Thoughtful, small group dialogue.
Casual, unhurried engagement over drinks with potential partners and clients.
That’s an ideal industry conference, right? Well, that’s still what I find at South by Southwest Interactive. Even among 20,000 hustlers, gurus, and thinkers of The Next Big Thought, I still look forward to a SXSW that gives me opportunities to reconnect and engage.
Naysayers, save your nays. Every year, we hear it’s too big. Every year, the sharks get more blasé about aerial antics. Last year, I noticed how the sheer scale—too many sessions, spread out over too many blocks—begged for a sharper editorial eye and sense of curation. But the organizers of SXSWi are still doing what they’ve always done, and what they do so well: they bring a broad range of provocative speakers and sessions to a venue that offers a perfect backdrop for engagement. We just need to accept a bigger definition of “venue.” The interactive industry is expanding, so it’s only natural that one of our bellwether conferences is expanding too.
More options, more opportunity
Over the past five years, the venue for SXSW has grown beyond the Austin Convention Center to the broader downtown of Austin itself. That’s fine; there are a wide range of restaurants, bars, and parks perfect for hosting the conversations that previously just occurred around crowded, pricey kiosks in the Convention Center.
(Actually, maybe you shouldn’t go to those places. You wouldn’t like them. Really. Stick to the more corporate stuff, and leave me the stuffed poblano peppers at Manuels. )
The range of speakers has grown as well. While past years were peppered with stories of startup success and buzz about the hot new geolocosoco launch, we’ve started to move beyond that. SXSW now features tracks devoted to industry diversity, science and space exploration, and content and publishing. There are workshops to allow slower, deeper topical immersion and hands-on experience. The content is still there… but you’ll have to do your own bit of editing to carve out the experience you want to have.
Here’s the experience I’m planning to have at SXSW: I’ll spend half my time in sessions, learning from the various speakers, and half my time in those more intimate conversations. SXSW is what you make it, and I want to take away new inspiration and new connections. In 2010, I spent the bulk of my time in the scheduled sessions. But in 2011, I didn’t attend more than a handful of talks. Instead I left with a wealth of new opportunities, the fruit of many conversations over lunches that stretched into drinks. In 2012, my business needs required me to strike a balance, and that’s my goal for this year too.
I reviewed the schedule to put together my wishlist of sessions. In many timeslots, there’s more than one talk I’d love to attend, so I’ll make the game time decision based on where I am, if I’m walking and talking with friends with similar plans, and if I can get there without stressing out—and without curtailing a good conversation with interesting people.
And the interesting people? You know who you are. But maybe I don’t… yet. Again, I have my wishlist, and serendipity will pepper it with new friends and hallway encounters. I plan to reconnect with folks on the Boston-to-Austin social media trade routes. We spend more time in the airspace above Boston than right here on the ground, but I know we’ll reconnect in Austin. And I can’t wait to finally grab a beer with a few UX colleagues. We’ve missed each other at other conferences, with their frenetic pacing and focused tracks, but that’s okay. We’ll reconnect in Austin.
Here’s my wishlist, subject to change depending on the weather, crowds, and good conversations over at the Moonshine Grill patio. One that won’t change: I’m speaking Monday, March 11 at 3:30 in Ballroom EF. We’ll discuss controlling pace to drive discovery and make engagements more memorable and deliberate. I call it slow content strategy. Follow along at #slowCS or bring it into your own SXSW: grab a Shiner Bock, enjoy some BBQ, and make your time in Austin more meaningful, memorable, and worthwhile. I can’t wait to see you there.
- The Consumerization of Revolutions with Seth Priebatsch
- Open Web Platform with Tim Berners-Lee
- Why Tiny Habits Give Big Results with BJ Fogg
- Beyond Work/Life: Changing the Debate & Making Change with Anne-Marie Slaughter
- Tweets from the DMZ: Social Media in North Korea with Eric Carvin and Jean H. Lee
- Al Gore on the Future with (surprise!) Al Gore
- Muppets to Mastery: UX Principles from Jim Henson with Russ Unger
- Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now with Douglas Rushkoff
- A Conversation with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow with Rachel Maddow
- Cory Booker: The New Media Politician with Cory Booker and Steven Snyder
- The Secret Dangers of Online Marketing with David Armano, Debra Kaye, Ekaterina Walter, and Jure Klepic
- Tina Roth Eisenberg Keynote with swissmiss
- The Signal & The Noise with Nate Silver
- Gates of Heaven, Gates of Hell with David Carr
- There’s No Ambition Gap: Truth About Women in Tech with Jessica Lawrence
- New Standards for a New Era of Journalism with Craig Newmark and Kelly McBride
- Design Unicorns: Turning Myth into Reality with Jared Spool and Leslie Jensen-Inman
- 100 Year Starship: Interstellar Travel & Beyond with Benjamin Palmer, Dr. Mae Jemison, Jill Tarter, and LeVar Burton
- Whoa Nellie! Content Strategy for Slow Experiences with yours truly, Margot Bloomstein!
- Book signing for Content Strategy at Work with yep, you guessed it
- Jane Pratt: Secrets of a Publishing Renegade with Jane Pratt
- The Big Power Shift in Media with Jonah Peretti
- Fashion & Food: Transforming Visual Narration with Amy Odell, Amy Wicks, Elizabeth Spiridakis, and Valentine Uhovski
- Matthew Inman Keynote with Matthew Inman
Well, what’d I miss? What’s on your wishlist for this year?