Medical Millennials The impact of demographics on conference strategies

Medical Millennials: The impact of demographics on conference strategies

Topic: Insight / / by Rob Roffey

It’s no surprise that the working demographic is getting younger. According to a report from KPMG, Millennials - defined as those born between 1980 and 1995 - currently represent 35% of the workforce, and will make up half of the global workforce by 2020.

This shift in demographics applies to almost all sectors - and healthcare is not exempt. But why do Millennials matter, and what does their rise mean for medical societies and associations?

Why it matters

As the workforce changes, so do its requirements, its preferences and its expectations. For medical associations, it’s a question of relevance: they need shifts in strategy to ensure they appeal to older and younger members alike.

While some associations may pride themselves on a long and successful history, a long and successful future is unlikely without recognising the need for change. Associations that rely on the same formula, without taking into account the behaviours and expectations of the next generation, run the risk of losing potential members to the competition.

What do Millennial behaviours and expectations look like?

Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with the Internet as a constant. In the workplace, studies show that their mindset tends to differ to that of the older generations: they want collaborative work cultures, flexible working schedules, and better work-life integration. They speak a different language in the workplace, they’re iconoclastic, and they’re ambitious.

Given these traits - which are not just Millennial-specific, but filtering up into older working generations too - medical associations must keep up, or run the risk of losing their relevance. In everything from day-to-day comms to annual conferences, change is needed to appeal not only to the existing member base, but to this new breed of medical professionals too.

What this means for conferences

The increasing number of Millennials in the global workforce means that conference strategies must be adapted with audiences in mind. A sudden switch to a 100% tech-led, sustainable, paperless environment will alienate your older members. However, making certain changes and offering certain options will demonstrate that your society understands this evolution, keeping existing members happy while proving to younger medical professionals that you understand their wants and needs.

Content and format

While 74% of Millennials say that attending a live event has expanded their perspective more successfully than simply reading about things online, will your traditional format appeal?

While older generations will be happier to sit in a lecture for 50 minutes - after all, this is how conferences have traditionally worked - this may not be the case for Millennials. More interaction, more TED-style talks and more purpose-driven experiences may suit better, but the content and format should be determined by the drivers of their attendance. Are they after information, networking, personal career development opportunities or something else?

With Millennials in mind, we’ve already changed our approach to some of the medical conferences we organise. At one event, the traditional members’ lounge is no more: we’re looking to scrap the “old boys’ club” feel to make the event more open, and more inclusive to first-timers.

Comms

There’s a wealth of medical events and conferences out there - and the junior doctors you’re targeting will no doubt be weighing up a number of options.

They’ll have questions about every event on their radar: Do I need to attend? Can I access the same information through a webinar instead? Could I attend a different type of community event and enjoy the same networking opportunities?

The key is to ensure that your comms - before, during and after the event - demonstrate that medical conferences do still have value. Highlight what they will gain from attending that they won’t get elsewhere, and take a look at your existing language, positioning, communication channels, messaging and tone of voice: are they appropriate for a demographic “driven by authenticity, connection, creativity, trust, convenience and digitalisation”?

Personalisation

Research from American Express shows that Millennials can be more brand-loyal than other age groups - but they expect a greater level of personalisation too. For medical societies, this means ensuring that individuals are treated as individuals, and not as ticket numbers.

Can existing data be used pre-event to tailor communications (while bearing GDPR regulations in mind)? Could a short pre-event questionnaire allow the creation of a tailored agenda? Could an agile programme ensure that they need not attend all three days, but will still get just as much benefit from just one?

Pricing

Millennials have grown up in a world where they expect instant gratification - and as previously mentioned, this may mean that they are unwilling to pay a three-day conference fee when they believe they could take home all they need from a single day. In recent years, Hampton Medical has seen an increase in the popularity of the transferable registration fee: an approach whereby the three day fee is still paid, but in a way that allows a different named person to access the conference on each of the three days.

For the hospital, this approach incurs no additional cost, bar that of transport. It ensures that more people are exposed to the conference’s content. Additionally, it places less of a burden on one person to relay what they have learned back to their team, with the responsibility shared between three people. And, for the societies themselves, it increases the likelihood of Millennial delegates attending at all.

Tech

AI, AR, VR, beacons, apps...technology is becoming more and more prevalent in the events space. While peer-to-peer interaction and networking opportunities remain integral parts of the conference space, the medical conferences we organise also include a great deal of deep science and research, which doesn’t necessarily need to be limited to those attending.

The use of social media to share key stats, as well as the option to livestream conference activity from outside of the venue, can change the whole landscape of a meeting to support the younger generation.

Technology can also play a large part in how Millennials organise their time and interact with speakers while there. The venue map and conference programme can be included within a conference app, making it easier for tech-savvy delegates to access and boosting your sustainability credentials by reducing paper output at the same time. Interactive voting options can also add colour to talks. Delegates could be given the option to create their own customised agenda, or to organise one-to-one networking chats with other attendees.

In all of this, though, don’t forget about the ageing professor who still wants a traditional printed programme and floor plan, and a cloth bag to carry them around in. Whatever your approach to event tech, it should avoid excluding any of your demographic segments. Positioning, here, is key: think along the lines of, “we’ll still give you printed materials if you want them, but we’re encouraging delegates to use tech not only to be sustainable, but to add value to their conference experience.”

You may even find that, as technology becomes more pervasive, offering something tangible for delegates to take away becomes more special. Just be sure that sustainability is a priority: not printing for the sake of printing, but creating something truly of value.

Taking a fresh look at how you run your medical conference may seem like a lot of hard work, but without an approach that appeals to all demographic segments, remaining relevant will be tough. Your society may have a solid one-hundred-year history, but if you want to add a hundred years more, you’ll need to adapt and change.

Want to find out how we can help to keep your medical society relevant? Take a look at our latest case studies.

Rob Roffey
With over 20 years’ experience in the B2B live events sector, Rob has directed a wide range of global event projects and led agency teams across a broad portfolio of sectors including non-profit, association, pharmaceutical, energy, financial services, cosmetics and automotive. Today as Managing Director of Hampton Medical, part of Rapiergroup, Rob plays a key role in supporting clients to maximise the reach and engagement of their event programme, ensuring these are delivered in alignment with the overarching strategy and objectives they support.

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