Attracting a Younger Audience to Scottish Independence Events

I have to ask the general YES movement: does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? It certainly doesn’t reflect those who, after being enthused, voted for Scottish independence in 2014. We therefore should be worried.

It is fantastic to see so many YES groups “getting the band back together”. Last weekend Twitter was full of news and images of YES events across the country. It’s like we are all getting ready for something eh?

Here’s a couple of images:

attracting a younger audience
A typical audience at a YES event?
Another typical audience at a YES event

Notice anything? Well, the first thing that sprang to mind for me was the lack of age diversity. It’s actually really striking. Putting it in terms of a question, “where are the young folk?”

I asked Indy Blogger William Duguid, who was at another YES event over the weekend, what the age range was like there: “Anywhere between 55 and 65, though it wasn’t uniform”

It’s fair to say that although not uniform, it is very common for our indy events to be made up of an older audience.  The images are from a couple of small regional events, however the same pattern is found at the larger ones too.

After the first build conference in 2017, I was asked to do a short post event questionnaire. Watching online I had an inclining that it was an older audience. So I included a question in the responses: “Your age range?”

Number of respondents on the left. Along the bottom the age rage (sample 10% of attendees)

Our audiences are starting to look very similar

I ask again,  does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? No matter the answer, it certainly doesn’t reflect those who voted in 2014.

It’s clear younger voters are not attending any of our events in any significant number (putting it mildly) and I think we should be concerned. Is anyone else worried or bothered about this?

Attracting a younger audience to Scottish independence events

As many more YES groups will be formulating their events over the coming months I hope they take the opportunity to ask how their events can appeal to a younger audience. I am sure everyone agrees that it is absolutely crucial that if we want to win a second referendum campaign, we must engage, excite and energise a younger audience.

Our movement has to be supported by the vigour of youth. Using live experiences (what we are currently calling events) should be one of the most obvious ways to engage a wider audience. Events are viewed by many as the best way to reach the audiences that other means can’t reach.

What millennials want from experiences

Instead of young folk I may as well get with it, and use the word millennial to represent those around 30 year old. There’s a growing amount of research to show that “millennials want experiences more than anything” this is from EventBrite (a ticketing platform) and this is from Forbes magazine “millennials value experiences over other things”, so if we want to attract a younger audience to our events, we have to start to think about creating “experiences” rather than just events.

The Big Sleep Out. 8000 camped out to end Homelessness and rough sleeping. This was no event, this was an experience.

Even as an events professional for over twenty years it is a challenge for me to put this transformation from event to experience into practice, so I know it’s not going to be easy for the army of YES volunteers.

With that in mind I’ve thought about a few simple things (shortcuts to creating experiences) that every YES group can consider as they plan their next event. Here’s how to attract a younger audience to your YES event:

1. Conferences are regarded as boring (and almost ALL of them are)

If your next event is called a “conference” strongly consider changing the name of the event. Nothing is likely to turn off a younger attendee than the belief they are going to attend a boring conference. Perhaps it’s not just the name you can change but the overall format. Have you ever considered running a Pecha-Kucha rapid fire event or a Hackathon or a BarCamp style event? There are a whole host of types of events that can remove you from the “do not attend” list.

2. How the event is perceived before is very important

The name of the event as well as the logo, images you use, and how the event is promoted will go along way to attracting a younger audience. Just taking the time to think about how the event will be perceived by a younger audience is likely to attract them. You may hate the idea of creating a “brand” for your events but this will help it stand out in a sea of time sapping events that young people attend.

3. Set a target for attracting millennials, perhaps 10% – 20% of your next audience

One of the objectives for your events should be to use them to recruit people to the movement. That objective should be widened to attract a specific number of younger attendees. Just having this in mind will help you achieve it.

4. Don’t spend the whole time talking to the audience

Look at your programme. What percentage of it is people speaking to the audience, compared to time spent listening to the audience or having the audience engage with each other? Millennials like to comment and feedback and they like to hear from, and speak to their peers.

Your sessions should have interaction. Speakers should be responding to the audience and tailoring their content according to their responses. Think of your attendees as “participants” rather than an audience. This is a sure fire way to engage a younger audience.

5. You have to mash-up the format

The technical events terms is Meeting Design (here’s a link to a whole host of articles on how to do this from my Gallus Events website) but in short, if you have an event that lasts any longer than a couple of hours, you need a variety of session formats to keep people interested.

6. Remove some things

Don’t have a top table. If you have speakers ask them to join from, and then return to the audience. If you have a chairperson ask them to move around the room or certainly, spend more time on the same level as the attendees. Don’t have trestle tables at any exhibition stands.

The idea underpinning these few suggestions is to make the event less formal and traditional. If you remove these traditional barriers you are likely to foster an environment that encourages much more interaction.

7. Choose your venue wisely

No event attendee really wants to spend time in a cold, drafty church hall. I totally understand that it may well be the cheapest option, but the venue is exceptionally important for all your attendees and younger folk just won’t turn up if you have the wrong venue. Take some time looking for the venue and choose one that will likely support the type of event you are trying to create: an open, informal and engaging experience.

8. Use technology

There are loads of free apps that will help you run a better event. Whether it’s an app that helps you check in the attendees, helps you collect their ideas or makes it easy for them to vote.

As well as making your event easier to run, your audience is used to apps and technology.  Your attendees have a smartphone and you have to take advantage of this bit of equipment.

Oh, and using an overhead projector as one indy event organiser is planning to use doesn’t count as technology:

“This is just a wee heads up to ask ye if you know where I can get a cheap overhead projector I can use for a new pro-INDY group/project” This was a Tweet from last weekend.

I lasted used an OHP at an event in 1998. Most millennials wouldn’t know one if they bumped into it (which given its size is likely to happen)

9. Have some younger speakers 

A younger audience will be interested in seeing speakers that they identify with. This is of course the same for any audience, the speakers should in the most part, reflect the movement while encouraging those who are currently not engaged in that movement to attend.

10. Follow up with attendees after your events

Millennials (and don’t we all) hate thinking that our time was wasted. If your event doesn’t lead to anything then really consider if it is worth running at all? No one likes a talking shop. Events have to lead to action.

An absolute must for any event that wants to bring attendees back is to follow-up and demonstrate what was achieved by or at the meeting. It is a little more work for the organisers but it will be worth it. The added bonus is that every idea, not only engages a younger audience, but will engage all of your attendees.

All of these ideas lead to events which can slowly become more experiential and I would suggest that YES groups focus on no more than two of the ideas at a time. Gradually we can and we must improve our events to attract a younger audience.

Judging by a few hours on Twitter over the weekend we clearly have a long way to go if we are to have events that attract a younger audience. Younger voters did vote for Scottish independence and still want to vote for a better Scotland. We have to show younger voters that we have a dynamic independence movement: one that will listen and adapt.  The future becomes clearer at the events the YES movement run.

If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *