The Changing of the Guard: Four Key Exhibiting Strategies for Generation Y

Survey the crowd at any trade show, and one trend immediately makes itself apparent. Attendees are getting younger. The infamous Baby Boomers are preparing for retirement, and Gen X'ers have moved into upper management positions. Now we're exhibiting for Generation Y.

The members of Generation Y were born between 1977-1994. It's a huge demographic, with over 68 million individuals, 40% of which are already employed full-time. While it's always unwise to indulge in sweeping generalizations, this generation has consistently exhibited one primary characteristic: They're trendsetters. Gen X'ers have shown a remarkable tendency to mimic Generation Y's embrace of everything new, and the Baby Boomers are eager to follow along. If you can attract Generation Y's attention, you'll get the other two groups as well.

How do you attract Generation Y? It may be trickier than you think.

For one, Generation Y is skeptical. They don't trust anybody. They grew up knowing that the media exists only to sell products, that news can be spun, and that the same set of numbers can be used to prove that Enron is thriving and viable or completely bankrupt.

The following four keys will help you attract this interesting and powerful target audience:

Key #1: Provide Proof
Any claim that you make must be backed up with real-world, viable proof. Any arbitrary set of statistics won't be enough anymore. Generation Y wants to know where you got your numbers from – and don't mind at all if they've been audited.

It's hard to get Generation Y's attention. They've grown up saturated with media. The average person in this age group is engaged with some form of media – tv, radio, podcasting, internet – almost 19 hours a day. They often, ‘multi-task' – checking e-mail while watching television or listening to a podcast while reading the morning paper. Your regular exhibit booth with a video clip playing on continuous loop and piles of brochures simply is not going to cut it.

Key #2: Provide Entertainment
This group expects to be entertained. They know their attention is a valuable commodity, and they want something in return for it. Think outside of the box to find creative ways to engage this crowd. Remember to consider more than audio and visual stimuli – to get Generation Y, you need to engage ALL of their senses. While we used to caution about over-stimulating attendees, that's not necessarily a danger with this group. They are more than ready to interact with you on many levels all at once.

That being said, Generation Y is not content to simply sit back and passively watch. They want to be engaged in their environment, fully immersed in the activities going on around them. Given a chance between watching a product demonstration and actually trying the product out, Generation Y will choose to try it themselves every time.

Key #3: Encourage Participation
Hands-on, direct product contact will appeal to Generation Y. This may not be practical for every exhibitor – after all, if you sell earth-moving equipment, you can hardly let attendees drive a front-end loader down the aisle – so be sure to explore tech-savvy alternatives. Could you have a ‘simulator', similar to the type used to train pilots? Remember, Generation Y is used to viewing the world through a set of virtual tools. Provide a new experience using these tools.

Finally, Generation Y expects to be recognized as unique. Individuals crave and desire recognition, and are very sensitive to how they are treated. They don't simply want to be acknowledged, they want to be acknowledged as special.

Key #4: Value the Individual
Even in the brief time your booth staff has to talk with each attendee, they can create the impression that they value the individual. Active listening, noting and using the attendee's name, appropriate eye contact, and positive, reinforcing statements will make the attendee feel as if the booth staff are genuinely pleased to meet them. This will definitely appeal to the individual who fears being one of the faceless crowd.

Incorporating these keys into your exhibiting strategy does not mean you have to throw out everything you've done up to this point. Exhibiting is a constantly evolving art. As you approach each show, consider what elements you can improve to appeal to Generation Y. Staff training should focus on this new up and coming generation, so they are adequately prepared to represent your company to a whole new set of eyes.

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies, working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of "10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make," e-mail: article4@thetradeshowcoach.com; website: www.thetradeshowcoach.com


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