Poll: Attendees want more engaging activities

I’m a longtime proponent of more engaging activities, participation, and connection around relevant content at events. Sometimes, I feel like I’m whistling in the wind. So I felt happy when I saw the following in a global poll by PCMA of 4,500 members of Generation Z.

If you could change something about the business event(s) you’ve been to in the past, what would it be?
more engaging activities

(In case you were wondering, interviewees could choose more than one option.)

Over two-thirds of the respondents chose “more engaging activities” as something they wanted to change at their meetings!

Now I’m not a fan of what I’ve called the Generation XYZ baloney. I think core motivations to attend events remain fixed over time. To put it another way, human nature doesn’t really change between generations, though circumstances and the consequent opportunities do. (And it’s the latter we should focus on.)

Whatever your beliefs on generational culture, this finding means that stakeholders need to act on building more engagement, participation, and connection into meetings if they are serious about improving the attractiveness and effectiveness of events.

We’ve known how to make meetings participation-rich and connection-rich for decades. Younger generations are more exposed to active learning formats in school, like flipped and group learning. Yet most meetings shun these powerful modalities for the same old relatively ineffective lecture formats.

This poll suggests that the young are seriously dissatisfied with current opportunities for meaningful engagement at events. As time passes, these folks will move into positions with increasing responsibility and influence.

Ignore their needs at your peril!

Poll details: 560 responses (27% between the ages of 21-24), conducted for PCMA and reported in the March/April 2021 issue of PCMA Convene by Editor in Chief Michelle Russell (hat tip to Michelle!)

2 thoughts on “Poll: Attendees want more engaging activities

  1. What then are engaging activities? What does it mean? In what ways can all including people with different abilities and disabilities be engaged? What makes an event not engaging? Is it the event? Participant? Culture?

    1. Big questions, Joan!

      My most comprehensive answers are found in Chapters 3 – 7 of my book “The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.”

      Here’s some of what I wrote about engagement in Chapter 6:

      I think it’s telling that we use the word engagement to describe not only a promise to be married but also a hostile encounter between enemy forces. Although a few unlucky souls (not me) may see no discrepancy between these two meanings, I conclude that the word depicts an emotional involvement or commitment. When we’re engaged, we’re caught up in the associated work, relationship, or effort because we care, rather than for rational reasons such as a paycheck, material security, or social pressure.

      But all too often, “engagement” is used as a shorthand declaration that things are fantastic: as a slippery feel-good word. Engagement is one of those words like love and empowerment that represents something so desirable that it’s in perpetual danger of being hijacked for nefarious purposes. Businesses say their employees are engaged, marketers speak of brand engagement, schools boast about student engagement, and functionaries praise big donors for their civic engagement. This is unfortunate because the word loses its power when it is applied glibly with no real justification or follow-through.

      Nevertheless, I believe that most people would agree that genuine engagement exists, even if a rigorous definition evades us to the extent that we only know it when we experience it.

      What can we say about engagement? One characteristic is that, at its core, engagement is an in-the-moment experience. EventCamp 2010, the participative format meetings industry conference mentioned in the previous chapter, frustrated many of those who couldn’t attend because very little was shared on social media about what was happening during the event, unlike many other similar conferences at the time. The reason was that participants were so engaged in what was going on that they didn’t share much, as exemplified by this quote:

      “As an attendee, I never felt that I wasn’t ALLOWED to share information socially – No offense to the remote attendees, but I just didn’t WANT to. I was SO DEEPLY ENGAGED and encapsulated by the relationships and information I was sharing one on one and with others in groups that I felt that I would be compromising my own experience by trying to share it real time.”
      —Eric Lukazewski, participant at EventCamp East Coast

      Another characteristic of engagement is that it builds community. Engagement, by its very nature, bonds people around a shared interactive experience, as well as making and strengthening connections through discovered and shared commonalities. Such bonding—and the desire for more of it—is the bricks and mortar of community building.

      Finally I’d like to make a case for dividing engagement into two forms. One is predominantly passive, characterized as entertainment. We can be engaged by a moving performance of a speaker, play, or concert; let’s call this broadcast-style engagement. The other is engagement that occurs through active participation in an experience with one’s peers, which I’ll call active engagement. I’ll say more about these types of engagement at the end of this chapter.

      We can’t directly measure the amount or quality of engagement at an event. Does this mean that we should avoid using the term? At the very least, I maintain that we can meaningfully compare indirect measurements of engagement between two similar events—for example, two annual meetings of a conference—and this is worth doing. Even so, it’s important to keep in mind that although the following approaches to measurement can be informative, they are all subjective and only capable of revealing specific aspects of engagement. Ultimately, such measurements have to be correlated with an event’s specific goals, adding further uncertainty to their value. Consequently, beware of anyone claiming that they can objectively measure engagement at your events, and take any comparative statistics with a grain of salt…”

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