I’m a SXSW Virgin

bootsI was talking to a friend about SXSW Interactive the other day and mentioned that I was looking forward to going for the first time. He responded, “How in the world have you never gone to SXSW?” I’ve not been avoiding it, but for one reason or another I’ve never made it before until this year.

The conference has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and some may even argue that it has become a marketing event gotten too big. Without having been before, I obviously can’t say whether it’s too big or not, but I can speak to the fact that the scale of the event requires some planning.

There are hundreds of events taking place over the course of the conference and, from what I’ve gathered, if you don’t plan ahead and figure out what sessions/events/parties you’d like to attend, you’re going to feel lost and overwhelmed. With that said, I’ve mapped out my days to some degree, but have also purposefully left some gaps so that I can wander about and stumble spontaneously on whatever surprises SXSW has to offer.

At this point, I’ve signed up for all sorts of events, but there are 9 that I am particularly looking forward to:

  1. Newbies Meetup – Please don’t laugh, but yes, I’m planning on going to a meetup for SXSW newbies. Why? Because it’s happening on the first day and I’m confident that this will be a great way to network, get the lay of the land, and also to learn about events that aren’t already on my radar.
  2. NASA Sharing Space – NASA has fully embraced the world of social media and I think it will be interesting to hear more about how they operate on the web.
  3. The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa – The mobile market in Africa is extremely unique and I’m very interested to learn more about how it has transformed the way of life for such a large population of people.
  4. Beyond Work/Life: Changing the Debate and Making Change – The speaker for this session, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the book, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Work/life balance is extremely important and I’m curious to hear her vantage point on the topic.
  5. The Power of Bad Ideas – Ketchum has a thriving creative culture and I’m a firm believer that “bad ideas” have the potential to spawn good ideas during the brainstorming process.
  6. Al Gore on the Future – Yes, this session’s speaker is THE Al Gore. While I’d love for him to announce that he’s invented the Internet (again), it seems that he has opted for his talk to be, “a frank and clear-eyed assessment of the emerging forces that are reshaping our world.” At least that’s what the SXSW website says.
  7. Andy Rubin Conversation with Guy Kawasaki – Andy Rubin is the founder of Android and SVP of Mobile and Digital Content at Google. Need I say more about him? Guy Kawasaki was one of the early guys at Apple and I’m betting he’s going to have some insightful comments.
  8. Cory Booker: The New Media Politician – Cory Booker is the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and frequently leverages social media to connect to his constituents. My interest in this session stems from my run for City Council back home in 2009. I’m specifically interested to see if he talks about whether social media has helped or hurt his campaigning efforts.
  9. Style Goes Viral: The Future of Fashion – I’m a fashion blogger on the side so it will be great to hear this talk about how social media has drastically changed the world of fashion. Not to mention the fact that Nina Garcia and Randi Zuckerberg are on the panel.

Now, the question is, will I actually be able to attend all of these sessions? That’s another unknown. I’ve registered for them online, but I’ve heard people mention that events sometimes fill to capacity, so we will see how things play out.

One thing is certain though; I’m finally going to SXSW and am looking forward to the adventure ahead! Stay tuned for Ketchum’s commentary from on the ground in Austin.


Ryan is Senior Manager, Online Communications, for Ketchum. He’s an avid cyclist and blogger, and is proud of his Southern roots. Feel free to check out his personal website, or connect with him on Twitter – @RyanShell.