A warm SXSW Welcome at Austin's airportSouth by Southwest is an annual festival that shuts down the city of Austin for a week and a half in March.  This year, 108 film features (including 54 world premiers) were screened for the Film portion, 1,800 musical acts performed on 80 downtown stages for the Music and Media Conference, and Interactive sessions boasted "the best minds and the brightest personalities of emerging technology".

The Interactive brochure, a 208-page, 1/2"-thick tome, described the hundreds of sessions over the five-day event, but you really can't appreciate the venue until you've experienced it in person.  In other words, my next visit to SXSW will be much more efficient?  productive?  enjoyable?  than my virgin experience, if only because I'll understand much better how-to-do the what-to-do. 

I've tried to figure out how in the world to summarize my time in Austin; too much to put into words, so here are a few lingering thoughts:

  1. Thank you, John Andrews!  Thank you, Walmart!  While I've mentioned winning this trip at BlissDom '09, I don't know that I've adequately expressed my gratitude for John's generous sponsorship (SXSW badge + hotel + flight = $$$$).  John understands the power of women bloggers and their ability to affect buying decisions; creating the 11 Mom phenom is a brilliant play by Walmart.  Through the voice of about two dozen well-read bloggers, John has effectively elevated the brand of Walmart itself.  Working together with Rockfish Interactive (headed by Kenny Tomlin), 11 Moms are a public relations force!  Read their profiles and follow back to their personal blogs.  I do wish I had gotten to know individually all who were at SXSW, but schedules were crazy and those girls were working!
  2. Eat your Wheaties.  Navigating the oft-confusing maze known as the Austin Convention Center requires a degree in mapology–I think it's 174 football fields long.  Someone said conference goers walk an average of 12 miles a day, and while I imagine that's urban legend, my feet agree.  I'd suggest foregoing shoe style for sensibility; your feet will thank me later.
  3. Weight lifting.  In keeping with #2, realize if you're attending Interactive, you're probably the type who lugs along a laptop and a camera.  Smaller is better.  Repeating at the top of my lungs:  SMALLER IS BETTER!  My neck, shoulders and back ached when I got home.  Those who carried a point and shoot, and tweeted or blogged from their phone, fared much better than me.  The biggest irony is I took only a few random pictures.(L-R) Katja Presnal, Sugar Jones, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, me
  4. Meetin' & greetin'.  It's always great to meet IRL friends you know online.  Thanks to Lisa Reid for chauffering me from and to the Austin airport (& for a fabulous Austin Tex-Mex welcome to the city!); I was grateful to hang out with and become friends with additional trip winners Kim and Michele; I loved rooming with newest 11 Mom and everyday fashionista, Audrey McClelland, and the sweetest Hug Ambassador EVAH, Sugar Jones; 11 Mom Life-story recaps in 20 minutes or less :)
    Katja Presnal hung out late night with me and Sugar, and I'd have to say it's a toss-up whether her friendship or Sugar's friend, Khayyam, were the biggest pleasant surprises of the weekend–both extended a warm hand of friendship when it mattered.  (BTW, I love my @tedmurphy tee shirt, which makes absolutely NO sense outside the world of blogging, but makes perfect sense within.)  I got to meet Karen Rayne, one of my Blog Nosh co-editors, which was a bonus :).  LOTS of others, so if I fail to mention, forgive me? :) 
  5. Energy & synergy.  Everyone who's a {blogging/tech/social media} anyone is at SXSW; that is NOT to say if you're a blogger who wasn't there, you're a no one, but if you're making a living in online writing/design/consulting, it's a must!  It's not just about attending sessions (some are worth your time, others, a waste…), it's about networking, and not just meeting the people you read or follow on Twitter, but establishing a framework for real relationship.  I'm not gonna drop names, but yes…"they" were ALL there!
  6. Discretion with the TwitPics.  Sugar and I were headed to a session when we noticed Heather and John Armstrong walking in front of us.  They're tall.  Heather was wearing tight yoga pants and I'm pretty sure she was going commando; I sooo wanted to take a picture and Twitter-Ask "your" opinion, but Sugar screamed quietly discouraged me ("YOU CAN'T DO THAT!!!").  I probably wouldn't have taken the picture even if Sugar hadn't been my conscience, but I did think about it.  Contrast that to some friends who, FOR FUN & SILLINESS, were dancing on the bar at a local night club that's known for that–a very "When in Rome" kind of thing.  Those pictures DID make it to Twitter and there was immediate (but thankfully temporary) backlash.  Taken out of context, anything can look awful (do I need to mention the @tedmurphy tee shirt again?); in context, it really was innocent, but I felt bad for those involved.  
  7. Invisibility cloak.  Within the SXSW Interactive "bubble", there are rock stars…blogebrities (??) and when you're standing next to them, it's easy to feel diminished in comparison.  Until I got my footing, there were moments I felt like a hairy wart-faced troll standing next to a supermodel, and it never occurred to me (naturally out-going and self-assured) this could be an issue.  A wonderful lesson learned in seeking those in the margins and recognizing people's inherent value. 
  8. A graphic recording of Tony's remarks by Sunni Brown
     Zappos.  The BEST session I attended was Tony Hsieh's (pictured above) opening remarks.  I wore Twitter OUT trying to scribe everything he said, but suffice it to say their corporate culture and customer service is unsurpassed.  Zappos isn't a billion dollar company by accident–Tony is smart, driven and innovative.  
  9. Austin.  This city has a great vibe and my only complaint is I didn't see MORE of it!  There are parties galore during SXSW, and they get you around the city to a large degree, but I would have loved to have walked the streets downtown to soak it in…a compelling argument for a "next time" :).
  10. Do something, do good!  Last but not least, I loved working with The Pledge to End Hunger, mainly through promotion on Twitter; the 11 Moms were promoting it big time, too.  If you haven't yet lent your support, all you have to do is visit their site (and please read a bit while you're there).  You can simply "sign" the pledge, make a donation or find a way to volunteer; if you choose to make a donation by 11 a.m. EST Thursday, Tyson Foods will match every gift pledged and PayPal will make an additional donation.

I could go on, but I'm pretty tired of writing & rememberin', so I KNOW you're tired of reading/skimming!  If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Additional SXSW posts (please email/DM a link to me and I'll add yours!):

A few pictures, just for fun
Sugar Jones

Katja Presnal, Skimbaco Lifestyle
Audrey McClelland, Mom Generations
Melissa, Consumer Queen

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