Should You Attend SXSWi?

Image of SXSWi 2014 by Jenn Starr

South by Southwest Interactive happens this weekend. Whether you’re, “Woo!” or “Boo!” over it depends on whether you view it as a meeting of the minds where creativity flows smoother than Barry White’s voice, or as an overpriced, overhyped sideshow of buzzwords and boredom.

The truth is, the conference isn’t for everyone – and that’s okay. Parsing fact from fiction helps newcomers decide whether or not heading out to Austin this weekend is the best investment for their careers.

Is SXSWi Worth It?

Some people consider the conference fertile ground for innovation, while others consider it fallow ground for shallow insight. You ultimately take away your own unique perspective on whether or not your attendance was valuable.

Although the event often gets hyped as the be-all, end-all of all things interactive…it’s not. It’s really not. Tech is too broad and nuanced a subject to be summed up in only one event. You may miss some interesting lectures or the debut of a product, but the seven seals aren’t going to crack open if you or your company don’t have the budget to hit up SXSWi. Staying on top of the latest developments can happen in myriad ways.

If you can’t handle crowds, then Austin on a SXSW weekend will absolutely not be for you, either. Since the event grows so much every year, your chances of directly networking with the big shots are rapidly shrinking. However, if you find the price agreeable and don’t mind the crush of people, SXSWi does provide you with more opportunities to network with potential friends and business partners with similar ideals and goals.

SXSWi’s workshop, meetup, panel, session and lecture schedule tries to cover a nice range of business and technology topics, so you’ll likely find at least a few of their offerings appealing. If not? You don’t have to give into other people’s enthusiasm. Find an alternative event to learn more about the subjects that interest you.

Alternatives to SXSWi

Despite SXSWi’s reputation as a spawning ground for the likes of Google Glass, by no means should it be considered the only interactive media event worth attending. Regardless of whether or not Austin is on the itinerary, you should still explore the other enriching options out there.

  • 99U Conference focuses on inspiring people to adapt their ideas from concept to reality. This year’s speakers include this-sort-of-thing mainstay Seth Godin, ModCloth’s Susan Gregg Koger and Facebook product design director Julie Zhuo.
  • New Orleans-based BizCamp fancies itself an “unconference” because of its informal, improvisational approach to sharing ideas. Entrepreneurial types form the core of its target audience.
  • Also an “unconference” based out of New Orleans, BarCamp is an even looser event, inviting anyone who wants to speak to share what’s on their mind, though most participants enjoy discussing tech, the creative sector and entrepreneurship.
  • Both Maker Faire and TEDx happen across the world, making them far more accessible than events relegated to one location once a year. They’re both fun options for soaking up information and new ideas on a crazy-wide range of subjects.

Complacency Is the Enemy

Plenty of groundbreaking technological innovations have happened outside of Austin, and they’ll continue to keep happening outside of Austin probably for the foreseeable future.

Going to SXSWi doesn’t suddenly make you a marketing pro, and not going doesn’t mean you’re not attuned to industry happenings. Never let this element influence your decision whether or not to attend. That’s the opposite of innovative, independent and creative thought.

Or if you really want to get creative? Organize your own workshops, mini-conferences or other gathering if you have the resources. Stay active. Stay informed. But understand that one weekend won’t make or break your reputation.

Side Note: Signet's totally awesome Jenn Starr will be in ATX this weekend. Follow her exploits with us on Twitter.

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