SXSW 30: Older than many attendees, but still going strong

In my role as a marketing and communications strategist, I find it both inspiring and informative to immerse myself in opportunities to see what’s trending in my field. Like you, that often takes the form of reading blogs, tweets and articles, or catching up with industry friends. But there is nothing quite like attending a relevant conference to really capture that immersive experience.

Five years ago I began attending SXSW’s Interactive Conference – the geekier first phase of the famous music and film festival hosted in “Keep Austin Weird” Texas.  During those years, I’ve seen the conference evolve from a content and attendee perspective. My first year, the alternatives to the marketing and branding track were primarily technical sessions and participant demographics skewed young. Five years later, there are content tracks for gaming and VR/AR, sports, nonprofits, health and medtech, work & career management and more. Most of the panelists are older (mid-30s through 60s) and there are plenty of gray-haired participants. As well, corporate sponsorships have become substantial, featuring “recharge” lounges around the Austin Convention Center. However, that helps keep the registration fees affordable for the thousands who attend.

Each year,  some buzzworthy items surface during the conference (last year was Meerkat, this year was virtual reality, with VR experiences available at some sponsored lounges). However, I always have fun noting the smaller things that set the tone for the event. So here’s my list of #SXSW2016  trends:

  1. Tom’s flats and black sneakers were women’s shoes of choice (and comfort!).
  2. Man buns are here to stay.
  3. The hipster fedora is officially retired.
  4. Less live tweeting, however, it was cumbersome to figure out the session hashtags, as opposed to prior years when it was printed in the program.
  5. Highly engaged attendees, with those taking notes often using old-fashioned pens and paper.
  6. Fewer lines to get into sessions. Very long lines to get into parties and some of the corporate lounges.
  7. Lots of hotels downtown Austin, which is a huge improvement and convenience.
  8. Very fast runners along the riverside pathways.
  9. The bats were still on winter vacation (or avoiding the evening show on the Congress Street bridge).
  10. Lyft ruled. As the official ride-sharing partner supplemented by $5 and $10 on-site credits, they were the ride of choice (and did a great job, by the way!).

If you’ve ever considered attending, I highly recommend it. Great content, top-notch speakers, a vibrant setting – and the chance to spot trends as they happen!

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