Lesley Williams, market development director, on how to engage the younger generation

Prior to joining BestCities, Lesley was head of Business Tourism for Marketing Edinburgh where her key focus was sourcing and bidding for international conferences for the city. Lesley has served on a number of committees focused on raising the profile of Scotland as a world leading conference destination including involvement in the Annual Business Tourism for Scotland, as deputy chair of Business Tourism for Scotland and also as chair of ICCA UK and Ireland Chapter.
27th Aug, 2019

The theme for BestCities Global Forum 2019 in Copenhagen is ‘the future of meetings’ - what does that mean?

The world is changing at a tremendous rate, so it’s important therefore that associations, and their congresses, maintain their relevancy 20 years from now. A huge factor in this is engaging with the youth – providing them with a platform to engage in key conversations that affect the future.

Many associations are struggling to attract new and younger members, and so are having to adapt the way they do things.  Conferences are priceless opportunities to learn, keep ahead of the innovations in your particular field, be part of them, or even create them.  I am great believer in face to face interactions – a young person may take more advantage of the technology available to communicate and learn – but either way, international meetings and international associations need to evolve to be able to adapt to the different ways of learning and networking that the younger generation demands.

What does the younger generation bring to the global meetings industry?

The youth generation is the future of the global meetings industry. They are pioneers, full of new ideas, innovation – its what’s meetings are all about and without the engagement of the younger generation, there is no movement, innovation will be stifled and slow.  Those not embracing the youth may lag behind.

When aiming to attract younger delegates to a conference the rhetoric tends to be around how it will benefit their careers through the learning they will experience, the opportunities to meet the experts and the value in the networking – which absolutely it does.  However, should we change the focus and talk about engaging the youth so that we, “the experts”, can learn from them?  Demonstrate clearly the “what’s in it for me?” value which many younger delegates already adopt when attending conferences; providing platforms for the youth to have a voice and shape the future of a conference or an association.  Let’s consider their aspirations and enable them to influence how we run events and exchange knowledge.

How does BestCities work with younger generations?

BestCities recently launched our Inspiring Young Leaders (IYL) programme - part of our commitment to legacy and promoting positive impact - this focuses on ensuring international associations can enhance their relevance with today’s young people, as well as allowing them to support and inspire the industry leaders of the future.

The younger generation are spearheading a number of initiatives around sustainability, so we want to amplify that message – IYL aims to support and encourage associations doing just that.  At our Global Forum in Bogotá last year, we gave the floor to an inspiring young man, Neydar Culchac, who created an initiative to transform the lives of 480 families in his community by replacing illegal crops by pepper and cacao through a rural entrepreneur project.

Have you observed any particularly effective examples of engaging youth audiences from an association?

Many associations are able to attract the younger generation to conferences through bursaries, or just the funding of flights and accommodation, which is a great use of funds – as often these are the kind of boundaries for young people that would deter them. If we can get them there, they can learn, present their ideas, help shape the association and shape today’s world.

I’ve observed many great examples of youth engagement in associations, but one that particularly stood out recently is One Young World (OYW) and their association with Sinead Burke, activist and model, young person with dwarfism.  She is an ambassador for One Young World (OYW) and also a TED speaker  - both organisations provided platforms for Sinead to tell her story and enable her to make an impact on the world by speaking on disability issues and business. In fact, she’s currently gracing the cover of Vogue for HRH Duchess of Sussex guest edition, and has almost 100k followers on her socials – making her an ideal candidate to reach a younger audience.

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