SXSW – held over two weeks in March each year – is a mashup of film, tech, music, education, and gaming festivals that draws more than 400,000 people to Austin, Texas. South By, as it’s known, is widely considered one of the best events for learning, networking and fun, and attracts top political names, business gurus and entertainment elite. All of which means garnering a speaking spot at SXSW is competitive to say the least.
We spoke with Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, to get his thoughts about how sessions are chosen. "SXSW is where the world's most creative minds gather to share inspiring ideas, network with other industry thought-leaders and uncover incredible new opportunities for growth. Many of the inspiring ideas that are discussed at the SXSW Conference come in via the PanelPicker interface, which is the crowdsourced approach we use for about 70% of our programming. Be part of this process by entering a speaking proposal in the PanelPicker before the deadline at the end of the day on Thursday, July 22."
Hugh also adds this important tip, "For the best chance of success with your speaking proposal, remember that creativity is always the most favored currency at SXSW -- so your idea should be original and unique and absolutely thought-provoking. Also please remember that depth is always better than width. So make your ultra-creative speaking proposal as focused as possible (as opposed to trying to cover a wider swatch of territory)."
Remix’s sweet spot is placing speakers at top events, and while we could never guarantee a spot at SXSW, we do have a few tricks up our sleeves. Adding onto Hugh’s suggestions, here are 5 tips for creating the best SXSW speaking proposal:
Tip 1: Go Solo – Or Choose Your Panelists Carefully
SXSW often prefers solo speakers over panels. Why? Because solo speakers tend to offer more depth on the given topic than panels do — and SXSW audiences always prefer depth. Also, Hugh points out that solo speakers tend to be more prepared than panels, which makes for a better session. On the other hand, panels are a big part of what makes March in Austin so special. If you are entering a panel into the PanelPicker interface, be sure to carefully consider who might join you to make the most compelling session. It could be your company’s partners but think beyond that. What about including an industry analyst or a reporter who covers the topic? Or customers? And if you’re feeling brave, what about having your competitors in your session? You want to create a session that the audience is excited to attend – not the same old, same old.
Tip 2: Diversity Matters
From its founding 32 years ago, SXSW has sought to have an inclusive event and they aren’t afraid to put specific requirements around diversity. For example, all SXSW panels with 3-4 people must include diversity in gender, race, location and employment of speakers as well as diversity in thought and opinion.
Tip 3: What Does the Future Hold?
Be forward-looking in your topic. Consider industry trends right now and think about what they mean for the future. This is especially true for SXSW 2022 with its 2050 track that looks at topics such as radical life extension, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, psychedelics, next generation energy solutions, and extraterrestrial explorations.
Tip 4: Promote Your Session Idea
SXSW is one of the early adopters in crowd-sourced voting for sessions. That means the community has a voice, not just the advisory board. This is great news for all of us as you can vote for what sessions look most interesting to you. At SXSW, Community voting makes up 30% of how sessions are chosen. The input of SXSW staff (30%) and Advisory Boards (40%) make up the rest. Keep in mind that if you propose a session idea, you’re expected to promote it and invite community input on your proposal. The more your session attracts likes and comments, the better chance it has of being chosen.
Tip 5: …but Don’t Be Self Serving
If your goal is to pitch your product or services for an hour at SXSW, good luck. To put it bluntly: Nobody wants to hear a product pitch and that idea will never make it onto the agenda. It’s enough cache to have your name and company listed on the agenda; you’ll get some serious recognition from that.
Bonus Tip: Be Provocative
SXSW is anything but boring, and the more provocative your title and session idea, the better.
SXSW is one of our favorite events. If you’d like more information on how to speak at SXSW or building your brand, email me here. Here’s to a lively in-person event in Austin in March 2022 – we can’t wait!
-Katy Boos, CEO, Remix Communications
SXSW 2022 Quick Facts.
When: March 11-20, 2022
Where: Austin, Texas
Deadline for speaking submissions: July 22, 2021
Community voting: August 10-26, 2021