Reflections of SXSW – 2012

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know I was at South By Southwest – Interactive Conference (#sxsw or #sxswi) a few weeks ago. Indeed, a few of you noticed and commented on how many times I hit up the Taco Shack for breakfast tacos. (What a tasty way to start a day!)

This was my first SXSW experience, and it was a great one. The sessions, networking, smart people, great nightlife, music, tacos, ribs, and ideas – all excellent! Not to mention it was great to be in Austin again. Here are a few of the takeaways from the whole experience.

SXSW – Interactive

For such a large conference, I was impressed with how well organized the conference appeared. With over 20K participants in the Interactive conference alone, I didn’t experience any major mishaps. Traffic and transportation are always issues with events this size, but with planning most transportation problems can be avoided.

There were a lot of developers, of course. I was impressed by the number of nonprofit people down there, an estimated 10% of interactive attendees. There were many other people who were interested or involved with nonprofits.

It felt like the homeland for foursquare. It was nice to go from venue to venue with people who also checked in right away. And it was fun to meet and chat with some of the foursquare staff.

Overall, this was a great conference to attend and learn about new technology tools for our Backpack Tactics clients. And learn from other nonprofit leaders about philanthropy, donor communications, and nonprofit technology tools. I appreciate all the wonderful conversations with other nonprofit professionals about email and direct mail campaigns, nonprofit videos, website integration, and so many other nonprofit ideas.

The sessions

I went down there with low or no expectations for the sessions. We’ve all been to plenty of conferences where you make a schedule of sessions and are excited about a few of them, and they end up being disappointing. Having never attended SXSW, I wanted to keep my excitement in check. I think this was a factor in enjoying the sessions I did, but I also think there were some smart and well-spoken presenters/panelists who made the sessions worthwhile and informative.

I’m not a huge note taker during sessions. (I used to take notes, but then I’d never look at them, so I try to focus on listening for the key points and capturing those in my head.) I’ve included very brief thoughts on a few sessions I attended below. I listed the rest. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’d love to grab coffee with you and hear your thoughts, so feel free to email me.

Your Brain on Multitasking

The Concrete Jungle: Nature in an Urban Ecosystem

No Wallet? No Problem. Enter Mobile Payments

Group Deals Are Killing Your Small Business

No Brochures: Digital Storytelling for Nonprofits

For Better or for Work: Married to an Entrepreneur

Philanthropy for Everyone: Community Grantmaking

Who’s in Charge?  Too Many Cooks in the Project

Here are some other sessions I attended: (Feel free to email question about these or anything else at the conference.)

How the iPad Can Save Accessibility: (Listen

Harnessing the Power of the Benevolent Internet

Motivating Employees: Gamification at Work

Philanthropy Is Not the Future of Journalism

StartUp Health: Transforming Healthcare in America

21st Century Giving: Social Philanthropy’s Rise

Public Radio Is Media’s Future: You Heard It Right

Recommendations: If you’re thinking about attending SXSW, here are a few recommendations.

  • Get a hotel downtown! It’s worth the extra money (and planning) to stay directly downtown. If you can, this will save you a lot of headaches and travel time. The shuttle service was decent (after the first day, which experienced major delays), but in the end staying downtown probably costs about the same.
  • Pick up your badge Thursday night. I hesitated even posting this, because if everyone goes on Thursday night, then there will be long lines. But I feel obligated to share this advice. I showed up at 7:30 on Thursday night, and it took 5 minutes to get my badge and goodie bag (no line at all!) By contrast, there was a VERY LONG line on Friday – all day. Some people said they spent most of Friday in line waiting to get their badge.
  • Network! It was so much fun connecting with people down there. Everyone I met was super nice. Don’t be afraid to walk up and introduce yourself and connect with new people.
  • Plan for no sleep. I came down expecting to be out late. That was definitely true, and a few of the sessions I wanted to attend were early, so there just wasn’t much time for sleep. (Of course, there usually isn’t in my life.)
  • If you use foursquare and have an Amex card – bring it! Virtually every shop had a Amex deal on foursquare. Had a brought my Amex card (doh!) I easily would have saved $200. Oh well.

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