Presenting to a Multi-Generational Audience

These can be challenging times for speakers and corporate trainers. The children of Baby Boomers are beginning to flood into the workforce and for the first time ever organizations are faced with the need to manage four different generations in the office. Those generations – Matures, Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials (also called Generation Y) – each poses a different challenge for those charged with informing and educating them. They’re an extremely diverse audience that can stymie even the most experienced and dynamic speaker.

The Mature or Silent generation, born before 1945, displays a loyalty to the company that places duty before pleasure. These are the folks who survived the great depression and fought in World War II. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are known as workaholics with a love-hate relationship to authority. They have been known for being both idealistic and optimistic, but somewhat impatient at times.

Gen Xers — the MTV generation — came into the world between 1965 and 1979. They often demonstrate independence and results orientation, but they are also known for their skepticism. Generation Y – the Millennials — was born between 1980 and 1999. They grew up in a time of economic expansion and unprecedented prosperity; until recently they have never experienced a downturn. This generation has seen more at an earlier age than most members of previous generations, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings and the tragedy of September 11. Exposure to these events through 24-hour media has brought the world to them instantaneously. This is a techno-savvy generation for whom multi-tasking is second nature.

Obviously, speaking to a multi-generational audience can be challenging. How can you meet the unique needs of each audience member while keeping everyone “on the same page?” Many speakers resort to visuals – handouts, videos and PowerPoint slides – to make their presentations livelier and hold audience interest. That seems logical, given that each generation has experienced an explosion of more new, sophisticated media than the generation before. The fatal flaw in this approach, however, is that adding traditional visuals to your presentation may turn off, rather than inspire, your audience.

A more effective approach would be to follow the Five Rules of Engagement….The Multi-Generational kind.

1. Get over yourself. Leave your ego at the door and remember it’s a privilege to speak.
2. Keep it short – Present content concisely. Your audience members are used to receiving information in sound bites and capsule summaries.
3. Create an “experience”. Touch as many senses as you can, never forgetting the power of music and visuals.
4. Tell stories. Remember that you are not always the main character and no age group should ever be stereotyped in your presentation.
5. Switch it up. Try new things and novel approaches. Same-old, same-old becomes staged and insincere.
These rules speak to the presenter’s need to go beyond bullet points and avoid information overload. They encourage speakers to win the ‘hearts,’ as well as the ‘minds’ of their audiences. These tips are less about style than they are about content … more about capturing the audience’s imaginations than just filling their ears.

In addition to the Rules of Engagement you may also want to consider these strategies to keep every audience member involved, no matter what generation they’re from:

o Focus on “take home” value – This is more a function of these demanding times than of generational differences, but members of all four generations appreciate it when you get to the point and make it practical.
o Employ multiple technologies – Extensive PowerPoint presentations are so “yesterday.” Today’s audiences (especially Generations X and Y) will expect you to refer them to websites for more information and practical tools they can put to use. This will not only hold their attention … it will merit their enthusiasm.
o Solicit feedback through technology – Post-presentation feedback forms may suffice for Matures and Boomers, but Gen Xers and Millennials will prefer to blog, chat, text and tweet in response to your presentation. Set up the technology as necessary and encourage them to give you feedback as they desire. It’ll keep them engaged and may well yield more valuable feedback for you.

One thing is clear … today’s speakers face multi-generational audiences that challenge their skills and effectiveness. However, by delivering a fresh topic with passion and incorporating some multi-generational strategies into your presentation, you can ensure that your audience is fully “tuned-in” and that you’re achieving your goals.