SXSWorld November 2013


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Face-to-Face Interactions Still Vital in a Connected World, by Emily Farris 30 SXSWORLD / NOVEMBER 2013 an app that helps people identify birds on the spot, says events like V2V are "sort of like summer camp for adults." I could not agree more. While I have not traveled abroad for conferences, I have been attending domestic ones regularly since 2009. My first year at SXSW Interactive, I was a freelance food writer. A few months earlier, I had moved to Kansas City from Brooklyn, and as soon as I arrived at the Austin Convention Center, I felt like I was reunited with my people: food bloggers, entrepreneurs using technology to share their food and other digital creatives — many of whom were actually my people, from Brooklyn. I also met new people from all over the world. Some became my Facebook friends and Twitter followers and eventually even became sources for stories, while others promoted my work over their own networks. For Simeon, whose project is not yet funded, the draw is making new connections. The potential interaction is so important for him that earlier this year, when he learned from a friend who was on his way to V2V that he could volunteer in exchange for a badge, Simeon dropped everything and hitched a ride from his home base in Santa Barbara, California. "Everyone is there to talk and listen, so even though I was wearing the volunteer shirt, I was able to pitch my idea to angel investors and talk to very knowledgeable people before and after panels," he says. "I was even interviewed by NPR." Still, says Simeon, the connections made at conferences are pretty pointless if you don't follow up. After attending DEMO and V2V, he has advice for anyone who plans to attend a similar event: "A lot of the work comes afterward, when you have to follow up on those connections, re-establish yourself in the person's memory, and try and reconnect in a way that is meaningful to them. Try and remember conversations you had with people." He is two steps ahead of the game. Brian Fairbanks, a writer and filmmaker with a day job at Turner Broadcasting who attends SXSW Interactive every year, says that whether you are there to promote yourself, your startup or the major corporation that employs you, "Showing up at SXSW is just as important as actually getting something out of SXSW: you're smart enough to realize it's important to attend, you must be smart enough to do business with." n JESSICA COX ccording to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research's 2010 Exhibition Industry Census, around 9,000 business-to-business exhibitions and 3,500 business-to-consumer events take place annually in the United States alone. Some attract a few hundred attendees, while others draw tens of thousands. Over the past decade, events like Startup Weekend (startupweekend. org) have popped up around the country to cultivate local and regional entrepreneurship, and now happen all over the world in such farflung locations as New Zealand, Iran and South Korea. The DEMO Conferences (, which focus on emerging technologies and new product innovations, are now held in the U.S., China, Brazil and Singapore. Earlier this year, SXSW expanded its technology conference offerings to include V2V in Las Vegas, with a focus on entrepreneurial innovation. No matter the industry — publishing, healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment — events like Demo, Startup Weekend and SXSW Interactive are invaluable for digital creatives looking connect with potential users, supporters and investors. "Attending conferences shows Networking at V2V 2013 potential employers, investors, partners or customers that you are serious. It proves that you have some skin in the game," says Nichelle Stephens, a digital strategist and co-founder of the popular blog Cupcakes Take the Cake, who makes it to about four conferences a year. The conference industry is huge, and if the growth of SXSW and Startup Weekend is any indication, it will only continue to grow — even though almost all business can be done remotely these days, and the cost of travel keeps going up. Jeff Potter, Director of Internet Operations and Infrastructure at chill. com, attends six to eight conferences a year, and speculates that part of the attraction is good old-fashioned face-toface interaction. "I go to connect with other people I already know … compare notes, ask them questions, see what's new in the field. There's invariably some amount of off-the-record stuff, too — things that friends will answer that come up in conversation, but that wouldn't come up in emails or phone calls," Potter says. "There's really no substitute for face time with people." Jeff Simeon, founder and creator of Birdeez,

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