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My Two Favorite Gatherings at SXSWi


I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my SXSWi experience this year and there are two standout gatherings in the blur that was Austin.

The first wasn’t an event at all. It was an afternoon spent at an outdoor taco stand with two of my very favorite people in the whole wide world, Reese Spykerman and Elizabeth Marshall. We sat in the sunshine and talked business and life for hours – and yet it seemed like just a tiny bit of time.

When I look at what made our simple gathering so powerful from an objective point of view, I see these qualities in it:

1) Time – we allocated a significant amount of time to building our relationships.

2) Atmosphere – we were in a quiet location that offered up fresh air and sunshine.

3) Openness to the ebb and flow – we had no need to see who could do the most talking. One person would talk while two listened. Or two would engage in conversation while the third sat back. Nothing to prove about our own self-importance.

The second was a tweetup that I caught wind of on Twitter and RSVP’d for. It was on the first “official” evening of SXSW and was the perfect way to kick it off.

Again, from an objective point of view, here are the qualities that made if my favorite “official” gathering:

1) Small group. Maybe 50 people were there, at the most. Contrast this with other events I went to where there were several hundred. I got to sit down and talk with people I’d only talked on Twitter – and even met cool people I’d never talked to at all.

2) Atmosphere – An outdoor, intimate space on a beautiful evening. There were places to sit down and talk or stand up and talk. There wasn’t any loud music to shout over. ( I eventually went hoarse shouting over music for three days.)

3) Openness to ebb and flow – no one at that gathering was caught up in sticking with their own crowd. (Sadly, I saw a ton of clique-y-ness at most other SXSW gatherings.) People moved easily in and out of conversations with people they’d never met. No one was trying to be the most important person in the room.

People come to SXSWi craving connection. And, just like last year, I saw a ton of lonely people with no real means to make those connections. And clique-y people who were unwilling to allow people they didn’t know into their conversations.

Not that anyone asked my opinion, but I hope those who plan gatherings at events like SXSWi remember that no one really cares about your cool venue, your loud music, or your self-important friends. What they really desire is a place to talk, to connect, to build relationships.

Because, in the end, isn’t that what we remember most?

What say you? When you go to tweetups or other gatherings, what do you most want?


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