How to Get Rejected by the SXSW Interactive Festival

Tips to Ensure Your PanelPicker Proposal Will Fail

Hugh Forrest


July brings PanelPicker season, when geeks from across the US and around the world put together speaking proposals for the 2015 SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin.

But getting your idea in front of thousands of forward-thinking digital creatives is not for the faint of heart. Limited space means that less than one out of every five submissions are actually accepted for the event. Moreover, if your idea is fortunate enough to survive the competition, then things get even more difficult — as you will need to invest lots and lots more preparation work before March arrives.

All this effort for a simple speaking slot? Really? Perhaps you should save yourself the aggravation of what could be endless hours of tedium. Instead, ensure yourself a rejection letter by following these 10 straightforward tips for creating an amazingly awful PanelPicker proposal.

TYPE YOUR TITLE IN ALL CAPS. If you really don’t want to speak at SXSW, then this is great way to make your intentions very loud and very clear. Or you can err the other way and type your title in all lower case letters. Either way, forgetting that the Computer Gods created a functional shift key will gain you a quick rejection letter.

Ignore all directions. Who says you need to provide relevant answers to all the SXSW PanelPicker questions? Instead, feel free to just write “NA / not applicable” throughout the form. We like the letters “NA” also — “not accepted.”

Don’t proof your entry. Nothing tells us that you speaking at SXSW isn’t really on your agenda as well as typos, misspellings, incomplete sentences and poor grammar. So please don’t worry about proofing your idea before you hit the “submit” button on the interface.

Go buzzword crazy! Not sure if readers will be completely confused by your PanelPicker proposal? Then include a generous mix of these buzzwords to guarantee low scores: “conversion,” “cross-platform,” “disintermediate,” “friction-less,” “holistic,” “hyper-connected,” “metrics,” “monetize,” “paradigm,” “ROI,” “robust,” “scalable,” “synergies,” “transform” and “verticals.”

Keep it generally general. Remember that meaningless buzzwords can only weaken your proposal so much. Double-down on your desired outcome by entering an idea that stresses bland generalities and avoids specifics. Width over depth always earns a fast dismissal.

Overlook the diversity requirements. SXSW Interactive believes strongly in diversity in all its forms. So, when putting together your panel proposal, make sure to include an all middle-aged male lineup, preferably all of whom share the same sophomoric opinions. Epic fail!

Focus solely on yourself and your great company. The more ego-centric and advertorial your speaking idea, the more likely we will say no.

Write the same proposal that everyone else is writing. Creative, unique and original content is what SXSW audiences want. But make your proposal really bad by pursuing tired, copy-cat and redundant concepts that all your friends and colleagues are already pursuing.

Forecast the future of 2012. If you focus on your out-of-the-box vision of what tomorrow will look like, then we may end up selecting your proposal. Are you sure you want that? Instead, your proposal should rehash what happened two or three years ago for a predictably (negative) outcome.

Enter your idea after July 25. Deadlines were created for everyone else — but not you! Contact us about speaking at SXSW after the July 25 entry deadline and you won’t even have to fill out the form to be rejected!

On the other hand, maybe you are engaged enough to showcase your brilliant ideas at the 2015 SXSW Interactive Festival. If so, then click on the SXSW PanelPicker FAQ for great suggestions on putting together your best possible speaking proposal. The PanelPicker link will also enable you to enter speaking ideas for SXSWedu, SXSW Music and SXSW Film — all of which share the Friday, July 25 entry deadline.

Lastly, remember that the 2015 SXSW seasons officially begins in early August. Register early for the lowest rates and for the best hotel selection (downtown rooms will sell out very quickly). Rejected or not rejected, see you in Austin from March 9-21 for SXSWeek 2015.

Interested in entering a speaking proposal to the 2016 SXSW PanelPicker? Click here for the updated version of this essay.



Hugh Forrest

Celebrating creativity at SXSW. Also, reading reading reading, the Boston Red Sox, good food, exercise when possible and sleep sleep sleep.