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things I learnt at SXSW.

5 Things I took away from SXSW - and I don’t mean the swag.

Howdy!  I'm back from my first South By Southwest, or South By to those that know.  And let me tell you, it was a wild ride. I’d love to share a few of my takeaways (not the 2 am Wendy’s either). So saddle up and let's get started!

Takeaway 1 - "The Future is Now

"SXSW is all about the latest and greatest in technology. I saw a lot of futuristic tech and innovative ideas. Anything about the metaverse or AI had the longest queues. We tested Stutterstock’s new highly impressive generative AI feature and had a great conversation with their team on the applications and ethics. 


Another stand-out piece of tech was deepfakes. We attended a panel discussion with the directors of Another Body, a documentary about a victim of deep fake pornography, that was screened at the festival. We saw how realistic this technology is and heard about its positive applications in documentaries and journalism. But 96% of this AI face swap technology is used for non-consenting pornography.  So clearly better regulation or some sort of verification of content is needed, and quick. 


On the whole, the groundswell of tech was way more positive and it really feels like we are on the cusp of a leap forward in the mass adoption of new technologies. The takeaway;  going to festivals and conferences to stay up-to-date and relevant is hugely important. The question is; would I swap the SXSW experience for a metaverse version? Hell no! 


This leads me nicely to my next takeaway…

Takeaway 2 - "Connection is key

"Networking and connecting is a big part of SXSW. Everyone is open to a conversation. I learnt that you can’t go wrong with the classic icebreaker “what brings you to South By?”.  Whether you’re waiting in a queue, sitting in a screening or standing at the bar it’s so easy to chat with people.


Some of these are fleeting, others more meaningful. In fact, I connected with a great documentary filmmaker I’m hoping BearJam can work with. And on my first day, we were hosted at a breakfast (thanks, Alex at Climbing Trees) and met some other agency owners. 

In Tilda Swinton's keynote she mentioned how she felt there is a pressure or trend at the moment to be individual and not a collective or work collaborator.  


It’s important to reach out to other people in and out of your field and make meaningful connections but also chat with strangers and hear some new perspectives. You never know where it might take you. 

Takeaway 3 - "The Power of a Great Reveal"

In Austin, I hit more than a few screenings; TV shows, features, shorts, documentaries and music videos. But it was the ones with incredible plot twists and reveals that really struck a chord. A big takeaway for me, as someone mainly involved with video content, was that a great reveal can really create a memorable and emotional experience for the audience, leaving them with a lasting impression of the story or message. 


We often look to front-load attention-grabbing moments and messaging but building up to the reveal in a way that keeps the audience engaged and invested is something I’ll definitely be working on in future creative. 


Takeaway 4 -  "Storytelling is (still) king"

From music video to the metaverse, its great storytelling that keeps the audience engaged. Despite all the new glossy tech, there really is no substitute for a great story. Yes, it’s nothing new but it is important to remember how a compelling story can connect with viewers on a deeper level and leave a lasting impression. And boy were there some amazing stories. 

But turning back to tech, a panel that really got my brain buzzing was discussing content in the metaverse. Imagine the possibility of being in an immersive film and your iteration with the characters could influence how the story evolves in real-time. Mind blown! 
Talking of minds…

Takeaway 5 - "Stay open-minded and have fun"

Last but not least, SXSW is fun (and exhausting)! It was a great opportunity to take a break from “work”, and seek out and enjoy some new experiences. I caught some new bands, saw films I wasn't planning to and took an Uber driver’s recommendation for the best BBQ burger in Texas which led to a tour of the Smoker. 


Inspiration and creativity can come from anywhere. The takeaway wasn’t the smoked brisket patty with cheese, grilled onions, pickles, and burger sauce in a toasted potato bun but a note to self keep an open mind,  try new things and look outside your lane. 


And that's a wrap on my South By takeaways.  Remember; stay innovative, stay creative, stay open-minded and as they say in Austin; stay weird!