dynamic collaboration community for executives age 50+ who are striving to make a smooth segue from full-time job to part-time consulting gig.

As the founder of Retirepreneur, Donna’s championing a movement to help others design flexible and fulfilling encore career opportunities.


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