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Tips for SXSW Success: Listen, Share, and Engage

Charlene Li
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I’m at the South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference in Austin, the annual gathering of 35,000 people focused on emerging technologies. I’m often asked what the secret is to a successful SXSW experience and my key advice is to have a plan -- a strategy for what you will do and just as importantly, what you won’t do.

I thought I’d take the framework from my latest book, The Engaged Leader to give some ideas on how to thrive at large conferences like SXSW -- also applicable to any conference you may be attending this year. 

  • Listen at scale. There is so much going on that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. I set up a feed of a few people that I know are here in Austin, and track what they are seeing and hearing. I’m experiencing SXSW through their eyes -- and I get a bead on what they are finding interesting (and which parties they are heading to as well!)
  • Share to shape. Have a plan for what you want to share -- is it a perspective? An insight? And to what end? I have two primary audiences these next few days. The first are people at SXSW that I’m hoping to connect with. Here’s a tweet that shows the packed blogger lounge -- which lets fellow bloggers know where I am and that I’d like to meet them. The second audience consists of the people not here, who are curious about what I’m doing, seeing and feeling. I shared a special moment - the first time I actually picked up my new book.  

  • Engage to transform. SXSW is all about serendipitous engagement. I had a chance to meet Vanessa Van Edwards, who’s doing a workshop on digital body language. We killed two birds with one stone by chatting while standing in line in the badge pickup. That’s where we met Rudy Garza standing behind us -- he’s an Austin-based “super angel” shaking up the venture model. I was transformed with these engagements. Vanessa helped me think differently about how to mindfully use body language as a height-challenged woman in business. Rudy introduced the idea of tapping MBAs to scale research about startups trends. And engagement isn’t limited to face to face encounters. Here’s a fun exchange:

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The framework of listen, share, and engage is a simple checklist to use to plan for events like SXSW -- but also for your engagement as a leader. Give it a try, start today -- after all, what have you got to lose?