5 takeaways from SXSW (Column)

On his third trip to South By Southwest, Martin Waxman took away insights on everything from the value of striking a power pose to tweeting from the heart Martin Waxman is executive vice-president of Thornley Fallis and author of the blog myPalette It’s hard to get to Austin, Texas. Every Torontonian I talked to at […]

On his third trip to South By Southwest, Martin Waxman took away insights on everything from the value of striking a power pose to tweeting from the heart

Martin Waxman is executive vice-president of Thornley Fallis and author of the blog myPalette

It’s hard to get to Austin, Texas. Every Torontonian I talked to at South By Southwest earlier this month had a travel horror story to share. But if you brave the storms, delays, cancellations and rerouting, you find yourself in the middle of geek nirvana—five days of tech celebrities, ideas, networking and parties focused on social and digital media. And that’s just SXSW Interactive. There are also the film and music festivals. But a guy can only take in so much…

This marked my third SXSW and I went there knowing I wouldn’t be able to see and do everything I wanted. Here’s a recap of my highlights:

1. On real-time marketing
In a roundtable discussion with representatives of several large brands, McDonald’s social media team said they’ve managed to come to an arrangement with their legal department and can now respond to rumours in minutes, not days. Having worked with legal teams from other brands, that’s a big and positive shift. On the same panel, Whole Foods spoke about how it’s training and empowering each of its stores to have its own local social media flavour and personality. Not every organization can do that, but the company believes each store knows its own community best.

2. Don’t be human spam
Austin Kleon describes himself as a “writer who draws.” In a keynote to promote his new book, Show Your Work, Kleon talked about how the genius model of creativity is based on the lone artist who’s talented, yet also arrogant and egotistical. He described those people as human spam; they only want to speak about themselves and refuse to listen to anyone else. Instead, he encouraged us to embrace the ‘Scenius’ concept, a model that acknowledges creative work is not created in a vacuum, but is a collaborative process and closely involves the community around you. “Don’t be a hoarder,” he advised. “When you find work you love, share it.”

3. In praise of the power pose
Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School. She and her team have been researching what our body language says about us and how changing it can alter our perceptions of ourselves. When it comes to important situations or meetings, too many of us cower. Instead, Cuddy encouraged us to adopt a power pose beforehand. What is that exactly? Think Wonder Woman’s signature stance or the arms up in the air victory pose we often associate with winning athletes. Cuddy’s research shows that our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviours and our behaviours change our outcomes. She suggested that before any high stakes interaction, we take two minutes in private to adopt a power pose. But she cautioned that it’s risky to express power when you don’t have it. If you want to hear more, check out her engaging Ted Talk on the subject.

4. Humour is a benign violation
Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, spoke about how the magazine crowdsources humour for its caption contest. With over 5,000 entries each week, it’s not easy to win. So what does it take to stand out and make the master laugh?
• Humour thrives on antipathy, not empathy
• You need to aim for theory of mind (that is imagining what the reader might think)
• Brevity counts—fewer words have a better chance of making the shortlist
• Avoid excessive use of punctuation (especially exclamation points and question marks)
• Use unusual-sounding words
• If there are similar ideas, the one that is best phrased wins

5. Tweet what you believe
Lena Dunham, the talented creator, writer, director and star of the hit series Girls gave a heartfelt, humble and humorous valedictory of a speech about her career and life. One thing she said that really stood out for me was, “Tweet what you believe and then the @ comments will never bother you.” Another thing you can do is unfollow or block the trolls.

If you’ve never been to SXSW, the event can be overwhelming and the laid-back entropy is not for everyone. I make the trip because of the outstanding content (you need to be picky), energy and all those wonderfully serendipitous business connections you make with smart, open people from all over the world.

Did you attend SXSW? What did you learn?

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