SXSW lessons, photos, and action items

March 26, 2009 by Jared Goralnick

All hands in, at SXSW Bowling SXSW is the best and most daunting conference for me.  Best because so many relevant people attend; most daunting because there are at least ten options for every hour.

Now that it’s over, the following are lessons-learned and things I’m doing now to still make the most of SXSW 2009.

Organizing Trumped Serendipity

A conference is what you make of it, and this year I organized quite a few things.  Say what you SXSW Runningmight, but the things I planned were my highlights.  And had I better planned, I think the highlights would’ve been brighter.

I organized a group that went running every day, a lunch for companies in the productivity space, an engaging and informative panel (well, some people thought so), and a number of meetings.  Serendipity was great, but the planned activities (of my own) far trumped.

But If You Want or Need Serendipity, Structure It

As a swing dancer I learned long ago that you don’t meet many people when you go to a new city with a friend you can dance with (especially if you’re new to dance and thus less confident in yourself).  But if you go alone, it may seem painful at first, but you’ll ultimately let serendipity run its course.

This year at SXSW I had a lot of friends, most of whom I could run into any night of the week in DC.  I think SXSW (and conferences in general) should be about strengthening relationships from afar or building new ones.  That’s very difficult when you’re with the pack from your city or company, especially if you’re not the networking type.

So if you want to meet people, go it alone or spend your social nights with people from different cities/circles.

Give Give Give

And the best way to give at conferences is to connect.  This ties right in with organizing—putting a group together is both rewarding for you and high value for the others.

Another way to give is to make others look good.  You can do this in so many ways…

  • Colleen Wainwright with her WTF faceThe way you introduce people (“Clay is one of the sharpest people when it comes to business idea testing”)
  • By documenting their activities soon after (“Just had lunch with @dragushan, who has mastered doing what’s best for the bottom line while being a stellar employer”)
  • Or my personal favorite, shooting (hopefully flattering) photos of them

And Don’t be a Liar.  Follow up.

If I were sitting across from you at lunch right now and asked what you were doing with the business cards you’ve collected, you’d look me in the eye and say “I’ll email those people.”  Maybe what you’d mean is that you plan to email a few of those people who are most relevant.

But I know what happens: nothing. Even if you told them specifically you’d email them.

Please, just smack yourself in the face right now. If you don’t follow up you’ve just thrown away the most important part of the event. Email those people, especially the ones you should.  Even if it’s a short message (but don’t be a jackass and spam them with a bunch of links just to follow your stuff).

Now a Few Highlights

I’m going to follow my own advice here.  Here are some of the people who I’m very glad to have either met or gotten to know better at SXSW.  For more photos, you can visit my SXSW Photo Album.

Kathy Sierra, Cliff Atkinson, Craig Ball 
My fellow panelists on Presenting Straight to the Brain, Kathy Sierra, Cliff Atkinson,
and Craig Ball, really came through to make an awesome session…and it was great to work together.

Aaron Dragushan 
Aaron Dragushan and I commuted in together.  Though he’s a buddy from DC, his company always rocks…and he was kind enough to shoot the photos above while I was moderating the panel.

Naomi Dunford

Contrary to the reputation that preceded her, Naomi Dunford was actually quite sweet (at least with me) in person…and had just as many poignant ideas as she does on her site.

Colleen Wainwright

Gosh I wish Colleen Wainwright lived around here because she’s just such a joy to be around…and a smartie, too.  I bet you won’t guess her age either ; ).

Scott Belsky 
I met Scott Belsky at the last minute but I really enjoyed his insights and am looking forward to The 99% Conference he’s putting on in NYC.

Melissa Pierce 
I really enjoyed Melissa Pierce’s panel and getting to know more of her, her upcoming movie, and her views on life balance.

Mark Dillon 
After meeting Mark Dillon the week before at eComm 2009, it was great to hang out at a bunch of parties together—we’re in similar industries but he has a very different perspective.

Rachelle Lacroix 
I’d never really gotten to know Rachelle Lacroix much before, but she made some great company for wandering around Austin.  We can’t have too many good people in our lives.

Lauren Jacob 
Thanks to Lauren Jacob I got some company to see Breaking Upwards (next photo), and made a new friend from San Francisco. It’s interesting which things we geeks share and don’t share in common.

 Cast of Breaking Upwards: Zoe & Daryl

And here’s part of the cast from Breaking Upwards (Zoe Lister-Jones & Daryl Wein), since their movie was just so awesome.  Go see it when it comes to a theatre near you!

And Lastly…

SXSW was awesome.  I have a lot of people to follow up with, and I will.  Now it’s your turn to do the same—it’s never too late :-).

Got any other tips now that the event is over?

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14 Responses to “SXSW lessons, photos, and action items”

1 Trackbacks

  1. – Time with people vs. paying-the-bills: a difficult balancing act?


  1. communicatrix

    Aww…seeing you is *always* a highlight, Jared! I wish we lived on the same coast, too; maybe some of that go-get-’em, productivity, rule-the-world-by-30 stuff would rub off on me.

    Until then, I’m just happy when fate and nerdery throws us together. Because LOOK at the PICTURES! They’re magnificent.

    Finally, I’m 48. 48 48 48. (Well, technically, not until September 13, but I like to round up when it’s six months out, to get used to the idea. Is that an old people thing?)

  2. Jared Goralnick

    I think you’re lying about your age. But fine, I’ll just look forward to the next time fate throws us into the same room. Since LA has the best weather, why aren’t I there more? WTF was I doing in Madison last month?

  3. Jen Consalvo

    Great post, Jared. One tip I would add for conferences like SxSW is to leverage social networks – realtime. I know how bad I am about emailing people after conferences. But..I’m good at Twitter & Facebook. So when I have met someone I’m interested in staying connected with, I make sure to ask them about their Facebook and Twitter info and connect with them immediately (thank you iPhone). For me, it’s much easier to continue a conversation with them in those environments. Just a thought :)


  4. Jared Goralnick


    That’s a very good point. And, of course, at SXSW this year, the big thing was foursquare for keeping up with people live.

    But I think that the more work it seems to take to keep in touch, the more value there is to that connection. The truth is it doesn’t take much more time to email than it does to add someone to social networks, but it can mean more because the barrier is slightly higher. If adding them on a network, adding a message to it at least is a little more meaningful.

    For me, even waiting to add them on social networks until afterwards so the reminder of “who I am” comes later when there’s less noise is part of my approach (depending of course on whether it’s helpful during the event).

    It’s like when I meet a girl I’m interested in it’s easier to connect with her on Facebook than to call her, but the latter will mean more. The means of communication we choose play a big role in how we’re perceived and how relationships develop–all sorts of relationships.

    Great food for thought, and you’re right that we need to use FB and Twitter as good starting points regardless : ).

    Anyhow, my $0.02.

  5. Randy Stewart


    One of my numerous action items that I’ve been remiss in acting on is thanking you for organizing a fantastic lunch for productivity birds of a feather. I got to meet and talk shop with a number of people whom I would not have met otherwise in a focused, intimate group.

    Your organizational skills, thoughtfulness and execution speak volumes for you, your company and your product.

    Sorry to have missed your panel, Presenting Straight to the Brain, finding all the worthwhile panels to attend at SXSW can be a bit difficult. I hope to catch the podcast version of it later.

    Thanks again for organizing our lunch and it was great catching up with you in the real world again.

    Randy Stewart

  6. Aaron Dragushan

    Great tip. In every case where I’ve organized anything it’s always been worth the time and effort.

    Re the pics, sorry if they turned out fuzzy, I’m clearly no pro. :)

    @Colleen I refuse to believe your age!

  7. Jared Goralnick

    Randy, Don’t worry about thanking me–I’m so glad you came. And honestly you should’ve been one of the people on the list above. I really enjoyed spending time with you both at the lunch and on Monday night. If you’re ever out in DC I hope you’ll look me up. I’ll try to make it to Gnomedex this year and visit, too : ).

    Aaron, the photos were great!

  8. Aaron Dragushan

    Jared – forgot to ask if “Presenting Straight to the Brain” is going to be available for download at any point. Evgenya said she’d be interested in checking it out and I want to forward it to a few other folks who do presentations.

  9. Jared Goralnick

    Aaron, I’m trying to get all the slides together that I can (not easy when everyone is so busy). And whenever the video is available I hope to link to it. Thanks for your interest and I’ll keep you in the loop : ).

  10. @Stephen

    Thanks for sharing this Jared, I wanted to go to the conf so badly, but it just wasn’t possible (what with moving to NH after the 7,000 mile trek this winter).
    I would love to see that video as well, if you could keep me posted that would be fantastic.

    BTW are you going to be in the Boston area anytime? It’s only 2 hours for me.

  11. Jared Goralnick

    Hi Stephen, congrats on the NH move! But sorry you couldn’t make it down…would’ve been fun to catch up : (.

    I actually won’t be in Boston for a while but I’ll let you know (Sept at earliest, I’m guessing).

  12. communicatrix

    @Aaron Sonny, don’t you make me climb outta this rocker and whup you with my cane.

    Don’t you make me!

  13. Egitisim Kariyer Enstitusu

    When will the video will be available?

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