Ignite 4H Summit 2024

Ignite by 4-H Summit: Ideas and Inspiration from a Conference Built for Teens

What can event marketers expect from the next generation of event attendee? Look no further than the National 4-H Council’s Ignite Summit, a teen-centered event for 1,200 high schoolers and adult educators, which significantly reduced its number of “structured” breakout sessions on offer between the inaugural event in 2023 and this year’s event. That decision paid off. Held March 13-17, at The Westin Washington in Washington, D.C., the event grew 30 percent year-over-year.

“The first year had fewer hands-on workshops, and that was one of the insights we put in our call for workshops from the educators this year, that we’re not looking for you to lecture a group of teens. They will be bored, and they won’t be impressed with that,” says Sadaf Baig, vp-events and youth experiences at 4-H, a youth development arm of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System and USDA, which works with state educators across the country to help youth discover career and personal development opportunities. “We found that coming out of year one, the activations that we did were well attended and well received.”

zeiss-miami-salsa-dancersMore Conference Insights:

Indeed, Gen Z’s learning preferences might become your prerogative sooner than later. A report on attendee behavior and intent by Freeman released last quarter points to changes in learning style preferences by a cross section of event attendees. Among insights from the survey, 75 percent of respondents said they prefer educational formats that are “demos or hands-on activities,” representing a 3-percent increase from last year, while the percentage of respondents who prefer traditional classroom-style sessions decreased by 12 percent.

For ideas and best practices around transforming content into hands-on experiences, we explore three key pieces to the Ignite by 4-H program that scored well among the teen attendees and adult educators alike.


Relatable Speakers

Move aside mainstream celebrities. Speakers at Ignite were young, curious and inventive. They included Gitanjali Rao, a young inventor, author and TIME Magazine’s First “Kid of the Year”; Daniel Mac, a prolific content creator with more than 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook; Emily Calandrelli, host of Netflix show “Emily’s Wonder Lab”; Dan Venteicher, content creator on the @IowaDairyFarmer channel; and Maya-Camille Broussard, Netflix’s “Bake Squad” star and owner of Justice of the Pies.

“Looking at the survey results from year one, the teens said they wanted to see younger people on stage. And so that was our goal,” says Baig. “They want to know how they can relate.”


Hands-on Content

Educators led hands-on challenges and activities that made learning tactile and interactive.

4-H this year leveraged a media partnership with TIME for Kids, which created a skills explorer quiz that churned out each participant’s top three skills and what careers align with them. The activation also offered resume-building and personal elevator pitch workshops, sessions on mentorship, and showcased alternative pathways beyond the four-year college experience.

Over in a soundproof YouTube Shorts Hub, teens could create shorts based on “prompts” from each focus area of Ignite—STEM, Agriscience and Healthy Living. That content now also lives on 4-H’s YouTube channel. “Teens today are creators; they’re looking for fun and different ways to share and engage in content,” Baig says.

An immersive area offered photo ops and more than 70 hands-on workshops led by Cooperative Extension educators and partners. Activations included Power Playdough, which had teens working with plant-based dyes and conductive materials; Ecoquest, through which they navigated tabletop challenges, representing a stage in the food or product lifecycle; and Soil Savers, which had the teens creating seed bombs and learning about the importance of regenerative growth.

In addition, each core program pillar featured its own “challenge activity” that teens worked together on. For example, in the STEM track, the teens worked with speaker Emily Calandrelli on a Mars Rover-themed challenge, in the Agriscience track, they worked with Dan Venteicher on a challenge around cheese making; and for Healthy Living, they worked with Maya-Camille Broussard in a salsa-making experience.


A Range of Networking

More than 70 percent of Ignite’s attendees are teens from high schools around the country.

Despite growing up in a digital world, 4-H’s teen attendees said in surveys that one of their main goals at the event was to make in-person connections. Among opportunities this year: a Career Connection breakfast featuring more than 75 industry leaders, where teens and leaders were broken into tables based on their interests and the skills of the industry leader. The teens were able to speak with each of these leaders for an hour before breaking into different workshops.

There were also 22 off-site excursions from which to choose, ranging from trips to museums to local farms, as well as a “Pin Trade” and a celebration event featuring DJ Lela Brown, a prodigy and former teen Radio Disney show host.

Interestingly, among core insights the 4-H team leaned on was the fact that 95 percent of U.S. teens say “having free time” is a personal priority (Statista Research 2022). And yet, the teens at Ignite Summit embraced a busy, but choice-based agenda over four days. And in-person attendance keeps on growing.

“Last year, we were surprised at how diverse the audience was, and this year, it was even more. And that’s really exciting because it means that we are creating an opportunity for all teens, no matter what background you are, where you’re from in America, urban or rural, that this event is for them,” says Baig. Agency: Allied Global Marketing.


More Scenes from Ignite Summit for Teens:

Rachel Boucher
Posted by Rachel Boucher

Rachel joined Event Marketer in 2012 and today serves as the brand's head of content. Her travels covering the experiential marketing indust ry have ranged from CES in Las Vegas to Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Florida (hey, it's never too late)—and everywhere in between.
View all articles by Rachel Boucher →

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