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How to Create a Winning SXSW Panel Proposal

posted Apr 24, 2015, 3:07 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Aug 23, 2016, 10:48 AM ]
It has been my honor to serve on the Advisory Board for multiple conducts of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival. It is always a very rewarding experience to take part in shaping such a huge technology conference.

As an Advisory Board member, I'm responsible for evaluating 200 panel proposals, and I always see so many amazing ideas! However, I'm only able to vote for a small percentage (i.e., about 30) of these submissions so I know firsthand how hard it is to get an idea accepted into Interactive. Having gotten four panel proposals successfully accepted in previous years, I know how to create a winning proposal. However, evaluating proposals gave me newfound insights.

Here is my advice, as a speaker and an Advisory Board member, for creating a SXSW PanelPicker proposal with a maximum chance of being selected for acceptance by the conference.

Title

Create a catchy Title that is focused and specific. Combine ideas to express them in new ways. "What Captain Picard Taught Me about Public Speaking" is better than "Rock Your Next Speech!". Also, be careful about using current events in your title because those events may be obsolete by the time March comes around.

Video and Slides

As of this writing, you can attach two videos (one hosted on YouTube and the other hosted on Vimeo) to your PanelPicker entry. Make sure you attach well produced videos that match the context of your idea. Ideally, the video should feature the speaker (if a solo panel) or several of the panel members (if a dual or panel presentation) listed under the Speakers section. It's even better if the video shows the speaker(s) talking about the topic of the panel.

One benefit of including a video from Vimeo is that you can replace the video later. This is important because once you submit your PanelPicker proposal it is locked by the system. However, if you include a Vimeo video, you can update the video with new information or if you simply want to include a better produced video.

Links

You can include two links in your proposal under the Additional Supporting Materials section. Make sure these are links to pages you control. That way, you can modify these pages after you submit your proposal which locks it in the system. This is key if you want to provide updated information like breaking news or even additional videos.

The best links are to pages that feature the idea being proposed as well as the speakers. I don't recommend just putting links to the companies where one or more speakers work. For example, don't just say that a speaker works for Google and include a link to Google.com. Link to a sub-page at Google.com that lists the speaker. You can label the link Google.com but have the actual URL point to their sub-page. If such a page isn't available, then it's better to link to the "About Me" (or similar) page on their personal website. 

It is also a good idea to create links to slides that explain your idea. Sites like SlideShare and Speaker Deck are often used.

Also, if you add a link to a video, then the PanelPicker interface will display that video in a player. So, you can include four videos in your SXSW proposal: two in the part of the form explicitly reserved for videos and two as links.

Descriptions

Write a focused Description (specific is better than general). This is especially important for a panel discussion because it can be difficult for multiple people to address a topic with the appropriate amount of depth if it's too broad.

Questions

Make sure you include interesting questions in the Question section. I've seen a lot of proposals that simply restate the title or what's in the description of the proposal. In fact, use the Questions Answered space to introduce a topic you'll cover in your presentation and then frame it in the form of a question. 

Tags

Don't neglect your tags. They can help evaluators understand the positioning of your panel with a deeper level of granularity than the track information may allow.

Quality

Grammar and spell check your proposal. Multiple times. By multiple people.

Two Final General Points

1. Fewer speakers are better than a gang of panelists.

2. Advanced topics are better than beginner topics.