10 Tips On Getting Your Panel into SXSW (straight from SXSW)

Being a speaker means you can get a free badge!


Full disclosure: I’ve never been to SXSW. And to be clear, I still only-sort-of know what really goes down there. It’s a world of legends and mysteries. It’s like that mythical party that you’ve only heard of, but never knew when and where it was. Maybe I’m just out too young, or out of the loop. For example, Twitter became really popular at SXSW in 2007. Shit went down at SXSW with Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah Lacy in 2008.

Luckily, thanks to a fantastic advisor and mentor, Jennifer 8. Lee, I had the opportunity to attend SXSWv2v, the startup-oriented version of SXSW in Las Vegas. She really knows SXSW (and throws awesome parties there). In fact, they even joke about a “Jenny Lee rule”, that is circulated by the SXSW team.

Leah Hunter (L), Brady Forrest (M), Dave Mcclure (R)

Be a speaker at SXSW. Share your expertise and passion with an audience who can help take your career to the next level.

There are some 3,000 panel proposals submitted each year through PanelPicker, with about 500 that are ultimately selected. 1 out of 6? Not bad. They don’t pay for travel, but you do get a free gold badge for SXSW, which also lets you see films. That’s an awesome deal.

At SXSWv2v this week, the director of SXSW Interactive, Hugh Forrest, and a producer, Christine Auten, gave a rare presentation with tips how to maximize your chances on getting a panel selected for SXSW. The deadline is this Friday, July 24. So hurry.

At SXSWV2V this week, the director of SXSW Interactive, Hugh Forrest, and a producer, Christine Auten, gave a rare presentation with tips how to maximize your chances on getting a panel selected for SXSW.

Before we get into the listicle (10 tips), lets go over the judging process.

How the Judging Process Works

Through multiple iterations over the years (essentially since 2007), the judging process has been fine tuned to the formula below: 30% staff, 30% public voting, and 40% advisory board.

So cozying up to the dozens of advisory members and staff could be hugely beneficial, but probably pretty hard to pull off (unless you have already stalked them).

This means that cozying up to the dozens of advisory members and staff could be hugely beneficial, but probably hard to pull off (unless you have already stalked them).

So if you’re serious about attending SXSW, I’d suggest taking a quick read below.

Christine Auten and Hugh Forrest presenting the 10 tips below.

10 Tips for SXSW

  1. Beat the Deadline. The PanelPicker for SXSW 2016 is due Friday July 24th at 11:59pm CST. Want the juicy secret? Apparently they do tend to extend the deadline a few days. I wouldn’t bank on it though. This is one of the first indications that you can follow directions. This is a big deal for the coordinators when they’re receiving over 3,000 submissions.
  2. Download the PDF. The PanelPicker application is at least five pages, and actually does take time and thoughtful effort to complete. Perhaps it would be in your best interest to download the PDF to get a headstart, and collect resources you may need.
  3. Focus on your passion. While SXSW does have the projected trends of 2016 on their website, you’ll have the greatest chance of success if you make a presentation on something you’re passionate about. While this may seem obvious to some, there will be an allure to focus on a topic you think the audience would be into (30% is from public voting!), which may cause you to lose focus from your original idea. Have confidence in yourself, yo.
  4. Depth Over Width. Because the SXSW audience typically tends to be professionals in their fields, they appreciate topics that are more advanced, with in-depth information. Don’t try to cover a range of topics, drill it down to what really matters. If you think about the audience, these people are professionals in their fields, and probably yours. No one wants to attend an Econ 101 lecture.
  5. Diversity is Important. Basically, the more you diverge from white males from San Francisco and New York, the more bonus points you have. In fact, SXSW is so emphatic about it, it has an acronym called GLOVE, which they officially use to evaluate submissions. Gender (An all male panel will 100% not fly. If you have 3 males in your bro-group, find a female!), Location (This might be one of the first times being in a fly-over state actually helps), Opinion (If you decide to have a panel, you’ll actually benefit from arguing with each other :-) conflict → drama → interest), Variety (There is a limit of one panel per speaker, also known unofficially as “The Robert Scoble Rule”), and Ethnicity (With the tech world being plagued by low racial diversity, SXSW wants to be as pro-active as possible).
  6. Include a Video! Of course a face-to-face meeting would be ideal when pitching your idea. What’s the next best thing? A video. This video does not have to be professionally produced, but it’s nice to get a feel for who you are. If you don’t have one, absolutely include slides with photos.
  7. Does Your Title Reflect Your Description? As you know, part of the decision making process is the public’s vote. They tend to read only the title, and questions you are answering. You need to make sure those 50 characters of your title reflect the essence of your presentation. If you can’t communicate your vision well on paper, how are they to trust that you can do it well in front of 100+ people?
  8. Does your Title Reflect your Description? As you know, part of the decision making process is the public’s vote. They tend to read only the title, and questions you are answering. You need to make sure those 50 characters of your title reflect the essence of your speech. If you can’t communicate your vision well on paper, how are they to trust that you can do it well in front of 100+ people?
  9. don’t type in all lower case Again, the PanelPicker is a test to see if you can follow directions. Punctuation and grammar is important. Please don’t type your title in all lower case, nor your description. In addition, PLEASE DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. IT DOES NOT HELP YOU GET YOUR POINT ACROSS.
  10. Proofread One More Time Please! Nothing kills a good proposal like misspellings, grammar, and typos. Just like your resume or your college application, get some fresh eyes on your proposal, and be sure to edit it over and over again.
  11. ~bonus~ Apply to other SXSW Events. SXSW will receive more than 3,000 proposals. SXSW Edu will receive about 1,500 proposals. SXSW Music will receive about 700 proposals. SXSW Film will receive about 300 proposals. Not only do you increase your odds by applying to these other events, they encourage it. That said, don’t apply to SXSW Film if you have nothing to say about film. If you can spin your main SXSW proposal to fit the others better, do it!

As of publishing this, there’s only a few days left until the deadline. But imagine the ROI you’d receive when you get the chance to speak at the festival. Remember, submit your PanelPicker submission by Friday (Maybe even Sunday, but don’t quote me on that) and make sure that your submission is just a little worse than mine, so I can get a spot too ;)

Apply Here: http://www.sxsw.com/music/conference/panelpicker

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