Eight Effective Elements for Engaging a Multigenerational Audience

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Paul Anovick and Theresa Merrill

Younger generations—the Gen X’ers and Millennials—comprise half of the U.S. workforce. The other half consists of 45% Baby Boomers and 5% Traditionalists, many of whom are charged with motivating these younger employees. What happens when generations don’t share the same values and beliefs about workplace success? The barriers to effective communication are many. Speaking to a multigenerational audience is challenging for even the most experienced presenter. How do you connect and engage such a diverse audience? Who are they and what is important to them?

Generational Differences
Each generation shares a common set of formative events and trends, headlines and heroes, music and mood, parenting style and education system. These experiences forge a perspective through which an individual views the world. As they grow older they adjust their behaviors and build upon their skill set but generally do not radically alter the way they think things should be.

In order to communicate effectively with a multigenerational audience we need to understand each group:

Traditionalists: Born prior to 1945, traditionalists or veterans tend to be more formal in their workplace interactions. They’re motivated by how their actions connect to the overall good of the team or organization. Qualities of loyalty and perseverance are strengths. Traditionalists seek out the rules, uphold authority, and respect the chain of command. They prefer to learn privately and value direct feedback.

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are the first generation raised with TV, rock and roll, and a sense of entitlement. They’re well-educated, lifelong learners who are motivated by leaders who get them involved and show them how they can make a difference. They appreciate hearing “we need you.” Remember, this is the generation that grew up being graded on “works well with others.”

Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1979, these were the “latch-key” kids who grew up with the oil crisis, stock market decline, Challenger disaster, and John Lennon’s assassination. The message that motivates is “Do it your way.” Gen X’ers are adaptable, need options, and may appear to be somewhat unorthodox in their methods to get the job done. They tend to focus on results and will seek the most efficient manner to accomplish a goal.

Gen Y/Millennials: Born between1980 and 2000, the Gen Y/Millennials grew up with technology, multitasking, and overly protective parents. These are the “trophy kids” who were rewarded for participation, not necessarily achievement. They are optimists who are motivated when managers connect their actions to personal and career goals. Because of their technological savvy, they tend to prefer flexible work schedules; they value autonomy.

Putting Them in a Room Together
Now we put all four generations in a room for a training session and you’re the facilitator. How do you successfully engage the group? Let’s start by acknowledging you can connect on several commonalities. My experience has shown me that there are many things that individuals of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds respond to and appreciate. Smart presentation skills cross generational boundaries:

  1. Meet and greet. Arrive early and greet as many individuals coming into the room, as possible. What impacts all generations is human contact. Greet each individual with a smile and handshake and introduce yourself. In saying your name, usually 95% of people will respond with theirs. This initial contact is key to engaging the audience and letting them know how critical they are to the success of the session. This also will enable you to assess the makeup of the group and adapt your style. Be aware that multigenerationals possess different personality types, too. During the presentation try to incorporate these individuals into your comments, “When I met Bob earlier we discussed…” it gains acceptance and forges a personal connection with your audience.
  2. Move around the room. Depending upon the size of the group, it is always ideal to walk down off the stage and right into the audience. Utilize a cordless mike and move up and down the aisles. You can still reference any multimedia you are using on the stage. Now is the time to put to use those introductions you made previously. If you are working with a small enough group, design the room in a u-shaped layout and work the inside of the u. Energy and enthusiasm are contagious—with any generation.
  3. Use stories to make your points. A good story transcends all generations, as does humor. Steer clear of stereotypes and generational myths. Use stories from your own experiences that have universal appeal—graduating college, landing your first job, starting a family. Make them laugh. Find humor in the everyday occurrences of life—think Seinfeld. Years later, people will remember stories and therefore the message. Done right, there is no better means of effective communication.
  4. Divide and conquer. In working with groups, four hours is the maximum length for any training. Within that time you need to schedule breakouts or elements of engagement every 30 to 40 minutes. Here’s your opportunity to co-mingle the generations by forming small groups of 5 to 7 participants. Millennials who would hesitate to speak out in the larger format will now share their thoughts. Have each group present back their findings to the larger group; Baby Boomers will volunteer for this. This is a powerful engagement technique that affords everyone to participate in a manner they are most comfortable with.
  5. Don’t fight, unite. It is a given that all generations will have entered the room with a Smartphone, laptop, or tablet. So make this a part of your presentation. Use an iPad to demonstrate a point, Twitter your remarks, and have them “like” a link you recommend. Direct them to a website. While you face losing some of their attention, the upside gain is you’ll engage them and reinforce your message.
  6. Keep it short. Everyone appreciates a speaker who values their time and delivers a clear, concise message. So get to the point. We are used to sound bites and tweets, so adapt your presentation to fit our limited attention spans. This doesn’t mean your entire presentation must be brief, but rather think of speaking in bullet points. Summarize often, and remember frequency works.
  7. Think “take-away” value. Visualize audience members with a bubble over their heads with the words “what’s in it for me” inside. This image will keep you focused on delivering skills, tips and practical tools that can be employed immediately. So send them to a website for blogging, email marketing, or whatever is relevant to their business and have them utilize it right away.
  8. Ask for feedback. Make your presentation interactive and engaging. Give them your Twitter handle and encourage them to use it then and there. Have a colleague track these for you. For the Traditionalists and Boomers, now is the time to ask questions—“Are you meeting their expectations?” Be flexible in your presentation to adjust and adapt to what the audience is responding too. A good presenter is like a boxer—light on their feet, bobbing and weaving. I’m always fully prepared, but my script flexes with each group as their input determines the direction.

Employ these strategies and you will successfully engage any diverse mix of individuals. You don’t have to be all things to all groups, but by being technologically savvy, attuned to your audience, passionate and prepared with your message you will be effective and heard by all.

About the Author(s)

Paul Anovick and Theresa Merrill are with Anovick Associates, LLC. He is president and has over 35 years of business management experience in Sales and Operations and was directly involved with start-ups and turnarounds. As an entrepreneur, Anovick launched three successful companies in the past 20 years. Merrill is vice president of business development and has more than 20 years in sales and marketing positions in New York, Boston, and Atlanta. She has been aligned with firms such as, Katz Communications, CBS Radio, Tribune, and Cablevision.