The business case for SXSW Interactive

SXSW Interactive

I have attended SXSW for last five years and upon each return, lots of people ask me if it is really worth the time and expense. Perhaps this is on your mind too? Should you plan to attend SXSW next year? Here is an honest and personal perspective.

First you should know a little about me. I don’t like crowds. I am not the kind of personal networker who works a room. I prefer quiet dinners with a friend or two. My party animal days are pretty much over.

In other words, I’m not a typical SXSW kind of guy : )

SXSW is expensive, time-consuming, and the crowds are ridiculous. Even after buying a $700 ticket, the most popular sessions are so crowded it is not unusual to be turned away. I sat on the floor more than once. The city of Austin bursts at the seams … one night I had to wait more than an hour to get a cab.

And yet …

SXSW is an important and spectacular global gathering. This is why I go each year …

Out of the bubble. There is probably no greater gathering of digital intellects anywhere on earth. Attending sessions at SXSW jerks me out of the social media echo chamber to learn about what is going on in other worlds. I go to SXSW to learn and always leave inspired and refreshed.

The electricity of new. The hope and optimism of the world’s greatest shark tank absolutely sizzles. It is fun to watch entrepreneurs from around the world pitch what they hope will be the next great thing.

Business connections. I have met the most wonderful new friends who have become collaborators and customers. Even standing in line for food can become an adventure.

Connecting with friends. It’s amazing to connect with people from the blog community. My favorite locale is the blogger’s lounge where I can normally spot some cool folks.

It’s a lot of fun. Many people (purportedly half) go to SXSW without a badge just to attend the round-the-clock parties. There is music, food and booze at every corner. It’s not unusual to run into Hollywood celebrities, famous authors and titans of business around the conference center.

So what about next year? 

Will I attend in 2015? I don’t know. I take things year by year and who knows what will be going on? But I think you should consider going to SXSW at least once in your life if the opportunity arises.

Yes, it’s crowded and maybe even a little exasperating but it is also the World Cup of interactive media and if you want to experience the best in the world you owe it to yourself to give it a shot one year.

If you have any questions or comments about the SXSW experience let me know in the comment section.

By the way, I debuted a new speech on the future of social media at SXSW this year, if you’re interested, here is a re-cap by Geoff Wilson.

Illustration courtesy Kerry Gorgone.

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  • carmenhill

    Hey Mark, totally agree! I leave inspired, if not refreshed (still exhausted!) with new ideas and perspectives to reinvigorate my work. Plus, this year I got to chat with you 🙂

  • There you go. The power of connections!

  • Wellll now that you ask if I have questions, I’d definitely like to look into sponsorships or applying to PanelPicker, or would that be hard to achieve with this kind of conference? It’d be absolutely rad to go. Plus, a conference of this size thankfully will most likely provide interpreters, haha! But, how far in advance should you plan/book a place to stay!? 😉

  • EmilyQuestions

    Very thoughtful, Mark. Thanks for sharing your POV!

  • The panel picker process is complex and unpredictable. I entered a great panel with me, Mitch Joel and Anne Handley and it was turned down. Go figure. They are looking for something blockbuster, diverse and unusual. If you need specific advice on an idea I would be glad to help you think it through.

    In five years, I have never seen an interpreter at a speech, which is pretty amazing.

    Housing is a problem. All the hotel space in the city is controlled by SXSW and it goes up on one single day and it sells out in a couple hours. But people are pretty generous about sharing space and helping people out. You can register at SXSW for alerts on hotel space. Hope that helps.

  • You’re welcome.

  • Agree on all counts, Mark! The panel picker is a complete black box, from what I can tell. There are some amazing panels every year that draw a large volume of comments and shares (indicating an interest in the topic and presenters), and yet they don’t make the cut. Some of the ones that do are truly awful, which is disappointing.

    Housing is impossible after Day 1. Seriously. You have to buy a pass on Day 1, the second they go on sale, and book a room. If you change your mind, it’s easy to sell an early bird pass, especially when you have a reservation you can transfer, too. Virtually no downside to doing it. If you wait, though, you’ll wind up with a hotel room incredibly far away, which is a huge inconvenience when the days are long (as they are at SXSW).

    Just my two cents! My favorite part is palling around with a small group of people, and meeting up for a meal with people I haven’t seen for a while. Party hopping isn’t my favorite pastime!

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  • All great tips Kerry. Even when I tried to get housing the first day it was already sold out and I had to stay out near the airport (hassle!). I need a new strategy if I attend next year!

  • Like you I don’t like crowds and it is the one occasions where I get out of my comfort zone to go to #SXSWi. I have gone 4 times and each experience has been unique in its own way.

    I could not agree more!

  • richard6272

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