People of a certain generation (ahem, fellow Boomers and our close cohorts, Gen Xers, I'm talking about us) like to bad-mouth today's youth as being self-absorbed, disrespectful, impatient, disengaged, and a host of other not-very-complimentary adjectives. But what I saw among the many students I met at this year's Professional Convention Management Association Annual Meeting wasn't in-your-face attitude. What I saw were people not very different from me.

“Generation Why” speaker Eric Chester pointed out why the Whys — so called, he said, because they always ask questions like, “Why should I go to that meeting? Why should I wear a suit? I've been here for three weeks, why can't I have your job?” — are the way they are. They're impatient because they've grown up in a world where people are rewarded with speed: fast lanes, fast delivery, and express check-in for hotels' preferred-guest members, to name a few examples. I live in that world, too.

He also spoke of a study that found out the latest generation coming up would rather have pain inflicted on them than be bored. I can relate.

They're used to active learning, lots of breaks, and lots of interaction, and they want to be entertained as well as enlightened, he said. Again, if not what I'm used to, definitely what I'd like to become used to.

They're skeptical and won't take “because that's the way it is” for an answer. Just like me.

They want meetings to be relevant to them, specifically, not just a generic templated event — check. And, just like me, they want to be part of a community that is passionate about what brings them together.

All of which left me thinking maybe I — and most of the more senior people I know — are actually Whys in older-generation bodies. So I went up after the session and asked Chester what the difference is, really, between us and them. His answer was, I thought, both profound and profoundly simple:

“The difference is you'll both get bored, but you'll put up with it. They'll leave.”

Maybe so, but you know, we older folks also are getting a little less tolerant as we become more time-starved. Which leads me to believe that planners who ignore the needs of the upcoming generation could not only risk losing Gen Yers; they could risk losing us all.

So, how differently do you have to think to design a multigenerationally appealing meeting? Please e-mail me at spelletier@meetingsnet.com with your ideas.

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