The conference as we used to know it was very stiff, structured and didactic.
It's been the same since Cicero—the speaker spoke and the audience listened. Maybe the audience had a chance to ask questions at the end, or chat about the content at coffee break, but like television it was essentially one-way communication.
I speak at about 50 conferences and events all over the world each year. The best are those that integrate the physical event.
Integrate Social Media at your event
Now, at conferences all over the world, audience members connect with one another in real time while speakers are up at the podium. This "back-channel" is truly revolutionary as it allows listeners to discuss content as it is being delivered. What’s more, it brings a new virtual audience into the room—sometimes from the opposite end of the Earth.
Hashtags allow people in the audience and everywhere else can tune into the back channel. Many attendees post photos and video clips in real time too so people can see what's happening.
Crowdsourcing - when others post content to your conference site - is a terrific way to build valuable information.
It's not just Twitter either. Some people at conferences now use GPS-enabled mobile applications like Foursquare—which allows you to see where your friends are in the conference hall (or playing hooky at the bar). And with live video streaming services like Qik, anyone can upload a speech to the Internet in real time.