It’s always good to go into an event like SXSW with a plan, otherwise you might get swallowed up in sheer potential of all the possibilities.

As this year I wasn’t doing a full presentation, I decided to focus on networking. There are tens of thousands of people that attend SXSWinteractive each year, so who knows who you might meet if you’re open to it. They offer quite a few niche meet ups, in two formats. An hour in a ballroom usually with a bar & a group of people with a focus on a topic (ie: Entrepreneur Women, Women in Tech, Etc) or a catered, sponsored event where companies are showcasing and doing giveaways while attendees are chatting and networking.

Right before starting my mentor session

The past three years of speaking at SXSW (this was my 4th year), I’ve done two short presentations, hosted a Core Conversation & done a mentoring session at V2V in Las Vegas. Mentoring sessions are a delight for me because there’s no way to know what questions people are going to come in with. I love the mystery and adventure of that. It’s a one-on-one discussion with a targeted focus on helping someone with a particular obstacle.

It’s unfortunate Mentor Sessions don’t get a lot of publicity, practically no one I spoke to even knew what they were, it’s easy for them to get passed over in the noise of all the other sessions.

Thankfully though I had a couple of very interesting conversations with those that did show up! Both were men who came with very specific questions. One about techniques to manage employees in order to free up time to focus on moving the company forward in larger ways and the other looking for an out-of-the-box brainstorming session about marketing and reaching out to potential customers.

Going Deep and Narrow

This year there was an explosion of sessions on diversity and women in tech so I was able to build an entire event track going to only those topics and it gave me a chance to go deep and narrow rather than taking a broader and more random approach (which shows how versatile SXSW is to attend.) There was so much amazing content this year I’ll have to do a separate post soon to try and share as much info as I can, but here’s a few thoughts on the highlights of the week.

Super Women Anonymous – was a cheerleading type session, getting women to think about what they’re being blocked by. I had an unsurprising experience with the only man in the room which will be a separate post. But the woman leading this workshop (Ber-Henda Williams) was soulful & encouraging to all the women there.

Diversity in Tech: Building Inclusivity by Maxine Williams said “When all we ever talk about is how bad it is, minorities can feel like it will never get better. We need to talk about the way forward.”

Why Diversity Can’t Be Built in a Day panel

My favorite panel was Why Diversity Can’t Be Built in a Day (with Dominique DeGuzman, Joelle Emerson, Abby Maldonado, Rachel Williams), the panel was fantastically diverse and was the most inspiring for me from the whole week.

My other favorite session (because who can pick just one?!) was the Elephant in the Valley panel that included Michele Madansky, Megan Smith, Trae Vassallo, and Laura Weidman Powers. Everything that comes out of Megan’s mouth is so inspiring and everyone on the panel managed to talk about the horrifying statistics that the survey turned up as well as keeping the tone optimistic and trying to focus on what can be done.

“Use discomfort in conversations abt gender + race to learn and grow.” –@laurawp dropping knowledge #SXSW #elephantinthevalley

— Abby Maldonado (@abbymalds) March 13, 2016

First Annual Ditch the Bitch Stigma MeetUp in Austin

After seeing the swift sign-ups for my Sunnyvale MeetUp, I decided a bit last minute to organize the First Annual Ditch the Bitch Stigma MeetUp in Austin. It’s tough to do things that aren’t part of the official schedule, but I figured I’d post it and sit in the lobby and see who turned up. The group size swelled pretty fast, even though the RSVP’s were few (which shows that there’s a high interest but also high distraction level during SXSW.)

It ended up being three of us, one woman who heard me in line at a food truck and tapped me on the shoulder to say “You sound amazing and I have to know you!” (who I promptly handed a MeetUp postcard to) and another local woman who loved the name of the MeetUp and came down even though she wasn’t attending SXSW (I appreciate that she braved the gnarly traffic the event causes downtown!)

We had a stimulating discussion about a variety of issues including how women are judged differently for how they dress, the way verbal and nonverbal communication affects how we’re perceived, the surge in women entrepreneurs, our experiences with male colleagues in work-place situations and so much more. I’ll be adding the notes to a document sent to women in the group, so even if you don’t live in Austin feel free to join the group so you can see what was said!

Break the Goldilocks Syndrome – when women in the workforce are categorized as too aggressive or too quiet #elephantinthevalley #SXSW2016

— MullenLowe Group (@MullenLoweGroup) March 13, 2016

It was a really inspiring hour, there is power in sharing our experiences & supporting each other in overcoming them. No matter where I talk to them, when I bring up the subject of the Bitch Stigma, women’s faces light up in recognition. As one woman said to me at a meetup, “Even though I’ve never heard that phrase before I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Go, go, go, go……stop.

Andy Puddicombe

The last keynote of the weekend was by an ex-monk Andy Puddicombe talking about Happiness. One of the reasons I personally love attending SXSW is seeing all the different styles of speaking and watching how people share their ideas, not just what their ideas are. He definitely had both (dynamic presentation & helpful information.). He was very casual (not surprising for a monk) and managed to get a room of at least 1,000 people (probably more) to meditate for 10 minutes.

Sitting silently, with all of our eyes closed, it was a collective experience of quiet that felt particularly powerful after 6 straight days of sessionsANDpartiesANDnetworkingANDfoodtrucksANDmeetupsANDAND…

Whew….a was really nice to take a deep breath and experience some stillness.

A motivating, connecting, and inspiring 6 days (with a side of damn-good food trucks)

Me with Leanne Pittsford

I find SXSW to still be a catalyst event for me, even after attending and speaking for 4 straight years. More so probably because every year I attend I get more skilled at making the most of what can be an mind-boggling event . Every year I get a bit better at planning and figuring out how to connect with the right people and plan the best schedule (from a ton of amazing options) as well as remembering to take self-care time like resting and eating well.

It’s a big event and big things can come of it.

SXSW absolutely buzzes with all the ideas & possible connections, the air snaps with everyone’s insights, excitement & vision. This year my “big idea” take away is about helping men become better allies.  The idea that men need to really get in on this conversation in order to start making systematic changes came up in multiple panels and it’s something I think I can help with.

*ps – I try to live tweet events as much as I can, so if you’re not following me on Twitter yet, click here and follow me now! I’ve included some of my own and others tweets from the week, but there’s too much great stuff to add it all.

Women, it’s ok to toot your own horn & ask for more than you think you can get – @6Gems #ask4more #salary #sxsw #DitchTheBitchStigma

— Kali Williams (@Kali_Williams_) March 14, 2016

The words are going to get tired (diversity/inclusion/etc) so we need to keep the conversation fresh – @heymsrachel #builddiversity #sxsw

— Kali Williams (@Kali_Williams_) March 12, 2016

“The mind, if we don’t take any time to look after it, will start to break down.” @andypuddicombe at #HeadspaceSXSW. #SXSW

— Headspace (@Get_Headspace) March 15, 2016

Words of wisdom from @andypuddicombe “We are busy doing stuff in a futile attempt to have more time” #HeadspaceSXSW

— Daniele Fiandaca (@yellif) March 15, 2016

“Tokenism is no longer acceptable in addressing diversity. Real inclusivity is having different voices around the table.” @kerrywashington

— Token Man (@Token_man) March 13, 2016