AUSTIN, TEXAS – I arrived in Austin just in time to see President Obama address the captivated attendees of the annual SXSW (short for South by Southwest) festival. Thousands of eager creators flock to this annual festival of tech, music, film, and Texan barbecue. The fastest growing city in the United States, Austin, Texas revels in its status as an oasis of liberal, independent spirit in a notoriously conservative state.
This year SXSW felt like a story of how the tech sphere has expanded outside the bounds of simply hardware and software. Technology has become an essential part of every industry, from just a simple website to completely new systems for designing and delivering products worldwide. At SXSW, most prominently visible are the ways tech is shaping Music, Film, and Design.
At a festival that showcases the top talent in these extremely popular industries, it’s easy to see why the festival is so popular. Getting up close and personal to your favorite CEO, musician, or star of the latest runaway hit film is easy as you navigate through the many halls and attend keynote talks on the hottest topics of today. Highlights of 2016 included keynote speakers Barack and Michelle Obama, Missy Elliott, Jake Gyllenhaal (plus many, many, more).
Also at SXSW was the energetic Australian Shane Williams, AKA the CEO of Wanderlust: The Travel Tribe. I took the opportunity to sit down and have a deeper conversation with him about his time at SXSW and advice he had to get the most out of the event.
K: Tell me exactly what attracted you to go to South X Southwest?
S: I heard about the event through a friend of mine Shelley, I constantly heard her talk about SXSW and then another friend Patrick Nazimi mentioned it and asked if I wanted to go and I just said yes on the spot because he’s a lot of fun. I did a bit of investigation about what the event was about and saw that it was directly in the space of what we’re moving into for Wanderlust. The conference incorporates technology, film and music; all elements that will be used in widening the Wanderlust brand. We’re mainly focused on the technology side of things at the moment. I like to keep up to date with what’s happening in the world. We can see what technologies are popular and decide to put in them app now or to keep in mind for the future. Film will be another one of our components with the creative side through video production. Music, will play a role as well with the events we plan to create around the world.
K: What were some of your expectations and impressions?
S: My first impression? Well, I had no expectations. I went straight to the event once I dropped my bags off. It was an amazing 10 days of learning. Basically, there’s leaders from around the world. The keynote speakers were Barack and Michelle Obama. Other speakers ranged from the head of marketing at RedBull to DJ Richie Hawtin. The beautiful thing about the event is you can learn some amazing cutting edge industry news. The speakers are what really make the festival, it’s a great opportunity to get close to some of these people you wouldn’t be able to contact otherwise. If you’re ballsy enough you can go have a chat with them after their talk, maybe even pitch them your business idea.
There were heaps of artists playing and the event was full world-class professionals in the film, music, and tech industries, all this talent in the city, at the same time, it was amazing. It was one of the best networking events in the world and there aren’t that many egos there either. I was looking for the Hilton hotel and asked a guy for directions. I asked about where he was from and he told me he lives in Sydney and was the head of television for SBS one of the major TV stations in Australia. Those are the types of people you can run into randomly, which is really cool.
K: What are your best networking tactics for when you attend a conference?
S: I believe it’s extremely important to stand out and leave a lasting impression. I always make sure to have really cool business cards. My business cards were designed with an airplane that pops out. Business cards are great for obvious reason to connect you with other people but also to be remembered, it’s helpful if the card reflects your business. My second tip is when you are listening to seminar make sure to prepare an interesting question because at the end of each talk you can ask the panel anything. The panel generally has 4 people and they usually have quite a lot of credentials and industry knowledge. At the end of the talk you also have a chance to talk about your business in front of 1500 -2000 people (or however big the audience size is). Chances are there are people in the industry sitting in the audience. Then after, that I’ll try to chat with someone on the panel. I usually wait until the end so I can have more time to talk with them. Usually, I feel it out each time depending on who I’m talking to.
K: What’s best way to stay in contact with people after you meet them at the conference?
S: I collect business cards I put them into two different sections in my bag. Ones that are priority and the others, I’ll wait to message later. If I make a great connection with someone I make sure to email them literally that night. I’ll try to set up a meeting with them at the conference or before I go back home. It doesn’t always happen like that because other people are busy as well so it’s basically singling out the people you want to talk to. In general you meet so many people at these events if you don’t do a follow-up it’s difficult to remember them and you might lose that connection.
K: What’s the best thing you can get out of doing these events?
S: There’s a few things, the first is showing my face to people who I plan to talk to in the future for example, I met the guy who was head of digital at Qantas Airlines. I made a point to talk to him face to face and introduce myself so later when I see him again he’ll recognize me. Like I mentioned earlier, the conference is a great way to find out what technology is emerging and listen to what practices or methods haven’t worked in the past. It’s always useful to learn from other people’s mistakes. Look more at the failures because that’ll teach you more than looking towards future technologies. Hearing what’s going on in the industry at the moment is crucial. Cultural and technological switches for example: Snapchat is probably one of the biggest things that’s happened in the industry now, which is Facebook’s biggest rival. So it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
K: What you would recommend to somebody who has never been to an event like this?
S: SXSW is an event you need to plan ahead of time. There are so many great speakers talking about a variety of topics so you really need to look at the daily agenda and map out the entire week. Most people go for one section like interactive technology, film or music. I went for the entire festival. You need to book your accommodation early because it gets ridiculously expensive. Also, the night events are great so make sure not to get too drunk every night it might be something you need to moderate. When the music comes at the end of the week that’s the time to let loose, if you know what I mean! But other than that enjoy the food trucks and barbecue!
K: How do you think this trip to SXSW will impact your company Wanderlust?
S: The thing that I got out the most was making great connections especially with my friend Patrick, who works in the music and event industry. We got to spend time with some artists and talked with them about collaborations in the future. We want to do some castle parties in Europe to promote the brand and it was a great opportunity I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I really enjoyed the entire event and definitely plan on attending next year.
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