As multiple generations come together in the workplace, it’s easy to alienate colleagues and clients by not becoming familiar with their generation and expectations. A millennial can easily confuse a baby boomer by using terms and phrases they are completely unfamiliar with, while a baby boomer can lose respect with millennials by using millennial slang in the wrong context. For all generations to work effectively together, they need to meet in the middle and understand that they do not come from the same environments. Most of the time, merging with other generation is best achieved through a high level of respect, rather than trying too hard to fit in with the other generation.
Here are some tips I’ve found useful in my career when presenting to multiple generations:
Don’t Try To Sound Like Them
This I have seen particularly with the baby boomer generation. They want to fit in with millennials, so they will quickly start using slang that they hear on TV and in the workplace. While this can definitely earn you some points for effort, it can also come across as trying too hard. On top of that, it is easy to use the slang in the wrong context which will lead to a few laughs, but probably take away from the overall message you are trying to present. If you just can’t stay away from the slang, sprinkle it here and there and run your presentation by a millennial before you present to make sure you are using it correctly.
Use Cultural References
The best way to bring in an audience from a different generation is to become familiar with their culture and then use some of their cultural references throughout your presentation. You might say, well, you told us not to use slang just a couple of sentences ago?! True, but the difference is cultural references provide examples of what you are presenting in their generation, while slang is just trying to speak like their generation. Using familiar references from their experiences in life will help them better connect to what you are saying.
This is a tough one for ALL generations, and it mostly happens by accident. Most of the time, presenters are completely unaware that they are coming across condescendingly. Baby boomers tend to speak down to millennials because they feel they have more experience, while millennials will often speak down to baby boomers because they think they know it all (especially when it comes to presentations on technology and social media.) Make sure you practice your presentation and look with a fined tooth comb for any moments where it might sound like you are ‘above’ your audience.
Be Clear Before Hip
Millennials fall victim to this trap most frequently. They want to be cool and hip so they use trendy colors, fonts, and images that look awesome but are completely unreadable. As cool as some colors are, they are just too hard to read on a big screen, especially from the back of the room. Same with fonts. Images are great to have in a presentation, but when you get an entire collage of them on a screen, they all blend into an unrecognizable image. Make sure your point is visually crystal clear on the screen, rather than super hip. It’s most important that people can understand what you are presenting, rather than getting distracted by the glorious hipness of your presentation.
Present To A Member Of The Opposite Generation
The number one thing I do before any presentation I give is present it to my mom. She knows enough about social media by having me as a daughter, but also can raise flags where the audience might not necessarily understand what I am saying. Especially if I am presenting to the baby boomer generation, she can point out where I am using slang they are unfamiliar with and where I am a little too ‘hip’ on some slides so the font is not readable. Someone from the other generation can be a great gut check before you are presenting in front of hundreds of them.
There is a lot to be said by being able to present to a generation that primarily did not grow up in the same period you did. Connecting through various generations enables us to be more effective in our jobs and our personal lives. When we can show we are not just a stodgy member of our own generation, we can open doors to exciting new projects and new understandings of our line of work. Try a few of these tips and see if they work for you!
– Marji J. Sherman