Jeff Hurt is EVP, Education & Engagement, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

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?

Here are five trends to watch in our industry during 2013:

1. The Participation Economy

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? Share your opinions below!