The 160 characters speech. How to get the attention of Generation Y.

Web 2.0

I presented a KM tool this year twice for two different groups in the same company. Once in January and once in June. In January the audience was aged around 30 and over with at least some years of work experience. In June I had people around 20 or slightly over, I assume most of them new joiners.

The presentation was highly interactive, practice-based, with no PowerPoint but… what a difference between the two groups! The first one showed an interest in all aspects of the tool, asked relevant questions to clarify how they can use it best for their own projects and you could see the thrill when they found something new. The second group did not ask many questions and when they did there was more a superficial clarification of functionalities. Moreover, even if it was a new tool for them and highly applicable for their daily job, the thrill of discovery was just not there…

This made me thinking about the new generation. How do you get their attention and what would be a better way to train these people?

Working environment

Raised in an educational culture of working in teams and being highly socially connected through computers, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, social networking, blogs, multi-player gaming, etc., the new generation is extremely social-centric. They are building relationships virtually and they are bringing a culture of constantly working together into the workplace – wherever that is. They make sure their friends remain “in the know” by sharing information such as articles, job opportunities or YouTube videos. It is a continual habit – not daily, but hourly.


Statistically, generation Y (and Z) will be the most educated generation ever. According to the “UNESCO Global Education Digest 2010” the number of secondary education students rose from 195 million in 1970 to 526 million in 2008, meanwhile, the number of tertiary students increased by six times over the same period, from 32 million to 159 million students in 2008.

Is this relevant? How much do this change the interest they will show in doing their job at the highest standards? Does this mean they will be ready for a life-long learning environment? In some cases it may be so but I’m not convinced about the majority. Education nowadays is a “must have” because you cannot find a proper job otherwise but I see way too much superficial behaviour here. You can do a paper work a lot faster by web searching today than you could have done it 5 or 6 years ago (needless to say 15 years ago) but you don’t pay much time analysing the information and its sources. Issues such as credibility of sources have melt down into wiki and blog posts. In this way you may have time to chat or post a joke on Facebook but this will not make you a better performer at your work place.


When it comes to learning IBM has found different age groups respond best to different methods of training and professional development. Baby Boomers prefer the traditional structure of a classroom and teacher. Generation X typically opts for online courses that are self-paced, while Generation Y benefits more from social-based learning approaches.

I do agree with IBM’s results. The new generation needs an informal learning environment and messages have to be short and action based. It’s the culture. You need to communicate to them with some of the techniques used in advertising. You have to advertise your new tool the same way you would do with a new tooth paste. Otherwise, they will not be interested in using it. It just won’t create the buzz!

Thinking about all these I reached the conclusion that the best presentation for the new generation is a 160 characters speech. Maybe, just maybe, this “twitter-like” message would have a chance.

And just wait for Generation Z…


14 thoughts on “The 160 characters speech. How to get the attention of Generation Y.”

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