What I learned at SXSW – The Not So Official Version

Photo credit: Dave Delaney

I just returned from South By Southwest (also known as nerd Spring Break). This is where nerds of all areas of nerd-dom convene in Austin, Texas. This is where new products and apps are launched, the fancy nerd people come to rub elbows (this year brought the likes of Ashton and Demi, PeeWee Herman, Mike Tyson, Danny DeVito etc.) and get their geek on, or watch movie premiers or perhaps just for an ego boost. The conference has three parts: Interactive, Film and Music.

This was my second SXSW and I felt much wiser. The whole thing can be quite overwhelming. There are really cool events happening from 8am – 4am and if you could, you would want to hit them all. You have no idea when a walk turns into an interview with Brad Womack, when a panel has a celebrity guest appearance or when your next big client or business partner is in line with you to get coffee.

With all the content, activities, giveaways, iPad drama and celebs you learn things in different ways than you expected. If you want an official search of takeaways from the conference – sit tight, I am sure those will fill the interwebs by the thousands soon. This is my not so official version of what I learned at SXSW.

  1. Real, in-person relationships mean more than any online relationship – I have met some really cool people online. We have shared thoughts, ideas and jokes. You almost feel like you ‘know’ them but there is still no replacement for an in-person relationship. Some people you know from online aren’t as great in person and some people in person are way better than they are online. Sites like Twitter have a lot of noise. Great for meeting people but if you really want to get to know them, don’t forget to take the relationship from online to offline.
  2. It doesn’t matter what the nerds think in business as much as it matters what everyone thinks – I had a lot of good conversations about tools and apps that are out there and that are being launched. In the nerd world, we are constantly trying to out-nerd the other nerds. The tools we have created are too complex, have too many features and that isn’t what businesses and users want. If you want to succeed (like make money, not just be nerd famous) you need to find something your average Joe from Maine or Minnesota or West Virginia wants, not just what the nerds want.
  3. If you have a good story people want to tell it for you – Friends of mine launched the beta version of their app, Pathcrosser, at SXSW. The hosted an awesome party (that wasn’t too in your face) and spent the week fluttering about meeting this person and that. No major marketing roll out, just connecting. Their app is smart, the audience they are trying to reach is real and they are good guys. People WANT to tell their story. They want to introduce them to influencers and get them interviews. They didn’t dress up in Chipmunk costumes to be noticed but they did get interviewed for Read, Write Web, talked to traditional media outlets and won for buzz on the street.
  4. When you are not in New England you can’t say you are from Portland and expect people to think Maine – This is pretty self-explanatory, but I got awfully tired of letting people down by telling them I was from Maine and not Oregon.
  5. Some things are just supposed to happen – Especially at SXSW where almost everything you do has major potential, you can’t try too hard. Some things are just supposed to happen for some reason or another. I know a few girls who were part of a major promotional campaign, things didn’t go as planned and the original goals were not met but both of these groups of girls came out with something life changing that has altered their course in their lives and careers. I also had a dream about Gary Vaynerchuck and the cast of the Jersey Shore. I tweeted about it, Gary laughed and an hour later, I was in a small room and he walked in. Not too shabby of an ice breaker to connect about a hysterical dream. We had a good laugh and I was lucky enough to get a copy of his new book. That introduction wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for Ronnie being such a jerk in my dream.
  6. Glasses for fashion bother me – As a girl who had to wear glasses or contacts her whole life (until recently) I get upset when people admit they are wearing glasses just to compliment their nerd outfit.
  7. Only having the internet makes you disconnected – The night I arrived in Austin, there was the terrible earthquake in Japan. I was actually awake when it happened and we saw it all over the news. The internet can make you feel so connected to other people but it can also make you disconnected. While at SXSW most people are armed only with their iPhones, iPads or laptops. The whole tragedy in Japan seemed removed without being to connect with the people you care about most on how this makes you feel.
  8. I don’t consider myself a blogger – On my second night at SXSW, I was at an event that was off the traditional SXSW routine. It was for a group of people who work more in the fashion arena. This event was primarily for fashion bloggers. One very nice woman asked me ‘so are you a blogger too?’ I told her I wasn’t. The question stuck in my head the rest of the week. I currently write for 6-7 blogs regularly and I don’t call myself a ‘blogger’. I call myself an internet marketer and blogging is just one piece. I just thought that was interesting.
  9. I am a pretty lucky lady – My life is pretty ok. My husband is fantastic. He even registered me for Beach to Beacon because I couldn’t do it from SXSW. He also really makes me laugh. My family is amazing. My mother finally got her cowboy boots after some inspiration from my photos at Allen’s. I have also got to surround myself with some pretty smart and motivated people (I attribute a lot of that to Rich Tucker and the Social Fresh Cruise). I am home with a full brain, full notepad, some great pictures and an even closer network of people I am lucky to get to talk to, laugh with and pick eachother’s brains.

So that is it. That is my first impression, unofficial version of what I learned at SXSW this year. I haven’t unpacked, I haven’t gone through business cards or the notes I took but these 9 things are what I have already taken away from this conference. I look forward to seeing what other opportunities and relationships come from the people I met this week and the things I learned.

One Girl’s Fear of Public Speaking

The Three Worst Parts of Being an Accidental Public Speaker

And the best ways I have come up with to combat them

Amanda OBrien speaking at Social Media FTWOver the last few years I have had some amazing professional experiences. My work has let me use my skills, teaches me new things every day and I have met some great people. I even get to travel around and talk to people about the things I have learned. Sometimes they are small groups and sometimes large. The problem is… I am terrified of public speaking.

How did this happen to me?

There are people out there who love public speaking. They love it so much that they learn an industry, trade or skill just so they can teach it to other people. There are people who feel like public speaking is up there on the path to ‘making it’. I feel like it is a necessary piece of my position. I feel like if you can speak and genuinely help other people, than you should. If you are speaking just to speak, you may be doing everyone an injustice. I speak because I think I have to, not particularly because I want to.

Internet marketing, building websites and social media are interesting, complicated and ever changing topics. If I can take the content and practices that I have learned and can teach another business, that is good. If that knowledge helps your business and the next time you need any of our services, you think of me – even better.

From my first professional speaking gig to my most recent, they are all scary but I am positive I left the audience with information they can use and that they have not heard someplace else. I genuinely think I can help people, so that is why I speak about my industry.

Without further ado, here are the 3 worst parts of public speaking for me and how I try to keep that anxiety under control:

  1. Blacking out – We aren’t talking about one too many martinis at the Armory blacking out, I mean completely sober. What happens is I get really nervous up until the second I start talking and then I just go blank. The words come out, I can move around, show slides, even make jokes but I don’t remember any of it very well. I have seen recordings of me speaking and you can’t tell I am in that black out state, but I am. It is almost like it is an emotional blackout. I can’t be scared anymore, I can’t prepare anymore – all I can do is tell you what I came here to tell you.

    How I combat it – I don’t. I almost embrace it at this point. It is a calming feeling. The best thing you can do is know your stuff, like really know it. Know it so well that if something is wrong with the A/V you can STILL put on a good presentation without slides. Know your content so well that you could do it in your sleep. That way if you have your emotional blackout, you can still do your presentation on auto-pilot.
  2. Nerves and stomach cramps – I know I am not alone on this one. Before a speaking engagement your stomach can be so tied in knots that you feel like you are going to be sick (or you might actually get sick, that has happened to me before). The way I think of it is just that nervous energy is churning your stomach faster than it likes to be churned.

    How I fight back – Nervous is nervous. There isn’t a lot you can do to stop it. I think nervous is good, it means you care about doing a good job. I think the day I am not nervous is the day we may need to switch some things up. My attempts to fight back the angry stomach, I learned from physical activities. The torture practice of hot yoga has taught me a thing or two about panicking (it is hot in there, I am panicking). You want to focus on your breath. Deep, slow breaths in and out of your nose can really calm you down. Running has also taught me about foods and portions before you participate in your activity. It is better to eat something small than a huge meal. Give your body something it will take some effort to burn off like a protein over a mini-muffin. Lastly, drink lots of water – nature’s miracle drug. I have never, ever heard a public speaker complain on a large stage that they are hungry. Eat something small and when you are done and you calm down, you will be starving. I have also never seen a speaker fall asleep while speaking so maybe lay off the coffee a bit until you are done too.
  3. The word ‘um’ – Where did this toxic word come from? Um? It sounds so stupid. Why do we all say it? It is like being a drug addict. I can’t get rid of it no matter how hard I try. It is a pause in conversation, a sound we make when we are thinking or stalling or lost or for a million other things. We need a revolution! I hate saying it and I don’t realize I do until after if I have to watch a recording of myself.

    How I fight back the ‘um’ – I am still working on this one. I have tried punishing myself by making myself edit out all the ‘ums’ in recorded presentations. I have tried replacing it with other words or by taking a deep breath. Those only work a little. I have also found that the evil little utterance comes out more when I am overtired. Make sure you get get plenty of sleep before a speaking engagement to protect yourself from those little slips.

That is it! Those are MY biggest hurdles in public speaking. I think the more you realize the issues you have and make a plan to combat them, the better off you will be. So those are mine. How about you? Do you like public speaking? and what things trip you up along the way? What do you do to overcome those hurdles?