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Bridging the Generational Divide – Attracting Younger Generations to the Trade Show Industry

Updated: Feb 5

I’ve read some interesting facts about the future of trade shows, specifically regarding the legacy generation of attendees versus the younger generation of digital natives who have grown up online, are accustomed to working remotely, and are lacking previous generations’ affinity or desire for face-to-face meetings.

How Do We Bridge the Gap and Better Engage with Gen Z and Next-Gen Attendees?

We know that Gen Zers seek more experiential networking experiences, and that they are not taking the same career routes as their erstwhile counterparts doesn’t mean they want to be treated as less valuable or less able to contribute.

To facilitate access for next-gen attendees at conferences, Louise Gorringe, associate vice president, association management at Kenes Group in Geneva, Switzerland, suggested the following:

Facilitate Access

Provide information targeted to first-time attendees, to help them understand how to participate and what to expect.

Recognize Fledgling Attendees

Recognize new attendees at the event alongside senior members and elevate the contributions of young professionals.

Provide Mentoring and Meet-the-Expert Sessions

Attract younger members to trade associations by providing access to experts, mentoring, and year-round professional development.

David DuBois, CMP Fellow, CAE, FASAE, CTA, International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) President and CEO, and Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance Co-President, suggests inclusive leadership as a way to increase engagement with younger generations. He writes in the July 2023 issue of Trade Show Executive:

Practicing inclusive leadership, where everyone's voice is heard and respected, presents a significant value proposition to an organization, one that drives the benefits well beyond moral and/or ethical advantages. Studies show that inclusive leadership factors in an organization’s financial success much more than one might think, and I believe that executive leaders who apply this understanding most effectively will be the ones we see succeeding the most.

Trade shows and trade associations are having trouble attracting younger members who don’t see the same benefit of joining as do their elder cohorts. If our industry is not cognizant of – and taking action in response to – the existing generational divide, this could soon become a challenge for the industry at large.


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