When tasked with finding a conference to attend in 2019 as an added work benefit, I compared quite a few before settling on SXSW in Austin, Texas. If you’re not familiar with SXSW, it’s a two week event that occurs every Spring in Austin, Texas and basically shuts down the city. Almost half a million people flock there for the music, film, and interactive events that occur daily, and there are scooters and branded pop-ups taking over every corner of the city.
At first, a seven day conference seemed like a bit much: and in ways it was. When I left I was exhausted with sore legs and feet, but starry eyed and ready to incorporate my learnings into not only work but my personal goals, too. Check out these nine reasons why I loved SXSW and will definitely be going back.
The Sessions were High Quality
We’ve all been to that conference where you reach about 2PM and read the next session title thinking “meh, this is worth missing”, before walking away to plug in your phone and grab a coffee. SXSW is not like that. In fact, you’ll have the opposite problem since there is more than one session for each time slot and all of them are amazing.
Austin, Texas is an Amazing City
Austin earned the title of one of my top 5 favorite U.S. cities during my time there. Beyond the art culture, great bars, and beautiful scenery, there is an amazing music scene with so many cool places to listen to local bands. Almost every night ended with a cold beer and live music.
I ate my weight in TexMex and BBQ when I was there, and it was worth every bite. Food trucks and pop-up vendors line the streets around the convention center, making the options seem endless and great food the main thing you can smell at all times. My favorite was a place called Iron Works Barbecue, which looked like someone had picked it up out of a honky-tonk town and placed it between the convention center and the Fairmont hotel. It’s hard to go wrong in Austin!
The Experiential Marketing is SO Cool
As someone who attended SXSW for the brands and marketing conference, I was excited to check out the amazing activations brands were known to put on. I had heard about the Westworld pop-up from a few years ago, where they built a Westworld town that made you feel like you had stepped right into the show. My expectations were high, and this year did not disappoint.
There were so many great events, but my two favorite activations were for Amazon’s new show Good Omens and Kate McKinnon’s podcast Heads Will Roll.
Good Omens, a show about an angel and demon who pair up to stop the apocalypse, used actors to portray the dueling heaven and hell with angels, demons, nuns, bikers, and apocalypse picketers walking around the city. They roamed the streets, handing out pamphlets that drove visitors to the garden of eden, where drinks and food were served under a giant apple tree, and the battle of heaven and hell went on with dueling pianos and different stations like a puppy pit of hell hounds and a heavenly manicure station.
The Heads Will Roll Event promoted comedian Kate McKinnon’s new podcast with a medieval takeover of a bar, including costumes, giant turkey legs, signature cocktails, and a Pillory. They did a great job with setup and this was one of the busiest events night after night.
The People Are Really Cool
As a rather chatty person who was traveling by myself, I was desperate for conversation by the end of the first day. Fortunately for me, there were plenty of people around to interact with. I met wonderful people each day, forming lasting connections with some and spending a night on the town with others. If nothing else, it reminded me to get out of my comfort zone and remember how interesting people really are.
It’s a Celebrity Hot Spot
Did I mention Matthew McConaughey was there? Unfortunately for me, I did not get to see him show up for the premier of The Beach Bum, but I was ready to sprint across town when I heard he was there. The film festival draws in a lot of big names like Jordan Peele, Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, and more. Beyond celebrity sitings, the speakers were astounding, my favorite being Kate Parker, photographer for Strong like a Girl and Heart of a Boy who spoke to a smaller audience which made for a more personal experience.
The Technology Is Mind Blowing
Have you ever had a robot look at you, size you up and then start speaking to you in a strange language? How about play with robotic puppies? I hadn’t either, until SXSW! Sony had a really futuristic pop-up that included a lot of new technology, and the trade show had everything from movement-assisting exoskeletons to robotic hands playing the piano. Mind.Blown.
They Touch on Current Issues & Trends
When you get that many forward-thinking, innovative people together, it’s no surprise that they’re going to touch on current political and societal issues and trends. One exhibition poked fun at the president with a Trump Tweets gallery, while ADP created a popup for International Women’s Day that allowed visitors to physically break glass ceilings, smash the pay gap piggybank, shatter work clocks for work-life balance and pummel outdated systems.
Bottom Line: You’ll Never be So Inspired
After averaging about 9 miles of walking a day and having continuous early mornings followed by late nights, I was junk by the end of the conference. Despite the physical exhaustion, I had never felt so inspired and alive; I was ready to bring my learnings into my personal and professional goals, and thinking harder than ever about where I wanted my career to go. That feeling hasn’t faded much, either.
Three weeks later – I’m still finding new ways to share and incorporate the experience that is SXSW. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event and hoping my next conference is still impressive- though SXSW will be hard to beat.
Have you been to SXSW before? What was your favorite part? If not, what other conferences or events inspired you? Share in the comments below!