This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.
Imagine: four or five times a day, you line up against a wall in one of Austin's largest buildings.
You've staked out your spot an hour in advance, but you know that you still may not make it in because, literally, the line is winding all the way to the first floor for the session that's happening on the fourth - down the stairs and throughout all the hallways in between.
You hang onto your badge like it's made of pure gold (remember that at least four times a day you stop breathing because you think it blew off in the winds that whip through Texas).
Finally at the front of the line, your badge is scanned by one of the thousands of volunteers here in their turquoise and orange shirts. You see your face and name pop onto the scanner, and you hear the signature little musical cue that means, "You're in!"
Here's the super cool thing about South by Southwest, the thing that everyone talks about and the reason we've all been bouncing around town excited about this for months: the sessions are incredible. The speakers are downright amazing, and these are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Of course, there's a downside: there are literally thousands of people vying for seats in a limited number of sessions. It's not uncommon to see someone jogging down the hallway to try to snag a spot for an upcoming keynote, and it's completely typical for a mass exodus to occur in the last fifteen minutes of any session while everyone takes off to find another line.
SXSW offers a wealth of lessons in the schedule itself, but it's also been a master class in practicality. Here are the courses I now feel qualified to teach: living by map, running in jeans, finding free water in the desert Austin Convention Center, surviving crowds for introverts, checking a schedule while listening to a panel discussion while also taking notes and/or writing a blog, organizing a constantly on-the-move group of diverse eaters for dinner, and last but certainly not least, prioritizing.
Personally, I've taken the approach of choosing a focus for three two-day periods - culture, storytelling, and food - but even so, there are so many sessions at any given time that I'm forced to make a choice every two hours on which will be the best investment for me.
Unless by chance, we don't see each other during the day, but we do communicate constantly through hundreds of messages on the Slack app, pointing out places to eat, highlighting great sessions, and sharing photos and jokes. If we happen to find ourselves with an extra twenty minutes, there are huge names to visit at the trade show, book signings, various lounges for relaxing and grabbing a snack (e.g. the one and only Wisconsin Cheese Lounge), and even the occasional Lego table.
When the daytime sessions are over, we press pause for just a minute to share dinner amongst our teams. As we walk through downtown Austin together, we explore the many public art installations and talk about what we learned, what we saw, the thoughts that have us feeling most inspired.
No matter what we each saw on our own, the collective threads are brought out within our discussion, and the ultimate SXSW experience becomes clear as we embrace big ideas and start to piece together what this vision means for our community.
Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. And watch for more blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.