Study: Face-to-Face Meetings Matter to All Age Groups

As more Millennials are hired, and more baby boomers retired, meeting planners must brace themselves for a massive generational shift in the workforce, which could have a profound impact on meeting attendance.

Fortunately, that impact might not be as large or as negative as some people predict, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), which yesterday published the results of a new study on generational differences in face-to-face meeting preferences.

Titled "Generational Differences in Face-to-Face Interaction Preferences and Activities," the survey of more than 9,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors found that professionals in all age groups value face-to-face meetings, and mostly for the same reasons. In fact, all age groups ranked exhibits at trade shows as the No. 1 way to deliver important face-to-face interactions for job performance.

"The good news is that face-to-face interactions at exhibitions are highly valued by professionals of all generations, including younger professionals," CEIR Research Director Nancy Drapeau said in a statement. "The fear that the relevance of this medium will wane with younger professionals is not evidenced in this study; however, there are differences organizers and marketers need to understand."

Among those differences are the reasons for attending meetings and events. Although the top five reasons for attending - looking for new products, gaining insights on industry trends, networking with colleagues, seeing and talking with current vendors, and looking for new vendors - are the same across generations, CEIR found that motivations diverge thereafter, with younger attendees seeking inspiration and motivation for their jobs and older attendees, including older Millennials, Gen Xers and boomers, seeking education from conference programs and sessions.

CEIR also examined the perceived value of exhibitions today and found that most professionals (90 percent) say the value is the same or greater as two years ago. Surprisingly, however, the perception of increased value is greatest among the youngest professionals (approximately 50 percent), both in terms of the value exhibitions deliver today as well as anticipated value in the next two years.

Finally, CEIR analyzed the effect of online interactions with live attendance at exhibitions and conventions. For most attendees, it found, interacting online has no impact on attendance to trade exhibitions. However, a larger percentage of young professionals (26 percent for older Millennials and young Gen Xers, and 31 percent of Millennials) say interacting online has increased their attendance to trade shows.