This week, I’ll head to Austin for my sixth South by Southwest Interactive. I love the experience of it all: the collision of ideas in conference halls and backyard bars, the loud music and intimate dinners, and late night karaoke that concludes days that started over breakfast meetings on sunny patios. The contrasts and productivity of SXSW are synecdoche for Texas itself, where Austin is a hub and entry point for so many visitors.
As SXSW grows every year, I find I’m having more conversations defending its value and scale. This year, I’m participating as a mentor, and look forward to some good conversations with people interested in content strategy and independent consulting. (Sign up if you want a formal time to chat!) For me, that’s SXSW: a small, intimate conference, for reasons more about books than webpages.
“In an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books,” wrote Harper Lee in a 2006 letter. “Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.” This makes sense to me, and it’s with no irony that I nod to Harper Lee’s defense of slow, deliberate exploration in one of the most high-energy events focused on internet culture and interactive innovation.
Sometimes we learn more from hard effort than spoonfed answers. While many conferences do an excellent job of orchestrating and prescribing the attendee experience, others lack that prescriptive curation. They throw hundreds of sessions, conversations, and events at you, and some are ad hoc and happen far beyond any written schedule. The organizers of SXSW select and edit and coordinate sessions, workshops, and parties, but their conference is anything but prescriptive. There is no instant information at SXSW. There are many simultaneous tracks. Even the most timely sessions have to compete with glimpses of sunny weather and conversations with colleagues and friends. You have to develop your own track and schedule to curate your own opportunities. It takes time and work, all to create a conference experience unique to your interests and needs.
In 2013, I first wrote about this process of creating your own experience within a much larger conference. The sentiments in that post still ring true for me. If it’s your first year going to SXSW, or if you’re returning after a break, give it a peek. See how it’s still a small SXSW after all.
Here’s the update: my picks for this year. This is my wishlist for the small conference within the big event, roughly in the order sessions occur. You’ll see themes around content strategy, branding, design thinking, and journalism… which are the themes I seek out in smaller, more curated conferences as well. I hope you’ll do your own work to learn and create a small conference of your own.
- What Marketers Can Learn from Political Campaigns
- When a Moment Becomes a Movement
- Curious Bridges: How Designers Grow the Future
- Data-Driven Newsrooms that Don’t Drive Off Writers
- Powerful Enough to Dent the World
- User Experience Design Shaping Our World
- MAYDAY: The Fight to Save American Democracy
- Charlie Hebdo: Lessons on Satire and Journalism
- Data-Driven Strategy vs. Editorial Gut Instinct
- Bill Gurley and Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation
- Editors and Engineers: New Ideas at Washington Post
- Content is Messy and People are Too
- Collaboration and the Open Newsroom
- Mentor Session with Margot Bloomstein (RSVP to chat content strategy and more!)
- How Government Fails and You Can Fix It
See you in Austin!