I’m on a plane home (completely exhausted – without a voice – and pretty sure I’m getting sick) from my first ever South by Southwest Interactive (SxSWi) experience in Austin, Texas. For those of you unfamiliar, SxSWi is a national interactive conference with a mission of connecting creative folks and brands (that’s the short version).
I’ve done other large conferences, but this was a whole other bag. An estimated 20,000 people participated in the interactive and film tracks (which overlap) with content that spanned from journalism, emerging tech, design, development, business, dynamic keynotes and far beyond. Advertising is at its height at this place. Everywhere you turn you’re tempted by a bright color, screen, emerging technology and the ability to Drive or Catch a Chevy (which was actually among my favorite things about the conference). There is something going on every hour of the day with the exception of 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. (I think), so whatever your pleasure you’re sure to find it at this conference. Some thoughts:
Connection Trumps Content
SxSWi is far better suited to networking than good content. It’s just too big. The most WOW session I attended was Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote. As much as I love Gary, his keynote should not be the best part of this conference (although he may disagree). While content was not a total bust, I never found myself in a session that blew my mind. I had that expectation coming to a conference as revered as SxSWi, but it just didn’t happen. In fact, some of the sessions I attended were just plain bad. I’ll take some responsibility in this and say that this was symptomatic of my patience level. There are SO many people and popular sessions start forming lines an hour or more ahead of time making it really difficult to get everywhere you want to go. All this being said, The networking and conversation cannot be rivaled. I was able to connect with and have colorful conversations about digital with folks I’ve known online for a long time, meet new people, explore a darling city and absorb a different point-of-view based on the whole experience. Hell, I even played Foursqaure with Dennis Crowley! So, like I’m sure many before me have said, it’s all about what you’re planning to get out of it. Shout outs to Chuck Hemann for being an great pal and driving me to my hotel a few times, which was totally out of his way. Justin Goldsborough for his general awesomeness. Dave Fleet for making me laugh my ass off every time we discussed anything. Sydney Owen for being her sweet and skydiving-crazed self. Stephanie Wonderlin and Sam Ogborn for being cute and bringing me a hair (binder) tie.
If you have any desire to go to this conference, you need to book in July in order to stay at either the Marriot or Hilton (hotels adjacent to the conference center). I was five miles away, and it was miserable, not to mention I had the hotel experience from hell at Crowne Plaza Austin. Due to massive amounts of people and how much you have to trek all over the city depending on the sessions you want to go to, do not stay anywhere else than downtown. I believe that I would have had a much better experience had I stayed downtown.
We Are In Control of What We Learn
This experience helped me re-realize that learning is the process you embrace and make it. Education by way of reading good books, blogs, publications, working hard and surrounding yourself with people smarter than you is extremely sufficient. We all can (if the will and tools are available to us) have the power to learn without having to come to an event like this. Not to mention that they livestream everything. Case in point: I was watching the Dennis Crowley/Adam Ostrow keynote (which was happening a few rooms away) from the blogger lounge while writing part of this.
Manage Your Stuff
I never lose anything. Like ever. Until my trip to SxSWi. I am almost positive due to my frazzled and over-tiredness that I left our brand new Sony Cybershot in the Samsung Blogger Lounge during a stint of blogging. Sadly, it wasn’t something someone thought they should turn in, so we’re down a camera. Could care less about the camera itself, but more so what was on it. Royal bummer.
Will I Go Back?
The verdict is out on this at the moment. My going back will be contingent on if I’m involved beyond attendee status and what my accommodations are. I believe that the second time around with a conference like this would be completely different.
I hope to post separate content highlights in the next few days, as there were definitely a few. I posted a great interview with Gary Vaynerchuk and Brian Solis talking the human business revolution here.