Stand Out: How to Secure a Speaking Spot at SXSW

A woman is speaking at a conference while holding a tablet device.

According to South by Southwest (SXSW), thousands of speaking proposals were submitted for the 450+ interactive sessions that took place at the March 2024 conference. As the application cycle for 2025 opens up this summer, how can you make your brand stand out in the noisy, competitive SXSW PanelPicker process?

Understand the Process

SXSW features a unique crowdsourcing process — the PanelPicker — which allows the tech community to “submit, review, comment and vote on the speaking proposals they would like to see become part of the event.” The online application form opens every year at the end of June and stays open for a month. In 2024, the form opens on June 25 and will close on July 21. 

During that time, interested speakers can upload proposals for a variety of speaking opportunities (panels, solo presentations, workshops, etc.). In August, all of the submitted proposals will be posted online for the community to vote on. After gathering the community’s feedback, the SXSW Advisory Boards and the SXSW staff weigh in on the selection process and curate the final schedule based on what they feel is most relevant. Ultimately the final tally is determined as follows:

  • 30% by community voting
  • 30% by SXSW staff
  • 40% by the advisory board

The final selected speakers are typically officially announced in the fall.

Get a Strong Head Start

As the SXSW nomination process opens up, it’s not too late to prepare a winning 2025 speaking proposal — or to get started planning for next year. A good place to start is to look at the selected speakers and topics from the 2024 conference. Stay away from themes that have already been covered. Explore forward-thinking storylines from your organization that offer a fresh perspective and highlight breakthrough creativity and innovation. Ask yourself, “Is this a timely topic? Will it teach attendees something new?” 

Most of all, be certain your topic is focused. Conference organizers recommend entrants narrow a subject down to a tight concept. In fact, they say, the more specific a proposal is, the better. For example, a topic like "How Spotify Hurt Taylor Swift" would work better than the more general "Streaming Services and the Future of Music."

Less Is More

One of the most challenging things about submitting a speaker proposal to SXSW is being able to convincingly convey your topic in a very concise manner. The SXSW PanelPicker format is built on a “less is more” framework and gives you a strict character count for each section. You will be asked to submit:

  • Information of the session organizer 
  • A 60-character title 
  • A 600-character description along with three 150-character takeaways 
  • Link to resources (ex: YouTube video, Vimeo, or slide deck) 
  • Contact information for proposed speakers 

Writing a 60-character title can be one of the trickiest parts of the process. When it comes to titles, we are often drawn to developing something catchy and cute, but SXSW warns against this path as the title needs to be easily understood by voters who are quickly scanning panels as they make their way through the voting process. Some of the titles that have caught our eye are Beyond the Buzz: Navigating Hype Cycles in Advertising, Sustainable Supply Chains: Addressing Hidden Emissions, and Real-time UIs: The Future of Human-Computer Interactions.

Develop Your Vote-Getting Strategy

Unlike most conferences, your work is not over once your SXSW Interactive proposal is submitted. Once the voting process opens in June, you’ll be chartered with inspiring your company’s employees, friends, partners, and customers to cast a vote for your SXSW panel topic. Each voter can vote for a specific speaker only once. 

To get ahead of the game, start thinking about creative ways to capture your connections’ interest in your SXSW panel topic and motivate them to support you with their vote. Thinking through a smart social and direct strategy by August 6 will help ensure you generate the awareness you need to get votes. 

Strike A Perfect Balance

The SXSW speaker selection process is definitely a careful blend of art and science. With this better understanding of the process, and what’s needed from you throughout the submission and voting phases, we believe you’ll increase your odds of winning over the SXSW community and experience the great reward of being picked. More tips from the Advisory Board can be found here.

Looking to build a thought leadership platform through speaking opportunities? Our team of PR and public speaking experts is ready to help.


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