Today was the first full-day of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. As always, the conference this year is big – huge actually. The toughest element can be deciding which presentations to see. Last year I made the mistake of trying to do too much. This year, I learned to be a bit more selective with my mix of activities. Here’s a recap of Day 1.

Pre-Sessions: Wandering

SXSW Day 1

I had already wandered around downtown, found a coffee shop for a quick breakfast, and walked over to get in line for the first session this morning before I realized that my watch was still on east coast time. So I found myself with an extra hour to kill. I did some “people watching” and ended up having a great conversation with a guy from Nest, who demonstrated their new smoke detector (which is really impressive!). One of the things I love seeing at SXSW is the guerrilla marketing techniques that companies use to attract attention to their brand. Nest chose to show off their smoke detector using a big, branded fire truck, outfitted with live demonstration abilities to show how the detector works. And in an embodiment of the modern age – they purchased the fire truck online from Michigan, and had it shipped to Palo Alto! (Can you imagine what that shipping bill must have been?!)

Session 1: Building Relationships Through Real-Time Relevance

Presentation SlideBeing from Michigan, this presentation was very interesting to me because it was sponsored by Team Detroit, an agency that works extensively with Ford Motor Company. It was fascinating to see how their operation works, particularly during large scale real-time events, such as the Super Bowl.

The great take-away from this presentation was that you don’t need to be a multimillion dollar company with an insane marketing budget to operate in real-time. Your “command center” can be something as simple as a Hootsuite deck with curated keyword, hashtag and user lists. There  is hope for a one-man shop in the non-profit world!

To read a recap of this presentation, check out my Storify summary at: Building Relationships Through Real-Time Relevance.

Session 2: Content and Commerce: The Digital Cronut

The second session I attended today was a talk by Benjamin Lerer of Thrillist. I’ll admit, I had no idea what Thrillist was going into the talk (but that’s okay – I’m not in their target audience since I’m a woman.) The presentation itself was still eye-opening. Benjamin’s idea of content (media) companies owning the commercial brands that they promote was very interesting. I could see some implications of this in the blogger realm with affiliate links – but I question the transparency of the model.

To read a recap of this presentation, check out my Storify summary at: Content and Commerce: The Digital Cronut.

Session 3: Keynote by Austin Kleon – Show Your Work!

I’ll let you in on a little secret – I completely skipped this keynote. I have no idea what it was about, although the description sounded interesting and I did want to hear it. So why did I skip out?

Last year I learned a lesson – at some point during the day, you need to stop to eat. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of grabbing a granola bar and a Gatorade for lunch and hopping from session to session. Pretty soon you’re sick. And this conference costs way too much to spend it feeling miserable. I’ve also learned that the sit-down restaurants around the Convention Center are pretty quiet during the keynote sessions. And on top of that, the keynotes are the one set of sessions that will be reliably posted, in video form, to the internet for all to see.

So I will see this keynote. Eventually.

I’m not saying I’m skipping all the keynotes. I actually am looking forward to some of the ones later in the week.

Crab-stuffed shrimp

Crab-stuffed shrimp goodness! Maybe a Lenten Friday in a BBQ town isn’t so bad after all.

My other tip? I don’t plan to see the keynote in the room where it is being presented. I plan to grab take-out lunch and go to one of the simulcast rooms while everyone else waits in line for an hour to get in to the main room.

Instead I used this time to get a wonderful lunch of amazing crab-stuffed shrimp at a local restaurant called Willie G’s (seriously – go there!), and then wandered around taking in the sights. Some of my favorites:

  • The 3M Innovation tent is a great spot to check out what the Post-It note maker has in the works. Get a free sample of the Evernote Post-It notes for three free months of Evernote Premium.
  • The Barnes and Noble pop-up shop in the Austin Convention Center had a great selection of business and design books to choose from.
  • The PayPal Lounge is selling umbrellas, Apple earbuds, and Jolt device chargers for $0.01.

Session 4: The Secret Sauce of Real-Time Storytelling

This session was the gold mine for ideas for me today. The speakers discussed a project that involved allowing audience members to direct a “remote control tourist” around Melbourne, Australia. This project had over sixty employees working on it, with (I assume) a significant budget, and considerable amounts of tech skills on hand. So you might assume that it would be a waste of time for someone running a one-person communications shop in a non-profit to attend their talk. I learned last year that you can’t make your presentation choices based on assumptions like that. Last year, there is no way I would have gone to this panel. I would have assumed it would just remind me of the cool things that I don’t have the technology, staff, budget or ability to do.

Instead, I went in with an open mind. There are things I can take away from this presentation and put to use, like the way the group combined existing platforms (like Google Maps, Livestream, Instagram and FourSquare). I also loved the way they suggested getting around release forms (always a struggle!) by displaying “Notice of Filming” text on t-shirts and flyers. By thinking outside the box and being open to new takes on things, a presentation that seemed completely irrelevant to my work became the most relevant presentation I’ve seen so far.

To read a recap of this presentation, check out my Storify summary at: The Secret Sauce of Real-Time Storytelling

Session 5: What’s the New Having It All?

I’ll admit, this was the weakest presentation of the day for me. When you only have a paragraph description to judge a presentation on, you’re bound to have them. I went in expecting a discussion on work/life balance, something I think we all struggle with. At the beginning of the presentation, I was quickly informed that this was the “old” definition of having it all – and would not be what we were talking about. The panel instead discussed the “new” definition. According to this new definition, you can have it all if you have a job that you love, that pays you enough, and that allows you to do good in the world. Changing the definition seemed to be a bit of a cheat to me, but overall the presentation was good if for nothing more than a reminder that I am at a good place in my career.

To read a recap of this presentation, check out my Storify summary at: What’s the New “Having It All”?