Always wanted to get involved with South by Southwest but didn’t know how? One of the most accessible (and cheapest) ways to attend the festival is to submit a panel idea to “Panel Picker,” the mechanism by which much of the programming for SXSW Interactive, Music, Film and SXSWedu in 2015 will be chosen.
The deadline to submit a panel idea is officially midnight Friday, but typically that deadline is extended to Sunday, so you’ve still got time. Panel ideas are judged by the public, SXSW advisory boards and SXSW staff. Panelists and moderators who are selected through this process get badges for the SXSW festival for which their panel was chosen.
But what makes a good panel? On this week’s “Statesman Shots” podcast, hosts Omar L. Gallaga and Tolly Moseley and guest Jackie Huba, an author and frequent public speaker, discussed tips for submitting a good proposal. Here are some bits of advice mentioned in the podcast as well as some information from SXSW itself:
Be specific. A panel about a unique story or trend will win over a panel idea such as, “The Cloud: what is it?” Many topics are too broad to cover in the 15-60 minutes that most programming lasts.
Topical is good. Trend-jumping is bad. Because of the early deadline, some ideas that seem great now will be dated by March. Avoid crafting panels around things happening now unless they’re trends likely to continue. SXSW typically adds late-breaking panels if major tech news breaks close to the festival dates.
Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Panels with the phrase “social media rockstar” in the title will be mocked and ignored.
Tolly suggests using “The future of …” in the title. Forward-looking is better for most panel topics, and she’s had success getting panels through using that technique. A buzz word that actually works: “Hacking,” such as, “The future of hacking world food production.”
Interactive director Hugh Forrest says watch your typing. Misspellings, bad grammar and ALL CAPS are all strikes against panel proposals.
Watch for duplicates. Search through already-submitted panels to make sure you’re not duplicating one that’s already been submitted.
Avoid shock value and offense. Sexist panel topics and bad words in panel titles may get you attention, but they won’t earn you respect.
Select good panelists and moderators. Attendees can tell when speakers aren’t really experts in the topics they’re talking about. Jackie Huba suggests making sure panelists are knowledgeable in a specific area and that moderators are skilled in asking great questions and keeping a discussion moving along.
Provide supporting material. A video or links to research that supports a topic idea are good ways to make a panel proposal feel fleshed out.
Diversity counts. SXSW makes an effort each year to bring diverse points of view to panels. That doesn’t just mean in areas such as gender or race; a panel with diverse points of view is better than one in which four panelists all agree and parrot the same points.
Submit to multiple fests. Each person can only submit one panel idea to each festival, but there are four festivals on offer: Interactive (for tech ideas), Music, Film and SXSWedu (for education). Interactive usually gets the bulk of the proposals. For the 2014 festival, it received 3,000 submissions.
Check out “Statesman Shots,” an Austin culture and entertainment podcast hosted by Omar L. Gallaga and Austin Eavesdropper blogger Tolly Moseley, at statesman.com/shots.