Many experienced speakers are struggling as their audiences have gotten younger. They do not know what to do with Millennial audiences and event coordinators do not know what to expect from Millennial speakers either. Being a Millennial myself, I wanted to break it down for you because it isn’t that scary.
First off, Millennials are generally defined as Americans born between 1980-2000 (although these dates vary between studies). This generation is America’s largest population increase since the Baby Boomers born between 1946 – 1964. Millennials have grown up with technology in their homes and are quite comfortable as technology advances. Older generations tend to stereotype Millennials as the “Me Generation” because they see a sense of entitlement and narcism. However, they are also known for being community focused and firmly believe in helping the greater good. This belief system comes from their upbringing, including “helicopter parents” that hovered nearby and praised them for every accomplishment, hence the criticism of being a “trophy kids”.
Corporate America knocks their lack of ambition and desire for a strong work/life balance because many Millennials seek jobs that require less than 40 hours a week, and they are not loyal to companies as they change jobs every 2-3 years. I credit the job hopping to their parents being laid off after working 50+ hours a week at companies for decades; it caused them to doubt corporations because those corporations had no loyalty to their tenured employees. Oddly, this generation is mocked for their lack of a strong work ethic, yet they are known for spending their weekends and vacation time volunteering.
They are also recognized for a lack of respect for tradition as many Millennials have disrupted the business world with new business models that buck the system and use technology to the fullest (e.g. Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook). All in all, this generation is different from their predecessors because of their comfort with technology, sense of community, and different priorities.
Millennial audiences thrive with technology and quickly get bored with a traditional lecture delivered from behind the podium. To successfully engage Millennial audiences, speakers must adapt and engage this younger generation as they become the dominate buying group in America.
When speaking to Millennial audiences:
- Seek Engagement – Millennials see themselves connected to those around them and want to be heard. Engage them by polling your audience and don’t be scared of using technology like text polling. Millennials grew up doing small group projects in school and crave participation; use this to your advantage.
- Personalization – Polling your Millennial audience also helps you personalize your message. Gone are the days where you can utilize the same presentation over and over. Although you can use the same framework, you need to personalize it each time to show that you care and to engage younger audiences.
- Embrace Technology – Many speakers shun mobile devices like smartphones because they see it as a lack of respect to the speaker. Many Millennial audience members take notes on their mobile devices, so although they are looking at their screen, they are paying keen attention to you.
- Get Social – Use the fact that 97% of Millennials have a mobile phone (source Wikipedia) and encourage your audience to post to social media. Millennials want to document what they are doing with their friends, so let them share your message. This sharing extends your message outside the four walls of the room you’re presenting in and shares it with the world.
- The Greater Good – Millennials grew up believing the world can be a better place, and they have opened support companies with a mission to promote the greater good. You need to rethink your message if it is just “buy me”. You don’t necessarily need to change your business model, but remember to be educational and audience-centric. Think TED Talk, not infomercial.
- Diversify – Millennials are the first generation to grow up in a variety-rich environment where segregation was shunned, and diversity was celebrated. You don’t necessarily need to be completely politically correct, but don’t be surprised if your audience disconnects if all of your examples and pictures are exclusively “old, white guys”.
- Have a Conversation – Because this generation doesn’t respect traditions as much, do not expect them to settle for a lecture behind a podium. Step out from behind the podium and have a conversation with them. This change will help you relax and enjoy your presentation more, and they will feed off of that.
Just as Millennial audiences are unique, Millennial speakers are too, and they bring a different flair and style to presentations. I’d be remiss if I didn’t fill you in on the Millennial speaker too.
When working with Millennial speakers, you can expect:
- Highly Communicative, Yet Shy – Millennials grew up with instant messaging, texts, and other ways to connect with the world. Many of them prefer virtual communication in small groups and one-on-one conversations. Although many Millennials are very well-spoken, many have anxiety when speaking to large groups.
- Fearless with Technology – This generation grew up with computers in their homes, playing video games, and programming their parents VCRs. Many of them have been developing PowerPoints, and even websites, since grade school. They do not fear technology, they embrace it and push it to the edge.
- Speak to an Older Crowd – Because Millennials are generally the youngest people in the room when they present. They speak to audiences twice their age who have kids older than Millennials. This age gap can be intimidating at first, and why I always suggest speaking about what you know, so you are confident in your message.
- Comfortable Away from the Podium – Millennial speakers prefer to stray away from the podium and stand closer to the audience, signaling that they are a peer. This location change can be a powerful way to connect and engage an audience while keeping the presentation more conversational, thus more comfortable for younger speakers. This move can also pose a threat because speakers usually want to be portrayed as the expert in the subject at hand, especially when presenting to those older than them.
- Anxiety Towards Failure – Many older generations nickname Millennials as the “trophy kids” because they received trophies for coming in last place because they tried their hardest. As Millennials have entered the workforce, many have abruptly learned that failure is a real thing, even when they try their best. Because of this new found awareness, many Millennial speakers fear failure more than public speaking, and they often look for reassurance from the audience.
- Spider Web Presentations – With smartphones in hand, many Millennials are avid multi-taskers and bounce from one task to another with ease, all while carrying on multiple conversations via text or instant message. Because of this ability to effortlessly move from one topic to the next, I find their presentations lack logical order and bounce around too much. I called this a “Spider Web Presentation” because the thoughts are all related, yet the order appears random, which confuses audiences. (Older generations do this too and is usually attributed to a lack of preparation.)
- “Save the World” Message – Technology connects suburban Millennials with peers including third-world countries across the globe. Today’s media also showcases the atrocities and disasters worldwide in real time. This awareness combined with a “you can do anything as long as you try your best” attitude Millennials were reared with leads them to care about the greater good. You see this empathy and activism in their messages and even in their business models (e.g. Tom’s Shoes).
What do you think of my synopsis of the Millennial Audience and Millennial Speakers? Share your thoughts below in the comment section and please share this post on social media. I know, how Millennial of me. ;o)
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