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As part of the Sept. 2017 edition of Friday With Joan, in which I pondered "Why Can't We All Just Meet AND Get Along?," I reached out to some of my industry colleagues—across a variety of generations and in differing occupations—so that I could get an idea of what their meeting preferences are and get a better idea of how each thinks. The respondents, to whom I am grateful for their time and thoughtful responses, provided me with many insights, which you can dig into below.
Q1. Let's start with your professional and personal backgrounds. How did you get to where you're at now?
Greg Morris, CMP (GM): My wealth of experience (over the past six-plus years) has been a compilation of two key areas within the meetings/hospitality industry. I spent the first four years working at a conference center at the University of Virginia in their student affairs division. For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of working as an association meeting planner at NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. I received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia in 2011 and a graduate certificate in event management from George Washington University in 2014. For further inquiries, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Daigle Porter (LDP): I’m a conference planner with over 10 years' experience planning conferences and events for 10 to 10,000 attendees. My work focuses on the intersection of strategic objectives, content and attendee experience. Formerly, I worked on the core team that designed and executed the largest nursing conference in the world. I now work on the largest conference about obesity in the world. Connect with me on Twitter at @iamlauraporter or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lauralporter.
Diane Ramos, CMP (DR): I’m Director, Meetings, Professional Development & Education at NAIFA, where I am a certified senior level management professional. I have over 20 years’ experience in the meetings and hospitality industry. I graduated from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Conn., with a BBA in Marketing … because there weren’t hospitality majors at the school then! I can be reached via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/dianeramoscmp or on Twitter at @Compactwoman.
Swathi Ravichandran (SR): I received an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in Foodservice and Lodging Management from Iowa State University. Currently, I serve as the Provost Fellow and as an Associate Professor in Hospitality Management at Kent State University (KSU) in Ohio. In 2015, I was recognized as a “Meetings Trendsetter” by Meetings Today. In 2014 I received the Distinguished Educator of the Year award from Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). Following this recognition, I received a commendation from the 131st General Assembly of Ohio, naming me one of “Ohio’s finest educators.”
I teach a variety of classes, including Hospitality Human Resources Management, Hospitality Legal Issues, Hospitality Practicum, and Hospitality Meetings Management, and also advise for the KSU Chapter of PCMA. My research focuses on hospitality human resources management and marketing, and has been published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals such as International Journal of Hospitality Management, International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education, Journal of Foodservice Business Research and Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality and Tourism. I also regularly write blog posts (entitled Foodservice @ Work) focusing on human resources and legal issues for Restaurant Hospitality, in addition to contributing to EasyIce.com on similar topics. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Patti J. Shock, CPCE (PS): I am the Academic Consultant for The International School of Hospitality (TISOH). I hold the designation of Professor Emeritus from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), after teaching there for 25 years. In 2014, I was inducted into the Events Industry Council [EIC] (formerly known as the Convention Liaison Council and the Convention Industry Council [CIC]) Hall of Leaders, and was designated as the first “NACE Icon” from the National Association for Catering & Events (NACE). For additional information, connect with me on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/pattishock.
Q2. In what generational cohort are you? (Silent generation? Baby boomer? Gen Xer? Millennial?).
- If you are a meeting planner, explain the makeup of your audience and membership or customer base for your meetings, and in what generations they are.
- If you’re an educator, please tell us how long you’ve taught and what you’ve seen in the changes in students’ learning styles based solely on their generations, or if it hasn’t mattered, please explain why you think so.
GM-A2: I fall in the generational cohort of a millennial. Disclaimer: [For our association] these are rough estimates and assumptions based on the professional level of our membership: 50% millennials; 35% Gen X; 14% boomer; 1% silent generation.
LDP-A2: I’m a millennial. I’m currently working on a meeting that spans boomers to millennials. Our audience are clinicians and scientists working to prevent, treat and cure obesity, about half male, half female. The largest cohort of our membership and meeting audience is Generation X.
DR-A2: I’m a Gen Xer. Membership in our association is mostly boomers, although we are finding millennials also are interested in joining and participating at the association’s meetings and events. NAIFA is a national federation made up of life insurance and financial services advisors. Many are agents with top companies or independent advisors running their own books of business.
SR A2: I am a Gen Xer on the cusp of the millennial generation and have been teaching for 13 years. The vast majority of my students are millennials, although I occasionally have boomers. In the last 13 years, I have not observed any major differences in students’ learning styles, although it is important to point out salient features of the millennial generation’s learning styles. I have learned that millennials are not fans of seemingly unending lectures. To accommodate this, I give short breaks about every 20 minutes or so!
As much as my students would love it, I don’t allow use of electronic devices (read: Wi-Fi enabled) during class time; they can, however, scratch their device-itch during the short breaks! While I may incorporate assignments that would require them to use their devices during class time, this is more the exception. There is documented research that writing with a pen on paper (color me traditional) helps students retain more information.
(Joan's Note: This podcast from Dan Pink adds to what Swathi said about notes by hand).
I have read that millennials prefer group work; however, my observation does not entirely support this. It seems to depend on the composition of the group members. Many of my students work several hours in addition to taking a full course load, and it seems quite challenging for them to find meeting times. They do use Google Docs, Dropbox and other file-sharing sites when they do need to engage in group work.
I have learned that a more Socratic approach to teaching is more suited for my students. As opposed to a straight lecture (or mostly lecture), I try to incorporate activities, discussions and Q&A to enhance engagement.
And lastly, this cannot be stressed enough: Getting to know students via individual discussions during office hours contributes quite positively to their academic success.
Like previous generations, it is important to remember the diversity in learning styles of the millennial generation. I cater to my students’ visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. The variety does help with the shorter attention spans.
PS-A2: I think I am from the “Greatest Generation,” LOL—I was born six weeks before Pearl Harbor.
(Joan's Note: Patti and others will be pleased to learn that though she is GREAT, she is a member of the silent or "mature" generation. She is mature; she is rarely silent when it comes to important issues).
- G.I., or “greatest generation”: 1901-1926
- Mature or “silents”: 1927-1945
- Baby boomers: 1946-1964
- Gen X: 1965-1980
- Gen Y, or millennial: 1981-2000
- Gen Z, or “eons,” or “next gen”: 2001+
I have been teaching since 1976, including teaching as a graduate student.
Many students today act more entitled. They often think that just because they paid for the class and showed up most of the time, they should get an “A” even if they blew the tests and/or did poorly on the assignments. They think they deserve extra credit.
Technology has changed everything as well. Students don’t realize how easy they have it. What took me hours to find in the library, they can access in seconds on the Internet. Word processing allows them to correct documents on the fly without having to retype a whole letter because of one typo.
(Joan's Note: This made me think of the start of my business in 1981 with my IBM Selectric—that is, self-correcting—typewriter and the horror of contracts and changes. OY!)
Attention spans are shorter. They learn better in short bursts than in a long lecture. I believe this is due to Sesame Street and MTV, and the way news is now packaged in sound bites.
Many students today seem to be less engaged with extra-curricular activities, such as student clubs. This may be because more students are working and many have already started their families.
Q3. If you were designing a meeting for someone “just like you,” what components would you want and in what amounts of time? That is, educational sessions that are experiential, and if so, describe what that means to you; “networking” and what that would look like; settings; and anything else that impacts your enjoyment and ability to learn and take away from the meeting what you need.
- Do you think your thinking is like many of your generation? Why or why not?
GM-A3: Rather than being “talked at” in your typical general session or breakout room with a head table for four and max chairs in rows, I prefer to have more of an interactive learning session.
So as meeting planners we tend to see the word “interactive” and change the seating to full rounds or crescent rounds if AV is involved. While I believe that the seating may impact the learning, I would lean toward putting more effort into the format. Ideally, this would be something that is interactive and “quick” while being able to learn and network at the same time.
I’m not saying that this will work for your typical general session or breakout, but at a recent conference, they introduced a new format of learning into their schedule called the “Conversations of 4.” Basically, a ballroom was “divided” into four overarching topics and then within those topics you had mini-topics. For example, I went to the section titled “Destination, Venues, & Rooms.” Within that section were four topics about room blocks, contracts, negotiations and choosing the right venue. There were about three tables with four chairs each to discuss each of those subtopics. Thus, about 12 tables total in the section I went to. There was one facilitator at each table and you basically chose which table you wanted to join based on the subtopic. You would discuss what’s working well, what’s not, and how to improve based upon other meeting planners’ experiences.
These “round robins” lasted for about 30 minutes each and there were three sets. This format instantly became a favorite for me because it’s interactive, quick and informational, all while having the privilege to network at the same time.
In some part due to social media, I think millennials (myself included) want information to be shared quickly. Attention spans may be shorter, so we want something that involves less structure and more collaboration, hence group-based work/projects. While baby boomers and Gen Xers respond to a more authoritarian teaching style, I think this concept of “Conversations of 4” will be well-received by millennials.
LDP-A3: If I were planning a meeting for someone “just like me,” it would be comfortable, participant-led and have choices. An attendee might start in a registration lounge. It would have soft-seating, side tables and electrical outlets. Event staffers would come around to check in the attendees, rather than attendees waiting in line. Then participants would move to half-day learning blocks. Participants would choose a learning area and have free movement between that learning area and other areas during the event. Each learning area would be led by three to five content experts. The content experts would invite participants to choose a learning station. A station might consist of Q&As with content experts, group problem-solving, individual learning through games or self-directed reading/reflection. Concurrent to the main learning activities, you might have other areas set up for self-reflection, calm areas, refreshment areas, business areas like exhibits, and more.
After the day of learning was over, participants would choose networking activities that suited their needs. Small-group areas would be set up with activities as classic as table-topics or cocktail areas to more interactive group games, or get-to-know-you sessions. The bottom line is that attendees would have choice throughout the entire event to make it “their own.”
I’m certainly like many of my generation (millennials). I value many of the things that I see my peers valuing: novel experiences over status quo, casualness over formality, interaction over lectures, work-life-balance over workaholism, etc. But when it comes to decision in my work and life, I let my own intuition and experiences and the counsel of trusted others guide my actions. I don’t think, “What would a millennial do?”
DR-A3: When designing a meeting for someone like me it would be the following:
- Duration: no more than 2.5 days (including a half-day to arrive, two days of meetings/events and on the final day, no programing—travel day). Between time out of the office and time away from family (I have young children with no family near to help out), it's tough to be gone for longer.
- Networking: I define networking as “going to an event where you already know 90% of the people, expecting those 90% will introduce you to the other 10% you have not met, hoping those 10% have the answers to the questions that keep you up at night!”
- Events where “food and beverage is offered in a big room where everyone is together” is my least favorite way to network. I prefer “Brain Dates” to network—one-on-one conversations with folks where the topic/time and level of interest is established. Or, food and beverage where no more than six to eight people are invited/in an area. However, I am also an ambivert, introvert or extrovert, depending on the situation/people involved/location and topic of conversation.
- Sessions: I enjoy tables (rounds/crescent rounds) vs. theater/couches. With crescent rounds folks are more apt to introduce themselves when sitting down. In a theater setting (or even couches) people sit down and get out a device. I understand why we have banquet rounds set for 10, however, you cannot have great conversation with more than eight people. I was working my own meeting in May and got to observe an experiential and different meeting of an industry association. I thought it was an interesting concept.
- Getting answers to my “What keeps you up at night” along with “what saves you/makes you money”: I believe every attendee in every industry brings this question with them. It might be a conscious or unconscious question, and one that drives and keeps people coming back each year to meetings (along with seeing old friends and hoping to make new ones).
- Length: I prefer shorter sessions. If the session is one hour, it better be an amazing session with a really great speaker and provide lots and lots of helpful information. I think many sessions that could be done in 20-30 minutes get stretched to an hour because a.) It’s what we have always done (is that a boomer thing?), and b.) It’s easier to put on the schedule. I dislike general sessions and feel they are wasting valuable time, especially if they are later in the day. I also have no problem leaving a session if I don’t think it’s worthwhile. [Joan's Note: In the concept of “Open Space” design, the norm, formerly known as “the law of two feet,” and now coined by Lisa Hecht and others as “the norm of motion and responsibility,” can be announced at the start of a session so that people feel comfortable departing if the session isn’t working for them.]
SR-A3: I am a fan of educational sessions that start with information sharing (essentially, learning), followed by some form of determining what I learned and how I might apply it. So, a short lecture, followed by Q&A for clarifications, and if applicable, a case study (or a suitable alternative) to apply what I learned. I am NOT a fan of educational meetings that last more than 60 minutes … seems to defeat the purpose, unless of course, sufficient breaks are built in (either actual stretch/networking breaks or activities). The lighting system does seem to impact my learning too; I do not favor fluorescent lighting!
When it comes to networking, being an extrovert, I don’t have any issues approaching strangers. However, I do know that my more-introverted friends and colleagues need some structure to the networking. I was recently at a university event that grouped people based on the color of the card they held (randomly assigned). The purpose was to crowd-source information and everyone had to write ideas and pass it around to other people in the group to get them rated on a 1-5 scale. The top-rated ideas were then put up on the board. It got people who would otherwise not contribute to add their ideas.
I believe my learning style and needs are fairly consistent with those in my generation! People in general are a fan of short, action-packed information delivery. Differences may be attributed to personality types, though!
PS-A3: I want 45 minute sessions; people turn off after 50 minutes. And...
- NO circles of chairs without tables—it’s too uncomfortable.
- Tables for my computer/papers, etc., and for comfort. Leaning forward gives you another position to shift to. And also hides you somewhat.
[Joan's Note: In asking Patti a clarifying question, she agreed that theater seating, because there are no tables, is uncomfortable. I’m with her and though I don’t know if it’s typical of silents and boomers, I think we are more alike than not in our desire for comfort. Part of it may be age and ability; part of it may be “enough already”—been there/done that. Hoping others from all generations weigh in on this and all of the responses in the comments.]
- Women of size and those of us who aren’t tall [Joan's Note: two things Patti and I have in common] have a problem holding their legs together. Tables give us cover. And for those of us who aren’t tall, leaning forward so our feet touch the ground means our laps tilt forward. Anything on our laps (versus a table) can slide. Thus, the need for tables.
My other preferences include:
- Variety of different seating options in the room.
- 30-minute refreshment breaks.
- Vegan food without a hassle.
- Early reception (6 p.m.).
- Early dinner (6:30 p.m.).
- No dance.
Joan’s Note: As a boomer, I’m not sure if my preferences are like other boomers and am curious to hear from you who are in the same cohort. Among my preferences:
- Rooms set with different seating options and good lighting, preferably natural.
- No “lights out” for supposed ease of seeing visuals.
- Time for discussion and reflection, and never, ever “Q&A at the end,” when the questions have flown from our heads and relevance.
- Socratic teaching.
- Easily and insistently accessible for all people regardless of abilities.
- Smaller rooms v. “large dark rooms with theatre seating".
- Longer, more “deep dive” sessions for those who want more.
- Food available all day—“conference-center style”—since we all come from different time zones and have different nutritional needs.
Q4. Lastly, what do you see, in your crystal ball, about how a minimum of three (or maybe four or five—silent, boomer, Gen X, millennial, Gen Z) generations will manage in the workplace and interact at meetings? (“It depends” is not enough! You may use it, and if so, please expand on what you think!).
GM-A4: I think we will need to continue to experiment with learning styles at our meetings. We will need to continue to offer all styles that work for the different generations. Maybe we might actually stumble upon a format that works for everyone. We can even offer the same information throughout our meetings, but in different settings just to cater to our different audiences.
In the workplace, I think it’s important to have a general understanding of generational studies. Perhaps organizations can offer some professional development for their employees. Understanding how we all work differently can help us better understand how we can work together.
LDP-A4: Sadly, much knowledge is being lost with baby boomers leaving the workforce. I hope most boomers mentor Gen Xers and millennials before retiring, and will continue to contribute after retirement. Their continued contribution will be critical for our industry. The work in front of Gen Xers and millennials is a continual negotiation on work-life-balance and leadership and ownership. Each generation will bring different strategies and tactics to the meetings industry, and we should be receptive to each other’s ideas and cooperative in implementing solutions. Gen Xers and millennials have more in common with themselves than they did with baby boomers, so we may see a decade of close partnership and growth—if we can manage it!
DR-A4: It’s funny, my boss and I talk about this all the time. We see that some is generational; some is personality-type (introvert/ambivert/extrovert) and some is based on one’s communication style.
Millennials, working in their first job out of college, do not understand email. I think, mostly prior to office work, their communications have been short and sweet communications with friends and family. However, I explain in the workplace there is need for visual communication/documents attached with a time/date stamp to reference/recall, and in meetings, pull out again as a template for next time. I believe my generation (Xers) use email more than it should, as it serves as a visual reminder. (You have to read it, un-bold it, and delete or move an email to a folder to get rid of it.) Texts are read/un-bolded and you don’t have to go back to it. Overall, I have moved my organization toward Basecamp for project management and communication of information.
As a meetings person I communicate with most of the people in the office. I work with all ages and am pretty successful in creating working relationships and communicating with them. For some, I stop by and talk during a non-stressful time in their day. For others, I will schedule a meeting, as they want their staff to attend for “group think.” Still for others, I take a page from our industry and schedule “Thursdays at 4,” which is where we leave the office and meet for a drink, food and conversation. Others are fine with an email.
At events, I have seen that boomers are more traditional: meals are to be hot, plentiful and everyone should have a seat; they believe that for events to be “prestigious,” attendees should be dressed in evening attire, there should be an open bar, a plated meal and speeches—an entire evening affair. An Xer like me does not like evening award events! Our millennials do not like them either; with meetings at only 2.5 days they do not want their nights tied up.
SR-A4: I did a research study with older foodservice workers a few years ago and part of what I wanted to learn was their interaction with younger generations, particularly in the context of training. Many of the older workers really wanted to serve in a mentor capacity to their younger colleagues … definitely not in a “bossy” way. Younger workers, particularly millennials, do strive on personal relationships. Establishing formal mentoring programs could really contribute to a positive working climate!
Younger workers (particularly, younger managers of older workers) do need to be more patient, especially when it comes to use of technology in training. There is ample evidence to show that, although older workers may take more time to learn the technology, they are more attentive, and thus less likely to make mistakes when utilizing the technology.
PS-A4: I see current graduates changing jobs more frequently than earlier generations. They look at jobs as stepping stones as opposed to moving up within one company. They are impatient for that promotion.
More students today seem intent on starting their own businesses as opposed to a career with one of the corporate entities. I always advise them to work for someone else first, to learn the ins and outs and pitfalls—and make their initial mistakes on someone else’s dime.
I often get calls from industry professionals that want interns or to hire graduates to do their social media for them. I see older generations becoming dinosaurs by not embracing technology as it evolves. The issue with having a student do your social media is that while they may know the technology piece, they aren’t knowledgeable enough about the industry to know what is appropriate to post.
Bonus Questions: If you are up to it … a few additional questions about the results of the demonstrations and events in Charlottesville…
Do you think:
1.) Meetings can help us resolve our political and social issue differences?
And if so, how?
2.) Millennials are more positioned to help that happen?
GM: I wouldn’t necessarily say “resolve our differences,” and if so, it would definitely take some time. I see using meetings as a tool to better understand our political and social differences in theory. From theory to practice may require some self-work and organization structure augmentation. I think millennials in solidarity with Gen Xers and baby boomers can make it happen. It’s not up to one specific generation to carry all of the weight.
LDP: One of my favorite meetings quotes recently was from Fiona Pelham of Positive Impact Events. She says, “…People will continue meeting face to face; it builds relations across borders, it builds peace.” (Click here to access the article where this quote was published).
Can meetings help us resolve our political and social differences? I think face-to-face meeting is the only medium that can do so. Humans are social creatures, and text-based communication or even video-based is ineffective in receiving another’s thoughts and feelings and responding to them. If done thoughtfully, meetings could be a powerful driver for social change.
As a millennial, I strongly disagree with the thought that millennials are better positioned to promote social and political change through meetings. Gen Xers and baby boomers are the highest decision-makers in the meetings industry; therefore, the buy-in from those generations is crucial. Boomers and Gen Xers also have more experience and can proactively manage pitfalls. With that said, millennials have an enormous contribution to make. Millennials as a group are driven by more idealistic and humanistic tendencies and can tap into those values to create these meaningful events. However, each generation needs to work together to create meetings and events that move the needle on social and political issues.
DR: Yes, I think meetings are exactly what we need, as meetings traditionally bring like-minded business/interests together in a very positive way. Meetings bring together people from all walks of life, all around the country/world. When we meet for a common cause or goal that is non-political, we learn more about who people are, their passions, how to help each other and want to get along. If we could only inject some of that to help the political and social issue differences facing our country.
Yes, I believe millennials will be a driving force, as they have grown up in a technology era where the world is more global than it was for my generation. When you are influenced by other factors than what you are taught at home, school or in the community, you can see a bit more into how others live/work/conduct their lives. Understanding that we all don’t believe the same thing is the first step. Accepting it is the second, and appreciating difference is the final stop.
SR: I love the millennial generation and do sometimes think they get a bad rap. As a generation, they are incredibly well rounded, confident, but are not afraid to ask for assistance when needed. They are active in the community and fight for causes they believe in.
Being at Kent State University where the horrific events of May 4, 1970 occurred, one of our core values is "Freedom of expression and free exchange of ideas." Another is "Respect, kindness and purpose in all we do." These are values I will strive to inculcate in my students. As the president of our university, Dr. Beverly Warren, states, “Conversation not confrontation.” I am a fan of free speech; not hate speech.
PS: Possibly, in the long term. What meetings, and any travel experiences, provide is the opportunity to meet and interact with people from other cultures. We tend to fear the unknown, so by meeting people and discovering what we have in common lessens the fear that generates hate.
I haven’t seen this much anger in the streets since the ’60s. The younger generation is waking up. The generations following the ’60s became apathetic. But now, they are rising. If you live long enough you see that everything goes in cycles.
Click here to view additional content in the 09.01.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.