Engaging Gen Z

Blog Thought leadership
girl with headphones on at an event engaged in an activity
As I sit to write this blog, I consider how qualified I am to comment on the topic of engaging Generation Z. I have prepared a list… 
  • Parent of a child in his second year of university
  • Parent of a child about to start her A‑level exams, dreaming of uni… or a gap year in Australia… or a gap year staying put… or an apprenticeship… or working with her mum and dad (… a flat no!) 
  • I am also an employer, and co-worker of an apprentice, straight from school and two graduate apprentices 

So, it does feel that I am professionally, and personally surrounded by the generation I still long to be. Background and context aside this is not however the topic of this blog, although it does shape many of my thoughts around generational integration. 

ChatGPT tells me: 

  1. Use social media and influencers: Gen Z is heavily influenced by social media and follows influencers they admire. 
  2. Be interactive and experiential: Gen Z values experiences and wants to be actively involved in the events they attend. Interactivity, such as Q&A sessions, polls, and games, to keep them engaged and interested. 
  3. Provide opportunities for networking and connection: Gen Z values community and connection. Create opportunities to network and connect with each other and with industry leaders.
  4. Use digital tools to enhance experiences: Gen Z is tech-savvy and comfortable with digital tools. Consider incorporating digital tools, such as virtual and augmented reality, to make experiences more engaging and memorable.
  5. Provide ongoing learning and development opportunities: Gen Z is passionate about continuous learning and development. Offer ongoing training and development opportunities, such as e‑learning courses and mentorship programs, to keep them stimulated and help them achieve their goals.

So, that’s it. Job done. Nothing else to write, let’s all go and grab a gin and tonic. 

Well, in my experience, it’s not quite as easy as that. 

People are complex and algorithms are easily corruptible (as my Spotify regularly and frustratingly proves). Yes, for a generation that barely remembers a world before smartphones, tablets and instant access, interactivity is of course key. But an app does not make for a great event if the content and experiences have not been considered. This can take multiple forms and certainly does not need to be driven by tech! On the contrary, a focus on the ability for participants to perform learning activities can delivery greater ROI than constructing something that requires digital connectivity. At a recent future graduates’ insights day, wipe-boards and Post-It notes were out in force during a completely interactive session, with participant feedback high. 

I was told this week Gone are the days where you can have a table of drinks and 200 people and call it end of conference’ networking” and I completely agree. This model of networking feels very outdated and would not keep the younger generation hanging around. Rather than programming a corporate event finish with networking drinks” consider the final networking as another opportunity to learn and absorb content. For example, at a graduate induction event we deliver annually, this time is used to invite representatives from many of the business’ working groups, such as DE&I, sustainability and Pride among others to join and mingle with attendees. During a leadership off-site we delivered recently, a participant led interactive activity was planned for the end of the event, that could be undertaken while also mingling and absorbing the content from the day. 

The Gen Z members of our business are also very concerned about the environment and value initiatives such as the new push towards ethical retailing. They are some of the most engaged members of our Sustainability working group and keen to upskill via our membership with Isla, (changemakers within events and their impact on the environment). Reporting on the impact of your event and how your organisation is working towards their sustainability goals is likely to be important to your Gen Z workforce. 

I am passionate we think about crafting new experiences rather than recreating something from the past and having worked on graduate induction programmes for the last eight years (for multiple global corporates) it’s easy to see how trends and activity have evolved. Many of the current graduate intake studied remotely and, as such, learning online might be more natural to them and face-to-face interaction daunting. As more and more graduate programmes move back to being in person in 2023 it’s worth considering the programme structure and maybe not dusting off 2019’s agenda. Include short sharp sessions, interactive, participant led working groups, alternating joint-experience focussed networking, social channel pre and post comms and demonstrate an understanding that, wherever based in the world for the last three years, their experiences at 21 might have been vastly different to someone who is now approaching their 30’s.

To demonstrate this point, I separately asked three Broadsword Gen Z’ers who span this generation: 

If you were attending an event, any event what would be the two main takeaways that you would hope to get from attending? And what would stop you from leaving before the end?”

I received interesting, and mixed responses. At the upper age range of the generational bracket the response was focussed on the space, and atmosphere:

I would hope for a memorable experience that was special to me: either a great time with my friends or something that was thought provoking or helped me in some kind of way. What would stop me from leaving is… an aesthetic vibe where there was good music, an activity of some kind and a space to talk to people (that isn’t super loud)”

Whereas, in the middle of the age range bracket there was very much more of a sense of using the event to upskill and about valuing time:

“ I would want the event benefit me in some way (I’ve heard, learnt, received something valuable whether that’s a perspective, facts, gifts, something new to cause me to want to go home and tell my friends/​family about it) and that the event was worth attending (my time, money if that is a factor etc) Really engaging content, feeling like I would miss out if I didn’t stay, would stop me leaving before the end”

Finally at the lower end of the age range bracket, the requirements are very different, and maybe closer to what we should all expect in the future. For our pre-twenty audience members, it’s all about building connections and growing experiences:

I always like to network and make a friend at an event which is a great takeaway for me, it’s always good to have a space for networking, some QR codes for everyone’s LinkedIn, or an activity or challenge to meet people. It’s great if there is something to make me want to go and actually leave the house as well as stay for longer- prizes or gifts, an activity or workshop, food or a nice venue. Sometimes if there isn’t a set space for food or networking after the main speaker it feels like you shouldn’t stay.”

So, what are my takeaways from this, and how does life differ from AI? Well there are some subtle differences. In real life maybe we don’t need to attract an influencer to encourage attendance and consider if we actually need our event to trend on Twitter’ anymore. There is less of a need to focus on tech and rather create something interactive and experiential, providing ongoing learning and development opportunities and, most of all allowing for time to connect. 

So in summary, our Gen Z straw poll prefer to make more conscious lifestyle choices, value human connection and interaction and are really not that fussed about the tableful of dodgy wine.