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Your Ultimate Guide to SXSW Panel Picker 2019

Authors: Zontee Hou Zontee Hou
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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ultimate guide sxsw panel picker

Even if you haven’t attended SXSW before, you’re probably familiar with the cultural impact of the sprawling annual conference/festival/showcase in Austin. From global brands to influential futurists, just about everyone who is anyone makes an appearance at the conference at some point. Elon Musk has been there, as has Joe Biden, Kesha, and even the cast of Game of Thrones. For many marketers, it’s important to get brand visibility at SXSW if they want to be viewed as future-forward.

It’s also unique in that the community is highly involved with the programming process, with about 30% of sessions’ overall “scores” determined by audience votes. This year alone, there are approximately 4,000 session submissions to SXSW and 1,500 to SXSW EDU in dozens of different tracks within the Panel Picker. Voting ends August 30, so now is your time to impact the conversation in 2019 by voting on which panels you’d like to see come to life.

Not heading to Austin? Many of SXSW’s sessions are recorded and broadcast via their Facebook, YouTube, and Soundcloud channels.

I love browsing the Panel Picker submissions—it gives you a glimpse into the zeitgeist. (Side note: My colleague Lauren Teague and I are on Panel Picker this year for Evolving Communities: Connectivity in Education and Busting Glass: Millennial Women in Sports Careers. Would you vote for us, please? ?).

What are the topics that people are interested in talking about and thinking about in 2019? What should your company be paying attention to, heading into 2019?

Let’s explore the 2019 Panel Picker submissions in 5 charts.

1. Looking Towards the Future of Tech

technology sxsw
Panel Picker Technology Submissions, SXSW 2019

Dominating the field, AI and trends drive the largest share of session submissions. Furthermore, the new tracks of “VR/AR/MR” and “Blockchain & Cryptocurrency” reflect larger trends. Plus, the fact that both tracks have strong submission numbers indicates that there is absolutely hunger and interest in discussing the promise and realities of both areas. 

Within the broad “Tech Industry & Enterprise” track, we find submissions that vary from “Industrial Cyber Security & Complex Threats” to “How Women are Rebuilding a Man-Made Internet.” Unsurprisingly, as the technology has matured, more of the conversation has shifted from what comes next to a more nuanced picture of why and how it should be executed within a broader cultural context. 

2. “Social & Global Impact” Holds Its Own Among Business and Government Topics

business government panel picker submission
Business & Government Panel Picker Submissions, SXSW 2019

Some of the most popular tracks include “Brands & Marketing,” “Future Workplace,” “Social & Global Impact,” and “Entrepreneurship & Startups.” In fact, within the SXSW Interactive festival, business leaders, marketers, and salespeople have become a strong contingency over the years, sharing case studies, best practices, and trend views.

3. Marketing Is Interwoven Into Most Areas of Business

Most Used Terms in SXSW Panel Picker Submissions, 2019
Most Used Terms in 2019 SXSW Panel Picker Submissions

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised as a marketer that, in the Brands & Marketing track alone, there are over 500 submissions. Sure, marketers love talking about our own work, and we’re often the storytellers and cheerleaders within our own organization. But I think what’s also reflected in the word cloud of the most used terms within the titles of those 500 submissions is that marketing is inextricably woven into the way we think about business in the internet age.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one posts a photo or tweets about it, did it really happen? Every industry needs to communicate with its stakeholders, and marketers are putting emphasis on how those stories are being told. 

4. SXSW Continues to Incubate Industry-Specific Tracks

industry specific panel picker
Industry Specific Panel Picker Submissions, SXSW 2019

This year, SXSW has introduced a “Cannabusiness” track and changed its “Health” track to “Health & MedTech.” The shift in the health focus area has resulted in strong submissions of over 250 sessions, indicating the high level of relevance right now. 

In addition, we see Food, Sports, and Gaming (specific industries that it had developed out in past years) return. While these tracks have more modest numbers of sessions proposed, they also indicate areas of commitment by the festival to these specific industries. 

Speaking of sports, if you’re interested in the future of business in sports and its changing demographics, be sure to vote for my fellow Convince & Convert strategist Lauren Teague’s panel, “Busting Glass: Millennial Women in Sports Careers.”

5. The Business of Making Art


Film & Music Tracks, SXSW
Film & Music Track Panel Picker Submissions, SXSW 2019

Rounding out the business/tech-focused SXSW Interactive festival, SXSW Film and SXSW Music make up the largest parts of the conference. Yes, there are lots of screenings and showcases, but SXSW also has a strong selection of panels and speakers focused on the business of making, selling, distributing, and marketing art. 

Among the sessions proposed in these tracks are panels that discuss culture and intersectionality, the practical considerations of licensing, and the challenges of funding.

Education Brings Together Robust Cross-Sections

In addition to these tracks, SXSW EDU features another approximately 1,500 submissions focused specifically on issues within the education space. Ranging from K-12 to higher education to informal education, these sessions bring the same innovation and creative, cross-disciplinary approach to this vital industry. 

In fact, three extremely experienced colleagues and I have joined together to submit a session called, “Evolving Communities: Connectivity in Education”, which explores how technology, digital media, and educational institutions are interfacing to bring together different groups for the purposes of spreading knowledge and connectivity. From parents/families to teachers to students studying across state lines, how we create connections is key to support education.

Whether you’re attending SXSW or not, your vote to select the topics that will be impacting the industry in 2019 is well worth a few minutes of exploration in the Panel Picker. And of course, if you’re interested in up-voting Lauren’s session or my session, we appreciate your support!

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