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Here are 4 steps to getting more Philly speakers at SXSW

Philly Startup Leaders' Shoshanna Israel asks the Austin tech conference's director, Hugh Forrester, for some advice.

Philly at the South by Southwest tradeshow, March 2016. (Courtesy photo)
This is a guest post by Philly Startup Leaders organizer Shoshanna Israel.

Philly made a killer first impression at South by Southwest in 2016.
Our delegation of startups, universities and large companies helped bring recognition to our burgeoning entrepreneurial scene and larger business community. SXSW is an excellent platform to share your organization or business’ story and help to #AmplifyPhilly as a hub for technology and innovation. Speaking at SXSW is also a great way to bring attention to your business or organization and to elevate your profile as a thought leader in an area that interests you.
Ofo Ezeugwu of Whose Your Landlord, who spoke at SXSW in 2016, emphasized the value of the conference’s platform.
“Speaking at SXSW means increased validation,” he said. “The opportunity to speak, on behalf of your company and a city much larger than yourself, is one of the ultimate nods of recognition.”
Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg of Zivtech, who also spoke at last year’s conference, emphasized the business ramifications of the SXSW platform.
“Gaining access to the SXSW audience has been invaluable to Zivtech’s business growth,” he said.
Getting an opportunity to speak has some great perks, too. It enables speakers to stay in the SXSW hotel and get a free badge to the Interactive portion of the conference.

Steve Maynerick of RJMetrics at the company's booth during SXSW 2016.

Steve Maynerick of RJMetrics at the company’s booth during SXSW 2016. (Courtesy photo)

So how do you become a speaker? Philly Startup Leaders got on the phone with Hugh Forrester, head of SXSW Interactive, and asked him what it takes to make a great panel application.

1. Choose the right format

SXSW organizers have a strong preference for solo talks, as opposed to panels and debates, which tend to stay surface level and devolve without the assistance of a skilled moderator.
Organizers also encourage those wishing to be chosen to designate their talk “advanced,” which tends to be more popular with attendees looking for a more in-depth look at a particular topic (think: more than could be found with just a cursory Google search). Presentations that tend to be instructional or educational rather than merely entertaining have the best success.
More information about formatting and skill level designations can be found throughout the FAQ, and speakers are strongly encouraged to read this information thoroughly before applying.

2. Keep your talk topical and specific

Speakers should address trends in technology and really drill down to a distinct topic. Talks should be relevant and specific.
“‘How Free Downloads Hurt Radiohead’ would work better than the more general ‘Free Downloads and the Future of Music,'” Forrester said. While the former is more detailed, and therefore more engaging to an audience, it still addresses many of the same big ideas as the latter. Successful topics will be specific, but their underlying themes should relate to larger trends in technology and business.

3. Stay abreast of deadlines

Talks must be submitted several months in advance of the SXSW conference. These deadlines can sneak up on you, and since no late entries are accepted, those who wish to speak should begin to prepare their presentations as soon as possible.
With that said, talks that come in earlier (before the deadline) don’t get preferential treatment, so applicants are encouraged to use all of the time they have to prepare and proofread (there are more typo-laden applications than you’d think). This year, applications open on June 28, 2016, and the window typically closes at the end of July. Conference registration opens opens on Aug. 1, 2016 and SXSW 2017 kicks off March 10-19, 2017.

4. Choose a killer title

While the 50-character, eight-word limit on the title may tempt you to think of the title as an afterthought, a great title is essential to capturing the vote of the staff and the public, which count for a combined 70 percent of your chance of being picked. While pithy or clever titles may seem like a great way to grab attention, SXSW staff encourages speakers to avoid that route, and instead choose detailed, relevant titles that accurately describe your event. Great titles should be brief and descriptive, not punny.


Speakers should also note that, in addition to the interactive track (the business and tech portion of the conference), SXSW offers a speaking platform in other parts of the conference, such as education, film and music. More information about these opportunities can be found in the links below.
Make sure Philly gets heard and check out the application at the links below. We’ll see you in Austin at #SXSW2017.
If you have any questions, feel free to follow up with Yuval Yarden at or Dave Silver at, who are heading up the SXSW Philly initiative or check out the SXSW PanelPicker FAQs.

Companies: Philly Startup Leaders

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