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March 17, 2011

What a difference a year makes

by mikediliberto
Mike Diliberto's South by Southwest Speaker Badge

The theme for this year at south by southwest conference is “What a difference a year makes”. I found this to be true in my own experience of the conference, and many of my fellow attendees made similar comments about the evolution of the conference in general.  As in my past year of attendance, my head is full of inspired writing that I am busily getting down onto paper.  So, consider this the first in a series of posts.


If last year was the year that revolutionized my thinking and my world outlook, this year was the year that refined it.  At south by southwest 2010, I was arrived in Austin Texas feeling lost.  I had recently graduated with my MBA in International Business, and for the previous two years I had been working at an interactive agency serving the SMB enterprise market.  It was time for a change, I just didn’t know what that change was.  Yet.Photo of Mike Diliberto at South by Southwest

I went to all of the panels, I stayed out late, I met as many people as I could, because I was searching for the opening words of the next chapter of my career.  I met some of the most amazing people, and got to attend an amazingly diverse group of presentations.  I can honestly say I never wanted it to end.

More surprising was the amount of people that reached out to me after the conference to tell me what an impact that had on their own experience at South by Southwest.  At first I was confused, I hadn’t been a presenter, how did I have an impact?  So I asked them what it was that I had said that had inspired them. People were able to relate back to me something that I spoke about when I met them in the hallway or out at a bar.  It was an amazing experience to suddenly feel like I had an impact on something outside of my usual sphere of influence.   I wanted more of that feeling.

I decided that instead of looking at what I wanted to do right now, I would be better to look at where I wanted to be in a few years.  I knew I wanted to go back into retail design and shopper marketing, I wanted to leverage my new international business degree, and I needed to start speaking at conferences, like, for example, South by Southwest.

The Proposal

Leading up to South by Southwest in 2010, I made a few proposals to speak, but never having been to the conference, I had a hard time building a proposal that resonated with an unfamiliar audience.  Hugh Forrest, the founder of South By Southwest did like one of my proposals, and gave me a great review and some great feedback, but in the end my panel did not get picked.  In hindsight, I’m really glad it didn’t.

The following year, determined to present, I worked with several South by Southwest Alumni to build a compelling proposal.  Within a few weeks of the speaking proposal voting opening, I received a message from David Scott, an author that was hosting a session on social business.  He had seen my proposal, and wanted to know if I wanted to speak, solo, in one of the time slots.

I practiced my speech for hours at a time, editing, reading it out loud, and editing some more.  I was nervous, and could not wait until my time slot was up.Mike Diliberto's South by Southwest Speaker Badge

For those of you that have not made a speech at a conference, there is a lot of prep that goes into keeping things moving smoothly.  Hours before I was due on stage, I checked into the green room.  I got assigned a handler, had some food, drinks, even a back massage.  I sat down at my table, pulled out my computer, and continued reviewing my speech and PowerPoint slides.  It just so happened that the person sitting next to me was a famous author, and before I can say anything to him, he comments, “That’s a good idea, I wish I had some printed note cards, I get so nervous before I go on stage” and all I could think was, ok, if this person gets nervous before getting on stage, then it’s ok that I’m nervous.  Normal even.  The green room fellowship calmed me down.

The rest of it is a bit of a blur, before I knew what was happening, I was standing up on stage, in front of a big crowd, giving the speech that I had given hundreds of times before, at least, hundreds of times before while I was alone in my apartment.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, and true to the advice of “never let them see you sweat”, I kept my nerves hidden well; even friends that knew I had some jitters commented that they never would have guessed I was anything but confident and engaging.

I’m glad that I presented on Sunday, so that I could have 2 days of panels and presentations afterwards where I could focus on enjoying the mental stimulation without worrying about my impending presentation.

I’d like to do it again.  Will I submit a proposal for next year? Probably

For those of you interested, I posted a video of one of my rehearsals below.

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