Raissa Evans is the Executive Manager of the Practice Growth team for PKF Texas.  She is an active member of the Houston Interactive community and 2012 will be the third year in a row she has attended the SXSW Interactive festival.

PKF Texas is again joining the ranks of those attending the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival held in Austin, Texas in March 2012. We’re really excited to have director of Consulting Solutions Greg Price join the dynamic Practice Growth duo of Karen Love and me in scouting out all of the tech trends and meeting futurists, thought leaders and influencers at the largest festival of its kind in the world. For more background on why our  accounting firm attends SXSW, see our articles on gaining our firm’s leadership endorsement and our Top 10 Business Take-aways from this year’s conference.

Monday, August 15, was the opening day for the 2012 SXSW Interactive Panelpicker, the official community-driven content curation system where attendees get to “vote up” or “vote down” topics they’d like to see make the final Program Book.

Although the Panelpicker is meant to be searched, and panelists have a chance to promote their own sessions and campaign for votes, I spent some time yesterday flipping through all 3,164 sessions to get an overall feel for this year’s trends and collected my thoughts to share.

Observations on the topics presented:

  • There’s a focus on different topics this year, that may not have received the same limelight in the past, including: social healthcare topics, education, ethics, nostalgia media such as radio and libraries, tablet devices, group buying, mobile commerce/pay systems, job hunting/recruiting and, ironically, fashion
  • Conspicuously underrepresented for an election year are topics on political issues, globalization and marketing for diversity, although you’ll see a small handful of each
  • A vast majority is what you’ll commonly see. They’ll be harder to sift through as you try to determine for yourself if the organizer has collected the right group of experts to speak on the topic (or if they just have “guru” in their Twitter bio). With a clever enough title, they may catch your eye anyway. These topics include: journalism vs. PR, new media, video, UX (user experience), design, content strategy, SEO (search engine optimization), developing, funding, gamification and gender issues
  • What I had hoped to see, but didn’t: anything about clean tech. Maybe this got siphoned off into October’s inaugural SXSW Eco conference?

My advice for panelpicker hopefuls, from a layperson:

  • Keep buzzwords out of titles – think of new, catchy ways to present your topic
  • Keep clichés out of titles – Ex. “X is dead, long live X” “The death of X”, etc.
  • Put your co-presenters in the session description as well. The site bandwidth has been overtaxed and is very slow, but we can preview and vote in the list view if it’s compelling.
  • Write your description with journalism rules: Compelling headline, first 3 sentences are most important. This is critical for the list preview mode and when scanning 3,164 sessions.
  • One out of 10 titles was too long, in which case the Panelpicker lists “Title Too Long” as the title and bumps the headline to the synopsis line. Fix this!
  • Consider listing a different lead organizer. Consider who has the expertise heavy, instead of defaulting to the big agency name who submitted this and 30 other sessions.
  • When using a case study as the subject matter, make sure we know exactly what can be taken away from the case study, rather than just listening to someone else’s brag session.
  • Be careful of telling me what females DO in a synopsis. You risk alienating more than half of potential attendees.
  • Consider that who you recruit to co-present will be presenting to arguably the best-educated and largest interactive audience in the world. The most common complaint last year was egotistical and unprepared panelists, which is not only boring, but offensive. You don’t want to be the negative buzz of the conference.

Last year, 935 sessions made it through to the final festival, attended by over 19,000 conference-goers from 63 countries. To place your votes, go to panelpicker.sxsw.com and use the advanced search function to find the proposals that meet your goals. Voting ends 11:59 CDT on Friday, September 2.

Houstonians can visit the Social Media Breakfast Houston site Facebook page for a running list of proposals from the Energy City.