Day 1: On The Way to SXSW 2008

Day 1: On The Way to SXSW 2008

I’m here at the Manchester, New Hampshire airport, waiting for my flight to board. Up until now I was kind of not in the SXSW spirit, but perhaps that’s not surprising because I feel different every year about the pending experience:

  • 2006 – Am I cool enough to be here? Will this be a big mistake?
  • 2007 – Ok, I need to pace myself and be social. I am self-conscious.
  • 2008 – Looking forward to the chaos of meeting new people.

SXSW (and just about every social event I go to) tends to put me in a mode of self-reflection because I wonder how I’ll present myself. I think the reason for this is that I want to optimize the meeting experience so it’s a good one, and there is probably a bit of self-doubt whether people will judge me “worthy” of talking to…shadows of childhood insecurity, perhaps. What’s helped me in the past is adopting a role or having a mission. A good role for me is as a host: I’ve always been appreciative of people who have taken the time to show me the ropes or help me get oriented. I’ve been less successful at defining the mission in a way that snaps me to attention. Last year I tried “being outgoing” and it freaked me out so much that I decided that withdrawing a bit was OK.

Being more specific about the operational elements of the mission would probably be more helpful. Let’s start with why I go to SXSW every year: I love the energy I get from being in a crowd of creative, entrepreneurial people. I love hearing how people have taken their ideas and dreams, discussing candidly what went right and what went wrong. I get to see a broad spectrum of personalities and interests aligned toward creative enterprise in an atmosphere of sharing and conversation. I’m not really one for partying, as I don’t drink and my hearing is not good in noisy environments. I also realized recently that I’m somewhat out of practice hanging out with groups of people; as my friends have started families or moved away over the years, I’ve only really interacted with people one-on-one. It’s probably been this way for the past 10 years, and I never really noticed anything other than I’ve been feeling isolated.

With this in mind, it’s pretty easy to just make the call to contribute to the energy that I love.

  • Share my enthusiasm and creativity, which means SHOWING it.
  • Start idle conversations based on things that catch my eye.
  • Hang out with groups of people and realize that that feeling of awkwardness is probably just being out of practice with it.
  • Stop being self-conscious about “who I am” and think about what other people might be looking for.

SXSW is a social conference full of people who love being social but maybe don’t know how to break the ice. There’s also a celebrity factor, because there are a lot of famous bloggers and authors wandering around, and this can lead to a kind of social paralysis. I was spared this my first year because I didn’t realize that there were famous people there in the web development world. My buddy Zach kept gaping at me when I failed to recognize the names of people. My second year, more fully briefed on who was who, I was much more conscious of circles of fame moving around me. This year, I am really just looking to meet interesting people that have that spark of curiosity and openness in their eye. At a festival like SXSW, that should happen often…the bottleneck is my own confidence.

Tactically, there are two tricks that may help me approach people:

  • Relax my face. I have a tendency to be tense up in social situations, and this makes me look kind of mean. I’ve tried doing the face relaxation thing and it has made a difference according to a few friends of mine. I have not yet applied this in the field, though. Thank you, America’s Next Top Model, for this tip :-)

  • Look people in the eye and smile. If they look back and smile, then that’s enough of a reason to strike up a conversation, moving from the immediate context to swapping information to telling stories. This is what I learned from a year of going to Starbucks every morning; it takes surprisingly little to just make small talk, and move on feeling good at having contributed a tiny bit of positivity to someone’s day.


p>It’s almost time to board the plane. Looking forward to taking a nap. I should be at the Radisson by 6PM, then I’ll head over to the Convention Center and pick up my registration stuff. If you’re at SXSW, come up and say hi! :-)


  1. Fred Schechter 15 years ago

    Wow,, who is this Dave? Mr. I’m a gonna meet new people!  Wow!! A few short years and such a great change.

    Just wish I could get there this year, (alas, next year in Austin).

  2. Carl Camera 15 years ago

    And if I might add one additional tip: Be Yourself!  Dave, you’re a creative guy with a great sense of humor and easygoing demeanor. Just relax and soak in the creative conversations—adding when you can and feel comfortable doing so.  See you soon!

  3. Corrie 15 years ago

    Have a great time, Dave! Wish I could be there this year as well, will just have to live vicariously through people’s posts. :)

  4. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Fred: Heh, yeah, we’ll need to meet sometime Fred! Much to discuss!

    Carl: That’s great advice! I followed that tonight at dinner with a few people I collided with, and had a good time. I’ll catch up with ya tomorrow I’m sure!

    Corrie: I suppose technically I am fulfilling the destiny of your original registration :-)

  5. connie 15 years ago

    I like your post.  I don’t know what the SXSW is, but your observations are good. I think most of us want to be judged as ‘worthy’ but, I don’t think we can expect it to happen all the time. Sometimes people aren’t going to like us, even as ‘hosts.’ I got the feeling the other day that someone didn’t like me. I felt like I was ‘draining’ them. I think I was trying to be too nice to get the stamp of approval. This will help me in my next social contacts of this type, I know I have to as my kids say….chill. Have a nice weekend.