What the next generation of event goers wants

Vincent Polito (pictured below), CEO Society of Independent Show Organisers (SISO), offers some lessons from the recent SISO leadership conference.

Vincent PolitoAt this summer’s SISO Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City, the theme of the conference was ‘Evolving Customer Expectations’, a programme expertly crafted by Liz Irving (president, Clarion North America). The programme opened with a keynote from Kimberly Hardcastle (president, mdg) and Ken Holsinger (SVP, Freeman Strategy Practice). The intent of opening with the trends report was to help set a tone for this year’s theme. 

A couple of the topics that I found most interesting and valuable for all of us to consider will be discussed here. 

It is probably not surprising given the number of individuals 50+ that have left the workforce, but the average age of event goers to B2B events has dropped from 51 to 45, the largest drop Ken Holsinger has ever seen since this metric has been measured. These Next Generation Event Goers (NGEGs) will look at events differently. So, what does this mean for organisers and how should we react?

  • I believe this should always be the case, but discard your conference template/show schedule NOW. This is the perfect reason to rebuild how you approach the event experience. Avoid overprogramming!
  • Dedicate one day to call three types of attendees – loyalists, first timers and non attending prospects. A novel approach, but ask them what they value.  You can involve exhibitors if you’d like and garner names of highest valued prospects from them. Don’t make this a month-long project – take a day, involve the whole show team.
  • Items focused on well-being, and this means more than a sunrise fun run, need to have a place in the event experiences, as do items focusing on corporate social responsibility.  Both objectives can be accomplished inexpensively.


Some of our larger organisers have been taking an active approach to issues like sustainability and I do believe, this time, this is not a passing trend but it here to stay. I would encourage you to both understand and begin to take measured steps in this area. A future column will address this area in greater detail.

With homage to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the top three ‘most trusted’ sources among the survey respondents were:

  • In-person events
  • Professional trade organisations
  • Academic institutions


This represents an opportunity for organisers. While information is available in a variety of delivery methods, organisers should build off this ‘trust’. The categories that scored at the bottom included social media/influencers and government/political leaders.

The most concerning item that I heard at the SISO Leadership Conference keynote was a clear and increasing gap between objectives and satisfaction of exhibitors at events. There are many ways to explain this away, but I’d consider those excuses. In much the same way, I advocate disposing of templates, above, I’d do the same with sponsorship offerings. Where possible, sponsorship and even simply exhibiting needs a more curated touch even at entry level pricing. When offerings can more clearly address objectives, I believe satisfaction levels will increase.