Selecting which sessions to attend at South by Southwest is an art. My general philosophy is to skip the ones that I think will tell me things I already know (including many of the journalism sessions) or that are led by people I talk to all the time. I usually pick something I think will open my mind or give me really practical takeaways, then I follow along on the Twitter backchannel for the rest, saving RSS feeds of hashtags I’m especially interested in.
I’ve been in some great sessions at South by Southwest this week. I’ve also been in some total duds. Some of the duds have been topics that just weren’t a good fit for me. But others were misrepresented or poorly run.
Here’s what I wish speakers would do:
— Tell the truth in your panel pitches. Describe what you’re going to say. And then if you change your mind along the way, suck it up and stick to the original plan. Or don’t be surprised when the crowd seems disappointed.
— Be upfront about the goals of the session. Maybe it’s the professor in me (learning objectives, anyone?), but I really like it when people announce what they’re going to say and then say it.
— Don’t pitch your product. Know that everyone in the audience is looking you up and will discover for themselves what you do for a living. I understand that lots of people here have a product or service to sell, but that pitch should not be the basis for your panel. Or if it is, see No. 1.
— Don’t rely on having a conversation with your audience, and don’t go to questions too soon. When you do, it’s easy to lose control over the focus of the session. I haven’t been to a single session on the “Core Conversations” track that had focus or stayed interesting. One thing that helps: When you take questions, ask people to introduce themselves first. The context/background can frame the question.
— Put up a screen with twitter names when you’re introducing the panel. Keep it there as the default.
— If the Twitter hashtag is generic (#dads? really?) amend it on the fly so the backchannel is focused and uncluttered.
What did I leave out?