Unofficial Guide to SXSW Interactive:
2015 Expert Picks

What started as a quaint multimedia sidearm of a music-dominated event morphed into a meet-up for bloggers, a concept showroom for tech’s up-and-comers, and eventually a social media smorgasbord.

The SXSW Interactive Festival is always evolving, and today it encompasses everything on the Internet. It has usurped music and film by becoming the festival’s dominant force, and this year’s iteration promises to be the biggest one yet.

SWSW_Interactive_Graphic_Citygram_Austin

For starters, there’s the opening of the JW Marriott downtown. The sleek new building boasts more than 1,000 rooms and four floors of meeting space. “It has a fairly big ripple effect in terms of doing new and different things,” says Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive. “We’ll have some 900 sessions and 2,500 speakers. That’s the most sessions we’ve ever done, and that’s largely due to the Marriott.”

In practical terms, Startup Village, the festival’s entrepreneurship hub, will double in size after relocating from the Hilton to the JW Marriott. Job Market, an outsized recruitment fair, will gain programming and precedence by following suit. The Marriott will also host brand new programs, such as the SX Health and MedTech Expo, a mini trade show on medical technology, and SXstyle, which explores the intersections of fashion, art, culture and tech.
These SXSW panelists and presenters boast nearly 70 years of SXSW Interactive experience under their collective belts and a bevy of insight. They offer their best tips for enjoying the festival and their don’t-miss speakers and sessions.


Our Panel of Experts Shares Their Picks and Pro Tips for SXSW Interactive Below

SweetJohnM

Panel: Perks of Being a SXSW Newbie

Friday, March 13, 5-6 p.m.
JW Marriott Salon 4 110 E 2nd St

There are so many sessions this year that I hate to solo one out. It’s kind of like pizza; there’s not a set one for each person — it’s what you’re in the mood for. My best advice is to pick two or three things you want to do and to be ready to ditch that plan. I’m doing a panel on being a SXSW newbie on Friday. So, if you need tips, that would be a good place to go.

Extras: PayPal Social Media Lounge

(Hosted by TechSet)
Austin Convention Center, Room 19AB

Never overlook the lounges. The official lounges, where you can recharge your phone and grab a snack, are the best places to meet people. You never know who you might be sitting next to. You should definitely check out the social media lounge PayPal is hosting this year.

Keynote: Princess Reema Keynote

Saturday, March 14, 2-3 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5

I’ll also be going to the keynote by Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia. She’s going to be speaking about running her business, Alfa Intl., and women in the workplace. Given the press temperament, I think there will be a lot of side discussions about women and equality in the workplace.


Brad_King_Citygram_Austin

Every year you read about people saying SXSW is over, that it’s too crowded – whatever haters are going to hate on about SXSW. But for me, it’s a window into what’s possible. I’m from an Appalachian town no one has ever heard of, and I stumbled on this thing and suddenly the entire world opened up.

I’ve traveled the world and been to some of the biggest colleges in the country, and I’ve never experienced the four days of learning that I experience there. It’s like the Internet in real life. That’s just amazing to me.

Network: SXsocial

Tool allowing SXSW registrants to search for and message other conference attendees

Go into it knowing that you have to craft your own experience. If you’re passive, it can get overwhelming, and you won’t get a lot out of it. SXSW’s social network, SXsocial, is the most important tool there is. I look at who’s coming beforehand and find people doing things I’m interested in. I email them and set up lunch or dinner. That allows me to meet a lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise.

Meet Up: DRONE MEET UP

Sunday, March 15, 12:30-3 p.m.
West Pincer Terrace 701 W Riverside Dr

Don’t miss the Drone Meet Up. I think drones will end up being one of the most transformative issues of the next few years, and this meet up will be hosted by the editor of Make magazine, which is absolutely perfect.

Keynote: Paola Antonelli Keynote

Friday, March 13, 2-3 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5

Design curator Paola Antonelli is the keynote speaker to see. The design experience that happens around us impacts how we move through the world in ways we don’t understand – add to this the ubiquity of mobile computing, and I believe we’re in the Golden Age of Design.


Nathan_Gebhard_Citygram_Austin

Last year was my first year, and I scrolled through the SXSW app and starred sessions I found interesting. It worked for the most part, but you sometimes found that the one you chose was too far of a walk.

I try to find a balance of vegetables and dessert when planning my itinerary. There are a lot of sessions that are very fun but not as substantive – they’re kind of like cat videos. Then, there are the sessions that hurt your brain because they’re so analytical. So I try to make sure I’m not going to a whole day of cat videos, but also that it’s not too cerebral.

Session: Build a Life, Not a Resume

Tuesday, March 17th, 11 a.m.-12 p.m.
JW Marriott Room 407 110 E 2nd St

I’m really excited about “Build a Life, Not a Resume,” which I’ll be involved in. I’m interviewing children’s author Holman Wang in a small-group setting. He was a customs agent, a bookseller, and even a lawyer. He’s had all these incarnations of himself, but he ultimately found this intersection between his identity and his interests, which is something we explore with Roadtrip Nation.

Session: DEEP: What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves

Sunday, March 15, 3:30-3:50 p.m.
Austin Convention Center Ballroom G, 500 E Cesar Chavez St.

I’m planning to attend “Deep: What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves.” The ocean has always been a part of my life; it’s the single place where I feel most at home, so getting a deep understanding of it appeals to me.

Session: Growing Up Digital: Raising Tech Savvy Kids

Tuesday, March 17th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.
JW Marriott Salon 4 110 E 2nd St

I’m also interested in “Growing Up Digital: Raising Tech Savvy Kids.” I have three young daughters. They’re quite tech savvy and capable of using iPads and iPhones, but there’s always the question of what’s the right balance. We don’t have cable and we try to limit TV, even though I have a TV show. But it’s a balancing act for me as a parent.


Liza_Kindred_Citygram_Austin

It’s interesting to me that now there are so many sessions about fashion, retail and wearables. Just a few years ago, there was nothing. I remember the first time there was a session on fashion, and now it seems the fashionistas have “discovered” SXSW.

You want to get practical information, but you still need to maintain this element of humanity. So every year we rent cars for 15 or 20 people and drive out to the Salt Lick for barbecue. It’s the best way to connect with people. We tend to invite some people beforehand and others we meet at the conference. Basically we’re picking up cool, smart strays along the way.

Session: Beacons for Good: Avoiding the Creepy

Saturday, March 14, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
JW Marriott Room 211-212 110 E 2nd St

I’m recommending “Beacons for Good: Avoiding the Creepy.” So many technologies are “smart,” and I think we have this underlying fear of them being smarter than we are. So I like the idea of admitting that some stuff is creepy and finding ways to get around that and to use tech for good instead of evil. It’s looking at what we should do with technology instead of what we can do with technology.

Session: Magical UX and the Internet of Things

Sunday, March 15, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
JW Marriott Salon D 110 E 2nd St

I’m also going to “Magical UX and the Internet of Things.”
I have a disclaimer for this one: My fiancé is the presenter. But he’s a fantastic speaker, and it covers some fascinating ideas. He’ll be discussing how we create experiences that feel like magic for the end users. It explores how we can design technology to serve the people who are using it.

Session: WTF Wearables?

Sunday March 15 11:30-11:50 a.m.
Austin Convention Center Ballroom G 500 E Cesar Chavez St

I’ll be presenting “WTF Wearables?” It’s a reaction to the hype surrounding wearable technology right now. It’s time to cut through all of that hype and to look at the actual problems, particularly the failure to build beautiful wearable technology. There will be a humorous exploration of ridiculous designs. (I resisted the temptation to make it all about Google Glass – that was too easy.) But it’s also a look at things people are actually using.


Jon_Lebkowsky_Citygram_Austin

I’ve been attending SXSW Interactive since the early 1990s, and when it
first started, there was no Internet content. They introduced the Internet around 1995, and for the next five or six years, it was where all the bloggers hung out. Now, Interactive has become the biggest and most prominent part of SXSW.

Keynote: Astro Teller Keynote

Tuesday, March 17, 2-3 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5

I’m planning to attend the keynote by Astro Tell. This guy is running Google[x], which oversees their moonshot projects. He’s a brilliant inventor, and he’s also been involved in the market for body monitoring devices.

Session: Machines That Tell Stories

Saturday, March 14, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
JW Marriott Room 210 110 E 2nd St

I’m also part of a core conversation, “Machines That Tell Stories.” It’s about the intersection of artificial intelligence with storytelling. There’s a lot of interest in humanizing machines and how humans and computers interact, so we’ll explore that. It’s also interesting to consider the extent to which we’re all cyborgs because we carry digital devices. Cyborg used to mean the technology was implanted, but really, if you carry a cell phone, you’re a cyborg.

Extras: TRANSPORTATION

Transportation is a huge issue at SXSW, so it’s important to do some research on the shuttles and transport options before you go. Otherwise, you might miss some of the sessions you want to attend. Signing up for car2go is a good idea. Austin also has a bike service and a bazillion pedicabs. Then there’s Uber and Lyft. Just know going in that there will be a combination of transportation and crowd issues that you’re going to have to navigate.


Lauren_EverittLauren Everitt

Writer
Follow Me on Twitter
 
Lauren Everitt is a freelance writer who specializes in entrepreneurship, East Africa and travel. Most recently, she wrote the first chapter on Rwanda for “Fodor’s The Complete Guide To African Safaris.” Previously, she was the Nairobi-bureau online editor for allAfrica.com and the news and features editor for a San Francisco-based startup. Lauren holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Her writing has appeared on the BBC, The Washington Post, CNN Money/Fortune, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Thrillist.


Written by: Lauren Everitt – @laureneveritt
Photograby and Lead Image by: Chris Perez – @citygrammag
All other photos provided with the exception of Jon Lebkowsky headshot,
used courtesy of the Austin Chronicle.


Click below for the rest of our expert picks…

SXSW Music

SXSW Film

SXSW Film: Editor’s Picks


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