Between the downturn of incentives in 2008 and the welcome upturn in 2011, there has been a major shift in the average age of attendees. Last month I produced an event for the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. The program was attended by senior executives of almost every leading insurance company in the country—guys who are usually the oldest in a company—and even they responded to newer tunes like Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” My point? It’s a new generation! The trends I’m sharing here aren’t my predictions—they’re happening now, driven by this new generation of attendees and leaders.

1. DJs/Producers—These artists are at another level from the guy or gal who plays and mixes a night of music. Many have achieved celebrity status with more than a million downloads on iTunes. The top tier demand $100K or more—and get it! But there are many at the $5K to $25K range. The best have an uncanny ability to create, direct, and drive the energy of a party while sampling, mashing, scratching, and mixing the latest hits and old school tunes with their own signature sounds. Be careful though: Some artists are great for the young club crowd after midnight but not the best if you need them to be genuinely interested in your people and their tastes. Alongside this trend is adding dancers, an occasional live musician, or video imagery for a more engaging visual experience.

2. A fully integrated band and DJ combo—This is hitting big because it has something for everyone. The trend in 2012 will be DJs who become part of the band itself. Seamless transitions and the combination of the latest in hip DJ tracks—and tricks—with a great live band will create an energy and excitement that appeals to all generations. Bonus with this trend: You will have an unlimited choice of music and styles, and there will be no break in the action!

3. An unplugged experience—Offers a sophisticated after-dinner vibe with smaller, elite groups (think Baby Boomers). Guests feel connected to the songs that defined their generation. Some acts from the past who no longer fill concert halls but are still amazing talents are already doing this. Think Hall & Oates. A 45- to 60-minute show is perfect.

4. Guest artist—Inviting a name act to join your band and play a few of their greatest hits gives planners the “wow” and stays in budget. Keep it a surprise, and it’s even more exciting.

5. Reality show contestants—We’re starting to see the plethora of talented and unique artists getting exposure from TV contest shows work their way to corporate events. Just be warned: They can be great for popular appeal, but most will have only 10 to 15 minutes of interesting material. Plan to incorporate them as one piece of your overall evening of entertainment.

Bill Hopkins has spent 25 years performing, coordinating, and producing event entertainment. Reach him at or visit his Web site.