March 2017 | By Hala Bissada, CFRE

By 2020, millennials will make up more than 50% of the workforce. They will be the decision makers in their respective organizations and effectively shape the economic future. The shift in philosophies between generations will significantly impact our event industry in ways we never considered. If you have an annual event, such as a non-profit gala and haven’t already developed an event to attract the growing number of millennial philanthropists, it is time to start thinking about it.

Hala Inc - Planet Boobyball 2015

Boobyball guests take Planet Booby theme to heart at the Paradise City themed Booby Ball 2016

So who are they? The millennial generation also referred to as Generation Y or the Echo Boom are those born during the 1980s and 1990s; in 2016, that would make them age 16 to 35, with the older ones born to Baby Boomer parents. Today, in Canada, Millennials number approximately 9.6 million.

One of the most important characteristics is that they are the first native digital generation. They are socially engaged, brand driven and never without their mobile phone. Most of them, having been brought up in the digital age, have certain expectations and preferred ways of consuming content. They will certainly be very vocal about whether they’ve had a good or negative experience – usually through social media.

When planning an event catering to millennials there are important factors to consider. In general, Millennials are sincere and spontaneous. They have expressive personalities and the average millennial brands themselves cool and adventurous. They are constantly on the look-out for unique, one-of-a-kind, meaningful experiences.

Millennials like to be hands-on and involved in shaping their experience. To get the ball rolling in terms of planning your event and get a buy-in from the group you are trying to attract, recruit a committee of 15-20 energetic and committed young professionals, who will provide input in shaping the party, but also be your ambassadors in promoting and selling the event.

Since FOMO (fear of missing out) is central to their culture, you need to be creative in designing your guest experience. It needs to be trendy, youthful and unique.

Location is critical. Always opt for unexpected venues for the event or plan on transforming a venue space into something that is surprising and fun. SickKids Foundation holds their annual Scrubs in the City, at the Evergreen Brick Works and does a spectacular job transforming this raw space (a revitalized brick making factory) to match their theme. Every year they transport their guests to a new destination—last year’s was London.

This is a visual generation unlike any other. Event creative and collateral should be clever and unique. Check out the web-sites for SickKids Foundation’s Scrubs in the City, Toronto Public Library Foundation’s Hush Hush and Rethink Breast Cancer’s Boobyball.

Hala Inc - Scrubs in the City 2016

Scrubs in the City 2016’s London Flag inspired decor
Photo Credit: George Pimentel

Millennials love sensory overload. Below, I describe some “must haves” you should incorporate into your event to make it stand out and create FOMO amongst Generation Y.

Millennials love interactive, “Instagramable” moments, so it is important to weave in cool photo zones throughout the venue to wow guests and provide plenty of opportunities to share through social media. For example, to promote their Take 5 Bar, Hershey’s had five artists create five different murals inspired by five different musical acts at the Governor’s Ball Musical Festival. This gave attendees a lot of different opportunities to take photos.

Millennials are way more laid back than any other generation and they tend to love a more relaxed event format. Lounge areas, with activities and activations set up throughout the space keeps them entertained and engaged. To maximize revenue, in addition to selling sponsorships and general ticket sales, sell VIP booths at a higher price point with bottle and food service.

Hala Events - Event Planning for Millenials

Left: Spice Girls tribute group spiced up Scrubs in the City 2016 – Photo Credit: George Pimentel
Right: Guests dove into a sea of pink balls for their photo opps at the Paradise City themed Booby Ball 2016

Hush Hush 2016

Guests posed for photos using superhero props at
the Heroes & Villains themed Hush Hush 2016

Hala Events - Event Planning for Millenials

One of five Hershey’s
Take 5 Bar photo installations created by 5 artists, inspired by 5 musical acts for the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in NYC

Make sure your venue has bandwidth to satisfy WiFi demand and offer your attendees charging stations, so that they don’t have low battery anxiety. You can also turn the charging station into a charging lounge where you can incorporate a bar, photo opp and other activities to make it a destination spot at your event. The Lounge could also be branded and turned into a sponsorship opportunity.

Millennials love swag. Encourage social media, by offering an incentive for your guests to tweet. For example, offer gifts to attendees if they tweet using your event hashtag. Vending machines where you can tweet for a treat are very popular.

Coordinate amusing and interesting activities into your event. Millennials love to play games. Life size pool tables, Jenga, Scramble and mini golf are always popular.

Invite retailers to set-up pop-up stores for guests to browse their latest products and merchandise. Turn this into a revenue stream with vendor fees and a percentage of sales go back to the charity. For example feature Nike’s leading edge designs and vibrant colours with a giant shoe pop-up store where guests can connect and explore the new Nike SNKRS app to make their own, custom-made kicks.

Incorporate live entertainment into your event like well-known bands, or schedule pop-up performances through-out the evening like magicians, break-dancers or something very custom to your theme. Ensure you also have a top notch DJ.

Fun food and beverage activations are also important to this group. Incorporate mixologists into your event, serve craft beers, bring in Food Trucks. Keep food coming throughout the evening.

Generate sponsorship revenue by developing unique and custom opportunities & activations for sponsors to showcase their product and service, while at the same time adding a fun element to your guest experience. At Rethink Breast Cancer they brought in Vitamin Water who built a life size Lite Brite Board. Google Play has a fun activation where guests can plug in a set of headphones into a wall with various headphone jacks to listen to different songs from Google Play Music playlists.

Since millennials are more inclined to support multiple charities in smaller amounts you should price your event tickets appropriately, somewhere between $150 and $350 for VIP experiences.

Given Millennials are without a doubt technology savvy, if you are not using the latest software and equipment – from using check-in and auction software and event apps, to creating immersive environments with projection mapping and lighting, then you are not current. Attendees (especially Millennials) will find your guest experience behind the times and worse, they will talk about it on social media about it. Below I have described some technologies you may want to consider using at your event.

Check in software uses a professional, digital guest list manager to help event managers with a quick and easy check-in and registration solution for any event.

The guest list app eliminates the need for paper guest lists and raises the bar for a modern and professional appearance for your guests right from the moment they arrive.

Auction management software such as Givergy offers a platform with tools to facilitate the execution of silent auctions and maximizes funds raised in your on-site fundraising programs. This silent auction technology makes it fun and simple for your guests and modernizes your auction by removing the dated “pen and paper” system and replacing it with a digital auction with a catalogue that can be browsed and bid on via provided tablets or personal smartphones.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is wireless, non-contact use of radio frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data between personalized tags and receivers. At an event, guests can be given personalized RFID-enabled wristbands, tickets, etc. that store their information (e.g. name, contact information, credit card information, etc.) and RFID digital receivers can be set up at different touch points (e.g. entrances to VIP areas) or with different vendors on-site to activate social media.

Hala Events - Planning Events for Millenials

The party scene at the Power plant’s Appetite for Excess themed Power Ball 2015 Benefitting the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
Photo credit: Jennifer Rubell

Drones are unmanned aircrafts or flying robots that have recently become commercially affordable and therefore increasingly available to consumers. They can be remote controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans and with the aid of sensors and GPS.

Drones can be brought in to collect aerial footage of the event to capture a unique and unexpected perspective of the scene. Footage can be edited on-site and a short cut can be screened at dinner or a more complete video can be produced and used later in a highlight video.

Event apps are becoming more and more commonplace in the event space. Apps can be downloaded by guests to their smartphones in advance of your event and can provide them with valuable information about the event and what to expect in place of a traditional printed program or guide. Incorporate venue or site maps, highlight special activations and activities, include your event schedule, gamificiation and more with a custom-designed app that can also include communications tools such as social media tie-ins and messaging functionality.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR places the user inside an experience. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds. For example, Samsung is planning on creating a Samsung Galaxy Lounge at the Lollapalooza music festival where they will offer attendees exclusive pop-up performances, meet and greets and surprise appearances.

Literally the ideas for activities, activations, and the use of technology are endless. Harness your committee’s creativity to shape your unique guest experience.

Keep in mind that planning an event for this group will be an organic way to begin to foster long lasting relationships with these future business leaders. And they are so much fun to plan!

Hala Events - Planning Events for Millenials

Guests taking a photo memento at the 2016 Memory Ball gala benefiting Alzheimer Society of Toronto

This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Canadian Special Events Magazine.

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