Connecting with Millennials

Can You See Huntsville Alabama from Outer Space?

Huntsville, Alabama is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Huntsville was the destination for my latest motivational speaking opportunity. It's a small town that has grown up and developed a big reputation. But it badly needs to attract Millennials in order to continue that growth.

Asking Millennials To Invest in Huntsville

The audience of about two thousand twenty-somethings were at Oakwood University. My task was to inspire and motivate them to invest their lives in Huntsville. Huntsville needs the fresh energy and creativity of upcoming graduates.

Millennials Dream of Bigger Places

From a few random conversations, none of them wanted to stay in Huntsville. They all had big dreams. Huntsville seemed podunk. How do you get a young person interested in something that is not on their radar? They could not see Huntsville. They had set their sights for outer space.

What do you say to a Google generation that has the entire world of information at their fingertips? How can you inspire people who have seen humans walk on the moon and made plans for trips to Mars? They know that scientists can clone sheep. They see doctors perform thousands of organ transplants. It's difficult for them to see Huntsville as equal on that level.

Here are a few suggestions to help inspire the graduating class of 2020:

Don’t talk down or sell Millennials short.

Don’t try to con them, or use the old bait and switch. This generation is savvy. Gimmicks are unlikely to snooker them. They may buy into something they like or think is cool, but they will never get ‘sold’ something they don’t want or need. Advertiser have pushed sophisticated advertising into their eyes and ears their entire lives. They have advertising blindness.

Madison Avenue spends millions of dollars trying to get a video to go viral on YouTube. Yet, they can’t figure out why a clip of a cat riding on the back of a turtle gets one million views and they can’t get squat. It's not that Millennials are fickle consumers. They know what they want, and they go get it -- even if it makes no sense to older generations. It makes sense to them.

Altruistic Sacrifice

As I spoke in Huntsville, the theme that I wove into my story was one of altruistic sacrifice. Pointing out the great satisfaction of investing in their own hometown. How worthy it was to suspend some of their own dreams to help others achieve some of their own.

Truth through a good story

Facts are not as important as feelings. If you are trying to convince a Millennial, illustrate your message with a gripping story. For example, tell how your mother selling peaches from the backyard -- for a nickel each -- bought your first pair of shoes. Compelling stories carry more weight than numbers, charts and graphs.

My wife and I recently talked to a talented fashion designer. We explained the importance of customer service to her fledgling business. Reams of statistics and customer surveys did not affect her. What did impact her was client criticism. One shared that while she was "a talented young woman," she "doesn’t return my emails." This was a concrete example of a client who wanted to work with her, but due to her poor customer service, wouldn't.

Showing genuine concern for Millennials

Most of us have heard the ancient aphorism, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The Millennial generation has an uncanny ability to detect phony sympathy. They are fast to spot a fake.

Spotting a fake

They've grown up watching people on television and film pretend to be something they are not. So, they have a knack for unmasking pretenders. You must be honest, transparent and sincere with them. Otherwise, you might have to work with a different generation.

Being in the corner of Millennials

The conversations I have with young adults are successful for one reason. I long to see them succeed. I want to care about what they care about. I try to see things from their perspective.

Many of the issues we discuss illustrate the great divide in those things that we disagree upon. But I can't expect them embrace my ideas without first offering to listen to theirs. I must listen and understand why they believe what they do. Then, they will be more open to listening to my perspective.

Knowing where to look

You can see Huntsville, Alabama from outer space. But only at night -- when the lights are on. They shine bright in the darkness. Atlanta is the brightest in the southeast. The first bright city to the west of Atlanta, is Birmingham. Due North of Birmingham, is Nashville. It makes a triangle. Halfway between Birmingham and Nashville is Huntsville. It is there, but you have to look for it. The opportunity to connect with Millennials is there too, if you know where to look.

Find out more about Joe Castillo and SandStory

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