As a first-timer at #SXSW2018, I left for Austin with no real expectations. I wanted to experience it for myself and shape my own perspective about the annual event that attracts thousands of attendees from across the world, not to mention big brands, thought leaders, music lovers and tech trendsetters. By the end of my time there, not only was I able to exceed my daily 15,000 step goal, I also took some mental notes that will hopefully guide me in my ongoing journey as a storyteller.
Connection to self: The underlying theme at SXSW this year was the connection to self, mindfulness and prioritizing the human element above all else even as we continue to obsess about new technology. Though blockchain, AI, augmented and virtual reality dominated the conversation, there were multiple sessions that focused on bringing your whole self to work, channeling vulnerability and emotional intelligence. One that stood out to me was a discussion between Kirsten Green and Emily Chang that focused on Kristen’s journey founding Forerunner Ventures, one of the only female-led venture capitalist firms in Silicon Valley. “Women need to own their ambition,” she said. “Be yourself. Be who you are.”
Be real and authentic: Content is only king when it makes a connection with the end-user. Fostering authenticity was a critical theme across tracks on experiential storytelling, journalism and marketing to consumers at SXSW. Lena Dunham expressed this sentiment during her panel “Authenticity and the Media.” She talked about how she has leveraged her biweekly e-newsletter Lenny Letter to tell untold stories that matter to real women. Similarly, Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle, voiced the need to generate ideas from employees and build products that feel genuine.
As the media landscape continues to evolve, not only do people consume content in different ways; they express an increased need for trust, authenticity and dialogue. This requires journalists, marketers and PR professionals to evolve, finding new and unique ways to connect with audiences while sticking to the facts.
Build conversations: As a storyteller, SXSW is a great place to find fodder for new stories to tell; stories that are unique, diverse and that lead to new insights. SXSW is not just a venue to launch new products. It’s a space to reframe our collective thinking on the issues shaping our present and future. It’s about making connections with people from all walks of life, people with fresh perspectives, thought leaders within and more importantly outside your industry that spark timely and relevant conversations and together, build a culture of inclusivity.
For most, SXSW is a great place to network, learn something new and maybe spot a celebrity or two. For me, it was about tapping into new insights and approaches to becoming a better storyteller. With that, my top three takeaways are:
- Be relevant to your audience and evolve with the changing media landscape.
- Data-driven storytelling is real.
- Foster authenticity and bring your whole self to work.
An accomplished marketing and communications strategist with over 18 years of corporate, government and nonprofit experience, Sukhi Sahni is passionate about building integrated communications strategies that drive outcomes, move the audience to action and allow brands to connect with their customers.