I’ll admit it. I wish I had made trip to Austin for SXSW. A number of my friends were there. And, many people I would love to meet face-to-face for the first time also made the journey (specifically, Valeria Maltoni, Dave Fleet, Jessica Smith and Todd Defren, for starters). But, it just wasn’t in the financial cards this year. And you know what, that was fine. Because I actually ended up learning a few things by not going.
How could that be? I missed the single-biggest interactive and social media event of the year. Anyone who’s anyone was in Austin, right? It was full of learning opportunities.
Those all may be true. But there’s more than one way to learn. And there’s definitely other ways to advance my professional goals. The following are just a few things I learned by not going to SXSW this year:
* Create your own SXSW. I’m not saying you create your own mega event. What I am saying is you don’t have to always play by the rules. Frustrated you can’t make a huge industry event 1,000 miles away? Think about starting your own event in your community focusing on meeting a previously unmet local need. During the week of SXSWi I brainstormed with two separate people about upcoming local events that I’m very excited about. Events that I hope will benefit a number of friends, colleagues and organizations around town. Big ideas. Local impact. Now we’re talking.
* The power of relationships. From all accounts–including some folks who also weren’t in Austin–the real benefit of events like SXSW is the people. The relationships you create and foster–that’s the real value. And I’m not just talking about the parties. I’m talking about the informal hallway conversations. The early morning coffees. The dinners. I attended BlogWorld last fall. And it was great. But you know what? I didn’t really learn a ton. However, I found tremendous value in meeting a number of folks in person for the first time. Jason Falls, Al Krueger, Shannon Paul, Becky McCray, Nathan Wright, Tom Martin, Keith Burtis and David Spinks, just to name a few. And, that’s something you can do right in your local market. Any day of the week. Make a list of the people you would like to meet in town. Then, think about a strategy for getting to know them better. You will be surprised at how open people are to getting together and how far that will take you in so many different ways.
* You can learn almost as much by following along online. Note the italicized word here. You can’t replicate the experience of attending an event like South by. But, I do feel like most of the time you can learn just as much from afar thanks to Twitter, blog posts and Slideshare. I had a #sxsw column in my Tweetdeck and was following along most of the week. I also followed bloggers I trust–most notably my friend Greg Swan from Weber Shandwick who was reporting on the agency’s behalf (he also spoke during the music portion of the event). Plus, I picked up on a new video that I’m using in some of my upcoming presentations from the tweets. Did I learn everything attendees learned in Austin? Of course not. But, I feel like I did pick up on some key learnings along the way–without the thousand-plus-dollar price tag.
* Expand your network on your own terms. Just because I didn’t attend the lavish parties, meet-ups and karaoke events in Austin doesn’t mean I didn’t “network” and meet new people. During the time SXSW was going on I met up with four different groups/people (including two people I was essentially meeting for the first time–like the uber-smart Meghan Wilker). And, I’d like to see that trend continue. So, I’m shamelessly stealing my good friend Heather Whaling’s fantastic idea (no worries, I cleared it with her first) and offering my time to anyone who wants to chat in the weeks ahead. Specifically, I’m offering up the 8-9 a.m. time slot the weeks of March 29 and April 12. My tool of choice: Skype. If you’re not using Skype yet, consider this a big shove. Get on it. Send me a note at email@example.com and we’ll nail down a day and time.
Photo credit: David Alston via FlickR (check out the entire Allhat2 set, too)