Lessons from SXSW – Part 1

Each year for the last 5 years I’ve made the trek to Austin Texas for SXSW. I’m an accountant so each year I get looks of madness from people querying why I’d happily get on a plane for 19 hours to go to a conference that has nothing to do with accounting.

The answer is simple. I’m an accountant but I’m also a business owner. As a business owner I’m looking for constant improvement. I’m looking at how I can implement ideas from different industries, how I can stay ahead of the curve in adoption of trends and technology and how I can grow myself. The bonus is I also get to impart my knowledge and experience to our clients, who are also business owners.

SXSW makes me a better leader, a better business owner and a much better advisor.

This year I decided in my reflection of the week to review all my notes over the last 5 years. I was looking for trends, themes, learnings, anything that stood out. The people I tended to like more than others and how I’ve mastered getting the most out of the event — which spans anything from 25–30 program sessions a trade show + a tonne of showcases!

No matter what conference or event you go to every person will have a different opinion on what they learned, what they heard as the key themes and which speakers they liked the best. Those people who have a plan in place for what they are really looking for out of a conference, how they will tackle sessions etc will ALWAYS have a much better experience than those who just ‘wing’ it.

5 years of SXSW

My 1st year I was a novice. I had no idea what or how to deal with 30,000 people, how to schedule my sessions, what type of sessions I would get the most out of or how to fit any sleep in! I was blown away by the technology showcased at the Trade Show which was my #1 highlight. But my sessions were mismatched and I didn’t really have a plan on what I wanted to get out of the week.

My takeaway: Planning is everything. Understand what you are craving to learn before you turn up.

Year 2, I took my own advice and planned everyday and every session I wanted to get to. I went to as many different sessions as I could and picked sessions that would really challenge my thinking. But I went straight back to work after the conference and still have action items to do from my notes!

My takeaway: Set aside time AFTER the conference to work out how you will implement your ideas.

Year 3, I not only planned my sessions, but I also planned my time after the conference to work on my action list and timing around when and how to implement the changes. This also included dissecting which speakers challenged my thinking, and who I wanted to continue learning from. I then purchased books they had written, subscribed to their e-newsletters, followed them on social, listened to podcasts.

My takeaway: Learning is a daily habit. Find people who produce great content and challenge your thinking. Then read & listen to EVERYTHING they create.

Year 4, I learned the benefit of comparing notes & continuing the discussion after the days sessions ended. By year 4 I had met loads of interesting people who shared my passion for constant improvement. We met up a few nights during the conference to share notes & what we got out of the day. This was invaluable as we all had different experiences, learnings & thoughts. The conversations are still going over a year later.

My takeaway: Find people who want to continue sharing learnings & solving problems together. Build your community.

Year 5, I nailed it. I planned my sessions, my time post conference, the speakers I wanted to learn more from as well as catchups at night with my friends. But I also focused on what I really wanted to improve in myself. And I made sure 50% of the sessions I attended were focused on that 1 thing.

My takeaway: Focus and planning together are a killer combination.

These lessons are not just about SXSW. They are about any conference, masterclass or workshop you attend. They are as much about making learning a daily habit. Now despite how much I love SXSW I’m taking a break next year. I’ve grown so much as a business owner it’s time to explore something new that will give me an entirely new set of challenges.

DiG Festival

SXSW is amazing so a few of us who make the trek each year decided it would be fantastic to have something like this home grown. Something in our own backyards that would help Australian business owners stretch themselves even further. Something that would build a community of likeminded people who can continue to share & challenge themselves every year. This something has turned into DiG.

It is now my new SXSW.

I’d love for you to join me. So in your planning for conferences you will attend this year, mark the dates 13th & 14th October.

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