Five Top 2013 Conference Trends To Watch

participation is the new consumption

It’s that time of year again.

Time to think of what trends might have an impact on conferences and meetings in 2013.

So what can we expect to see as far as demands from our participants this year?

Five Trends To Watch

Here are five trends to watch during 2013

1. The Participation Economy

From passive information consumption to actively contributing, discussing, creating and participating.

Conference attendees don’t want to spend $1,500 – $2,000 to attend your event and then sit passively for four to six hours a day. It goes against what they normally do. Instead, they want to participate. They want to engage with others about the content that is being shared or about the needs they face. Conferences have to move away from being just an information channel providing data, facts and figures to consume. Instead they should move to becoming a social channel engaging the audience in discussion about that application of that content.

Check out your current conference schedule. How much of it is passive, consumption of information presented from a stage? If you want attendee loyalty, you’ll want to ensure that a large portion of the conference schedule allows for networking and participation.

2. Social Sharing

Social sharing is the broadcasting of our thoughts and activities. Regardless of what you think, it is not a fad. It is a sociological phenomenon that continues to occur at a rapid pace. This macro trend is affecting conferences and events.

Still not convinced? During the election of 2012, we couldn’t get away from Facebook posts and tweets from friends and colleagues sharing their political views. It was ubiquitous and sometimes frustrating.

Conference attendees will continue to share what they are doing at your event and who they are doing it with. Some will share content. Some will challenge what they hear from the stage. If your event is bland, little social sharing will occur and this actually reflects a poor conference experience.

How can you help your conference attendees share their experiences with their social networks?

3. The Content Economy

Content could become your conference’s most valuable asset. You can no longer afford to only have your compelling content released during your conference. You need to be creating useful, fresh content to attract people to attend your event and to keep them coming back to your site after your event.

Just putting up a conference website is no longer enough. Search engine algorithms are good enough now that the most compelling content dominates search results. If you want to dominate search results for your conference, your conference website must have a continual stream of fresh, new influential content. And you have to figure out how to repurpose content from the conference to use after the event.

4. The Smobile Web

Social + Mobile = Smobile. Social and mobile are becoming more dependent upon each other. A smobile web means that your attendees expect the conference experience to be digitized for mobile and sharing. Instagram and NFC (near field communication technology) are two examples of experiences prepared for the smobile web.

5. Last Generation Sponsorship

Sponsorship maven Kim Skildum-Reid describes how sponsorships have matured. First generation sponsorship was about gaining exposure and awareness. This is where many of our conference sponsorships still exist. The thought is that flashing a logo in the midst of dozens of other logos in front of potential cynical consumers equals marketing return. Second generation sponsorship was focused on sales promotions and vending rights. The third generation was based on brand’s needs and what the brand can offer potential customers. Last generation sponsorship is about nurturing a brand’s connection with a target market. It’s about putting the target market’s needs first. This is very different than seeing how many escalator, elevator and hanging banner ads a company can secure. Savvy sponsors are demanding a new kind of experience with their markets during conferences. The question is can you transition from the standard sponsorship menu of choices to a customized sponsorship package.

Which of these trends do you see affecting your conferences now? What other trends would you add to this list?

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  1. Adrian Segar says:

    Hi Jeff—Happy New Year!

    No question: all five trends are important. If everyone made progress on them this year, we’d see a significant improvement in the quality and attractiveness of conferences and meetings.

    A couple of comments.

    Although, as you know, I’m an evangelist for participative conference design (trend #1) I still find that the majority of attendees are initially most comfortable with/expect the traditional lecture-style session. (I’ll be writing about why soon.) So we need to give them safe ways to discover the improved connections and learning that occur when we integrate appropriate participation into our conference sessions.

    And there can be another reason why there’s little social sharing (trend #2) at an event. You say that “If your event is bland, little social sharing will occur and this actually reflects a poor conference experience.” But if events are highly participative and intimate, my experience is that people are so engrossed in their onsite experience that they neglect social sharing to a large degree.

  2. I like what i am reading here Jeff how such a concept could look like for the Event Industry as there are tons of events which are still not leveraging the peoples experience and provide to less engagement onsight. Would be great to hear your feedback on my article

  3. Paul Salinger says:

    Happy New Year, Jeff!

    This is a good list, but here is my premise for this year (which I’m going to try my best to write about) – we need to move from an event planning mentality to an event design mentality.

    I see all of these trend lists as a listing of tools, primarily, from which savvy event professionals can start to think more about the event design and event experience as a way to capture the audience’s imagination and drive them to do something, whether that is move along a sales cycle in a corporate environment to taking an activist role in association environments to furthering conversations on important topics in TED-like, or PopTech or SXSW like environments.

    I was talking to Charlene Li from Altimeter Group yesterday and we were talking about how some regions have caught up with and surpassed the US in terms of actual engagement on social networks. I have some thoughts about this and I think it relates to culturally how we are much more of an individualistic society, whereas Europe and Latin America, for example tend to be more collaborative in the ways that they work together. While we like to shout out our political views on Facebook and Twitter, and are more than happy to shout out our opinions, or in many cases just regurgitate what speakers are saying from the stage when it comes to social sharing at an event, this isn’t really participation and collaboration that advances a conversation and solves problems.

    So, while I agree with these trends, I still think there is a lot of work to be done and it won’t be enough to just get people that are meeting planners to try and incorporate these trends on an ad hoc basis, it will take advancing the thinking to a design level to build all of these tools into an integrated, audience-centric experience that has meaningful end goals so that we can create events that truly resonate and where the content that you are talking about becomes part of something larger than the event itself and leads to meaningful action and results.

  4. Kyle Hillman says:

    While I agree having participatory elements are important an that attendees genuinely like them, what I have a problem with is that their decision makers and our industry education decider (CIC) doesn’t agree.

    Employers want to see their planners are learning not just taking vacation trips and getting the message across that group work and not lecture work from a known thought leader can deliver better results.

    Furthermore the CIC does not recognize group work for CMP credit. (They also don’t recognize anything that directly doesn’t talk about meetings – a fact that often eliminates most conference keynotes – even though their messages are important for our industry to hear)

    Until those two factors change – you have to start from a traditional model for justification and apply participatory elements for attendee satisfaction.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding your insights.

      Thanks for sharing your post about engagement, marketing and brands. I think David Armano is one of the brilliant minds of today and he’s always challenging me to think differently.

      I’m with you on transitioning from “meeting planning” to “meeting design.” I think its imperative that we plan with more intentionality today. Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.

      I see it like this…the CIC does not get involved with the process of how content is covered or shared. They just talk about specific content that needs to be addressed. Let’s not confuse process with content. They are two different things.

      I’ve never had any of my presentations denied for CIC credit which all involve high degrees of participation and engagement. The content was still covered but just using different processes.

      Similarly, my presentations still have learning outcomes that show employers what will be learned. The scientific evidence shows that participation with the content through discussion, reflection, thinking and activity is much higher than sitting listening to a lecture. I don’t believe that employers care how their employees learn the content as long as its learned and applied.

  5. Nowshad Ali says:

    I love the Article and I can relate to the comments. I do agree we need to always be thinking form the perspective of Event Design – this presumes we have the opporutnity to work with the client or project sponsor from the design stage. i find we do our best work when we are involed in the process form the bieginning setting objectives and outcomes, for that matter starting even furtherback doing good Needs Analysis that drive Objectives and Outcomes form which we build design that is influenced by the type of experience we desire to generate.

    As for the sponsorship element our most productive projects have been those where we took this deeper level of sponsorship design and execution, we deliver way more value to sponsors – the trick is evaluation of ROI – not many are prepared to pay for it and follow it through to the end.

  6. […] This post was written by Jeff Hurt and was originally published on his blog Velvet Chainsaw […]

  7. Hi Jeff,

    I hope these five trends make it over the pond. I love them. Especially the focus on content. I agree with Adrian re innovative meeting design but the focus has to be on content and that can be delivered effectively “old school” stylie sometimes too. It’s more about texturisation I would say.

    Getting as many people involved is crucial too but a note of caution make sure you let them know that you are expecting a change in behaviour and it’s our job to support that change.

    And of course we are mobile but finally and way behind where we should be.

    For completeness here’s my top 10 things good conferences should be doing. I’d love to have your view on these.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and adding your own personal experiences. It’s beneficial for readers to see that others have tried some of these concepts and succeeded.


      Always enjoy reading your comments and insights. Thanks for taking the time to add them.

      Effective content delivery is so important and I like to make the distinction that just dispensing information or content is not enough. We have to find ways for that content to stick. While most conferences still used the time-honored methods (lectures and panels) and assume they work–we now have 20 years of scientific evidence that proves the old model of lecturing does not lead to learning. (For example, the research laboratories of Richard E. Mayer at University of CA at Santa Barbara and John Sweller of New South Wales University are two substantial bodies of evidence about what does and doesn’t lead to learning.) If the goal is education and learning, we have to move to participation. If the goal is just dispensing content, then keep doing the old-school ways. Telling does not lead to learning. Covering content for content’s sake does not lead to learning. I prefer evidence based education at conferences.

  8. […] Hurt identifies conference trends to watch for 2013. I particularly like the new approach to […]

  9. […] Hurt identifies conference trends to watch for 2013. I particularly like the new approach to […]

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