Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW-Wrap Up

Finally home and mostly decompressed from SXSW. Long travel day yesterday--I missed a flight for the first time in my life!! Totally got caught in Austin traffic and it took an hour and a half to make what should have been a 20 minute trip.

Yeah, I know, I should have left earlier. I had a SXSW recap breakfast with Bryan Person and then caught the Birth of Cool exhibit that I missed on Monday, took some photos, lost track of time and left for the airport later than I should.

How nerdy am I--missing a flight because I was at the museum. I am definitely not 'cool'.

Anyway, lots of really positive things at SXSW.

Special Recognition Goes To...

1) The SXSW organizing committee.

The event is very well produced and staffed. The volunteers away from the registration and information areas weren't all that knowledgeable and the signage/maps of events could have been better, but really, that's nit-picking. The web site was excellent, you could organize events online and sync them to your mobile calendar, the printed materials were outstanding. There was a wide variety of conference topics, social activities were great, special areas like the trade show, screen burn gaming area, blogger lounge and podcast areas were nice on-site getaways.

Special kudos for the designers of the pocket guide, which was truly a useful guide. Best I've ever used at an event.

2) Twitter.

Love it/hate it/indifferent. I feel all those things about Twitter, and at SXSW, it finally proved itself to be a very useful tool for me. Whether you were connecting with a friend because the cell phone coverage was sketchy, looking to find out what the hot panels were, searching for content in a session you missed or just participating in a backchannel conversation during a talk, Twitter really proved it's utility.

I know some people who weren't at SXSW complained about being inundated with tweets, but on the other hand, I also know a lot of people who didn't make the conference who felt like they got a lot of value by following the twitter-stream.

I still get annoyed by people using Twitter to give a blow-by-blow description about the party that they are at or who they are downing shots with, but who am I to judge?

Well, I'm me, and I rule. So stop it. No one cares who you are drinking with or that you are about to go sing karaoke.

My Favorite Panel Discussions

1) Most Entertaining: Mad Men on Twitter. Now I have a mad crush on Peggy Olson and I don't even get Showtime.

2) Most Use(r)ful: Designing for the Wisdom of the Crowds by Derek Powazek . He's funny in a nerdy way, and chock full of useful information on how to let user behavior influence design. After all, it's called User Interface, right? Plus there were some really good notes and slides.

3) Most Validating: Managing Expert Clients by Kali Cover and Marili Cantu. These two laid out very practical how-to advice on managing client relations. Lots of nodding of heads in the audience when discussing the special challenges we face helping clients. The notes are by @MeganGarza.

Most Disappointing Panels

I don't want to call anyone out in public because any disappointment I had was *mine*, and I'm sure that for every panel I was in that I thought wasn't fulfilling, there were people in the room who thought it rocked.

Still, here are some things that disappointed me that ANYONE who speaks at a conference should heed:

1) Title are important. If you have a totally kick-ass title for your panel, your presentation should rock too. A provocative title means you will have bold opinions and a definitive stance. A title with a question in it should ANSWER THE QUESTION by end of the session. (you'd be surprised how infrequently this happens) A vague title that requires a subtitle to explain what the topic is really about isn't going to get many people to your session.

2) It's not necessary that EVERY panelist responds to EVERY question. I saw a lot of time wasted and thus, not a lot of information being shared in panels where the moderator would pose a question and then the other 4 panelists would give their answers and they were all saying essentially the same thing.

If there is strong disagreement on the panels, that's good and makes for a lively discussion. Everyone agreeing with the first response and then saying why they agree pretty much wastes everyone's time.

I would rather see more points covered than making sure everyone on the panel got equal response time.

3) Have enough topics to cover the time allotted. I saw several one hour sessions where there were maybe three bullet points covered in the entire hour. I wasn't sure if that was because that's all the moderator could think to cover, everyone just kept rambling in their responses or what.

But each case felt like a waste of an hour. I don't mind getting only one good takeway out of an hour presentation, but if you only cover three things, you're cutting down your odds of getting something awesome in there.

More isn't necessarily more, but less isn't always more either.

4) A presentation isn't a lecture, it's a performance. Please don't just talk about what's on your Powerpoint slides. If that's all you're going to do, just post your slides somewhere and let us get on to someone more interesting.

YOU are as important as your material. I hate to put any pressure on anyone, but if your name is in print, I'm expecting you to entertain me in some way. Be provocative. Witty. More knowledgeable than anyone else out extraordinary.

5) Announce a sensible Twitter hashtag at the beginning of your presentation. If you don't know much about Twitter, then ask someone in the audience to set a hashtag.

Hashtags are how we are going to find notes and information from your presentation afterwards. Twitter just may become the new search. People are tweeting about your presentation and we want to find those notes later.

Clever hashtags like #cake and #fuckcount draw a laugh from the crowd attending, but when you try to find a bit of information from that presentation 3 months from now or you weren't at the conference and the topic was really Building a Brand or Developing Strong Communities, are you really going to look for #cake or #fuckcount? (yes, those are actual hashtags recommended by the panel moderators)

Great Connections

1) I loved meeting the Southwest Airlines new media team. Southwest is doing some really cool stuff in the social networking/online community space, and they clearly 'get' this media. It's refreshing to see a corporation that knows how to have fun and be social with their customers.

2) Also enjoyed meeting @LPT--another person at a major corporation that is utilizing social media well, albeit different in tone than Southwest. Her blog is a good, thoughtful read.

3) I was amazed by @carbody, and she really opened my eyes as to what being a 'digital native' means. I watched her effortlessly tweet, listen, take notes, engage in conversation, email, add followers, fact check and absorb everything around her as easily as breathing. I don't even think she is aware of how extraordinary she is-but she is so fluent in this realm that it was truly inspiring.

I chatted with her during the breaks and found her to be quite thoughtful, eloquent, knowledgeable, passionate about social media and her clients and just down-to-earth and friendly.

4) I was also lucky enough to chat with Andy Carvin of NPR and chat about the future of journalism and some directions NPR will be heading. He's a very thoughtful, forward-thinking person, and NPR is also doing some exciting things with social media.

If you're not an NPR fan now, you should check 'em out! NPR should be a daily stop for news and entertainment.

What I Take Away From SXSW

1) Inspiration. It was a pleasure to see so many passionate social media practitioners in one place and learn by watching my peers as well as participating in discussions with 'experts'. I have many new ideas and information to share with my team, my company and my clients.

2) Have a plan. I went totally free-form. I wasn't sure of what to expect, so I didn't plan much beyond where I was staying. I got a lot out of it by just wandering around and going with the moment but probably could have gotten a few more connections, developed a few more relationships and learned a few more things by being more organized.

3) SXSW parties are not a good way to connect. They are good for having fun (you can never go wrong with free booze and food!), but it's tough to have meaningful conversations with music blaring.

4) Go with someone. I traveled solo for this, and it can be an extra struggle/effort to constantly meet people. I'm kind of strange, maybe. There are times when I can be very outgoing and love to meet people AND when I'm in a big crowd, I can also just sort of sit on the sidelines and watch.

I didn't find many people at SXSW who made much of an effort reaching out to me (other than Bryan who I work with, and thankfully, he seems to know a lot of people), which meant that I was the one constantly going out of my way to meet other people.

That's not a horrible thing, just something that takes some effort that eventually feels draining. I'd recommend going with a friend--it's a better shared experience than solo.

5) Pace yourself. The smartest thing I did was get away from the conference for an afternoon and just enjoy Austin. The energy at SXSW Interactive is very palpable and eventually becomes overwhelming. Don't be afraid to get away--Austin has many other nice attractions. Get 8 hours of sleep and drink plenty of water. It's a grind, not a sprint.

6) Blue Bell ice cream. This was recommended to me by Texas native @LindaKayHolden and I first thought it was just another "everything is better in Texas" kind of suggestion.

Nope. Blue Bell is REAL ice cream. Made from real cream. Waaaaaaaaaaaay better than Ben and Jerry's, Haagen Daaz or any other ice cream I've had.

Really. It's that good.

The Conclusion

Yep. It's worth the money. I got enough ideas, inspiration and new friendships that totally made the trip worthwhile. I highly recommend attendance if you're currently using social media or are thinking about it. I'll be back next year.

So...what was YOUR SXSW experience like? What was the best and/or the worst of it?

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cd said...

Better than Mitchell's ice cream in the Mission?

Actor, director, adventurer, community manager and social media geek. said...

I would say they are comparable, although Amy's Ice Cream is really the Austin equivalent of Mitchell's.

Blue Bell gets the advantage because they are available in stores everywhere and only costs $2 a pint or 3 for $5.

Very rich, creamy and flavorful--available only in 11 states...not sure if they reach to North Carolina.