Imagine a sizable meeting is underway. A leader is presenting to a group, including a woman in her 20s. She’s typing on her phone, taking notes on the presentation. A man in his 50s is distracted from the speaker because he is annoyed by this, assuming she’s just playing around. Another attendee in his 30s is having trouble paying attention; he has thoughts on the topic being presented, but he hasn’t had and won’t have the opportunity to share them. And an older colleague’s input won’t be shared either, because she’s not even there — the invite was only sent digitally, and she keeps her schedule on a paper calendar.
It’s official: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and now older members of Gen Z are in the workplace. That means some meetings will seat four generations at one table. With different abilities, motivations, and expectations, keeping everyone engaged is a challenge — but it’s not impossible. Here’s how.
Know Who’s Coming
To prepare for a multigenerational meeting, it’s important to know which generations will be represented there.
“We are diligent about working with the planners to gain insight on the attendee demographics. We share this insight with our team members,” said Michelle Bradley, senior sales manager, Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan.
Directly asking attendees their age can be off-putting, but there are other ways to glean the information. Evaluating the positions of those invited is one; a meeting of C-suite professionals will likely be older, but one that includes invitees spanning from entry-level on up will be more diverse.
There are other questions you can ask attendees to understand their expectations and preferences, too. Asking them if they’d like to be contacted by phone, email, or text is a good way to understand the different attendees’ needs on a deeper level.
Knowing this preference can give meeting planners the opportunity to make all generations feel welcome before the meeting even begins.
“I respond through their preferred method of communication, making them feel at ease,” says Jenny O’Conner, Crowne Plaza meetings director with Crowne Plaza Denver Downtown.
Understand Differing Motivations
Professionals of different generations work for different reasons — and those motives follow them into meetings. Baby Boomers, for example, tend to be head-down, goal-oriented professionals. They didn’t expect a lot of feedback or to be listened to as young workers, but now that they’ve paid their dues, they tend to enjoy the privileges and authority they’ve earned.
Millennials and Gen Z, on the other hand, love feedback and being heard, even as more junior employees. Millennials want to find meaning in their work and tend to seek opportunities for growth. Gen Z workers are highly responsive to reward systems.
In the middle of Baby Boomers and the younger generations, Gen Xers are professionals with entrepreneurial ideas who tend to prefer little supervision.
When structuring a meeting, find ways to engage each of them. Options include:
- Make sure Boomers have the opportunity to be acknowledged for their experience and authority. They should feel like leaders in the meeting, even while other generations are given opportunities to participate.
- Provide opportunities for feedback and discussion that are opened up to all attendees.
- Visually record ideas presented by attendees. Even writing them on a whiteboard will make people feel heard and rewarded for their ideas.
- Make the objective of the meeting clear, and tie it to practical outcomes that matter to attendees’ careers. Create an agenda that closely pursues the stated objective. Millennials in particular need to find meaning in their day-to-day work, including meetings.
Make Technology Easy
It goes without saying that people of different ages have different levels of comfort and skill with technology. But allowing some meeting attendees to just opt out of technology isn’t ideal: Most workers expect to be engaged by digital media, and it’s important for the room to have a shared experience.
The solution is making access to technology seamless for everyone. That means choosing a meeting space that can accommodate that need, like Crowne Plaza’s adaptive Plaza Workspace. “There are no hoops to jump through, no codes to endlessly enter to get access to Wi-Fi, no limits on how many devices, and power ports everywhere on the property,” says Michael Alexis, director of Marketing at Museum Hack and frequent Crowne Plaza guest. “It allows for meeting leaders to focus on delivering their key message to attendees and not worry about the logistics behind the scenes.
“That’s an advantage that every age group can appreciate,” he says.
Bonus tip: To avoid the issue of some attendees being distracted by others’ use of technology during a meeting, simply clear the air. Announce that attendees are welcome to take notes digitally, or, if appropriate, even post social media updates during the meeting. Giving them a hashtag to use is a fun way to promote your work and give younger professionals another way to engage, and the permission will prevent older generations from assuming they’re being rude.
Get Attendees Engaged—With Each Other
Age difference is like any other: It tends to send people to their separate corners. All meeting attendees are more engaged with the meeting itself if they are engaged with one another.
One idea that Alexis finds helpful is to get meeting attendees to relate to one another by sharing non-work information that may resonate across generations. His icebreaker exercise includes asking people how they describe their professional role to friends and their dream vacation. These easy-to-answer questions gives people the opportunity to laugh and say, “Me too!” or “I’ve been there” and spark genuine connections.
Feed Everyone’s Preferences
In years past, it was safe to assume you could delight everyone in every meeting with a platter of donuts. But healthy meeting snacks and specific dietary preferences are becoming more common, and often expected.
“We think vegetarians have been subjected to the cheese pizza dining option a few times too many,” says Alexis.
Fortunately, more meeting spaces are allowing planners to customize food options to meet the needs of all professionals. At Crowne Plaza, small groups meeting in Plaza Workspace can browse menus and order their own food at the push of a button.
And attendees of larger, formal meetings have options too. “Catering menus have evolved to accommodate dietary restrictions that are more common with the younger generation,” says O’Conner. “Eighty-five percent of our menu items are gluten free, and every buffet has a vegetarian option.”
Planning meetings for a multigenerational audience can be made easy with some careful consideration of everyone’s needs and by finding the right the venue to meet them. From technology solutions to customized catering, Crowne Plaza has amenities and offerings to meet the needs of all attendees—no matter their age.