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Talent Development

Online Events And Video: No Longer A Question For Associations

We’ve all been there… miles away from our loved ones feeling tired, stressed, and desperately wishing they were by our side. Not that long ago, voices of a parent, friend or child through the phone were as close as we could get to their touch.

We’ve all been there… miles away from our loved ones feeling tired, stressed, and desperately wishing they were by our side. Not that long ago, voices of a parent, friend or child through the phone were as close as we could get to their touch. Now Apple’s FaceTime, Skype and numerous other platforms have given us a greater sense of connection through the use of video. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I think back to a Thanksgiving holiday where I found myself in a similar long distance predicament.

It was Thanksgiving 2010 and I had been studying abroad in Sydney, Australia for several months. Up until that day I had managed to avoid the homesick bug entirely, but waking up on my favorite holiday 9,235 miles away from my family was an exception. Before I had left for Oz, I made sure that my mom not only had a webcam but also knew how to use it. Being able to Skype my parents that morning helped bridge the thousands of miles and time between us (it wasn’t even Thanksgiving in the US yet) and gave me a sense of comfort. Our Skype session could never have replaced their physical presence, but it was the next best thing. How we use and feel about video in our personal lives can also extend into our educational lives.

The new era of video: edX

The adoption of online video has skyrocketed. 75% of all executives said they watched work-related videos on business websites at least once a week.  Educational institutions are using this trend to reach students far and wide. This past spring, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced the launch of edX. edX is a technological platform designed to offer online versions of courses featuring; “video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories, and student paced learning.”

MIT President Susan Hockfield said, “edX represents a unique opportunity to improve education on our own campuses through online learning, while simultaneously creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide.” Hockfield’s views on edX are similar to mine in regards to the online extensions of events.

The dilemma

Associations are being faced with the dilemma of not only finding ways to extend their great content, but also attracting the incoming Millennial generation. Like Hockfield states about edX, online extensions of association events are an opportunity to improve education and they are creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide. Millennials are familiar with video technology and are starting to expect it as an extension of their events and education.

While some may look at the Millennial generation’s expectation of video and online extensions of events as another argument for our entitlement stereotype, that is not the case. Just as we Skype with our family miles away because the technology is there and adds value to our relationships, associations should stream sessions because the technology is there and adds value to our membership. To be sure there are many associations doing it right. However, it is increasingly evident to my generation (GenY, the Millennials) that most are behind in this important aspect of their business. The fear of cannibalization of face-to-face attendees is hard for many associations to shake. What associations need to keep in mind is that online extensions are not a replacement for attending a live event, but are rather the second best seat in the house.

Millennial perspective

I had the opportunity to discuss edX with two of my friends that attended MIT. Jordan Medeiros, MIT ‘06 said, “I think there are certain aspects of the educational and college experience that cannot be mimicked through online education and are important to the social development of our future generations.” MIT President Hockfield agrees that, “edX is designed to improve, not replace, the campus experience.” I think we can all concur that the online extensions of association events are no substitute for the face-to-face experience; however, similar to embracing video to enrich our personal lives, it is time that video is embraced for continued education.

Tarikh Campbell, MIT ’09 believes that, “EdX is not only a supplement for everyone in college, but now an option for everyone who can’t go to college.” Again the parallels to association conferences abound. Online extensions of sessions from annual conferences allow not only those that attended to reprocess all that they learned, but also gives those unable to attend a chance to learn and grow within their industry.

The solution

It is no longer a question of whether or not associations should embrace the online extensions of events; it is a matter of developing a team and strategy to implement this value-addition to association membership.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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