SXSW gets 5,000 panel proposals each year during July PanelPicker period

SXSW

AUSTIN (KXAN) — South by Southwest’s process to pick panels for the 2020 festival opens this week, and anyone can submit a proposal for a session they’d like to produce.

The annual festival of ideas, music, film and technology uses an online tool called PanelPicker to collect ideas from July 1 to July 19. Each year SXSW gets about 5,000 proposals for various panels, from which it selects about 500 to feature.

Julie Schell had one of her panel suggestions selected for this year’s festival. Schell is the executive director of extended and executive education at the School of Design and Creative Technologies at the University of Texas at Austin, and her panel featured local women innovating new uses for design thinking, a design strategy that puts people first.

PanelPicker, she said, “creates this investment and this network, this social network around the adventure of submitting the panel.”

She decided to submit her panel after having her SXSW EDU presentation selected the year before. “I expected maybe 15 people to show up” to the 2018 session, she said. “And then when I got there, there was a huge line waiting outside the room.”

“I felt really excited about being part of South By the next year and I wanted to go for the big forum.”

SXSW has used the online tool since 2007, a democratizing force to cultivate ideas from a diverse range of voices on a wide variety of topics. Anyone can submit an idea, said Dhinuka Perera, SXSW’s conference programmer, with the requirement that the submitter knows and has been in contact with the other panelists she is proposing.

The first step in the process is to pick a track out of 20 possibilities. New tracks this year include the future of music, creating and monetizing music, connection and culture, the gaming industry, XR and “fantastic future,” “which is actually going to be a really fun one,” Perera said. “It’s kind of our big, long-term, futuristic conversations.”

The multi-step PanelPicker process requires contact info, a description of the panel, who’s going to be on it and several other pieces of information, along with a short video of at least one of the speakers. See what SXSW recommends for a successful pitch here and here.

Once the submission period closes, SXSW grades every panel suggestion through an advisory board, staff and, crucially, feedback and comments from the public during two and a half weeks in August.

That feedback “can make or break a session that we’re on the fence about,” Perera said. “We want to make sure that we’re paying attention to what’s getting a lot of votes and what’s getting a lot of comments and discussion around it.”

The public comment period runs from Aug. 5-Aug. 23, and the panels are selected by mid-October.

Schell plans to submit something again this year, though she’s not sure what it’ll be yet. She likes to come up with about 10 ideas to start, then whittle the list down; each submitter is allowed to propose one panel idea for SXSW and one for SXSW EDU.

Whatever she submits, she’s pleased to participate in PanelPicker, a process that focuses on community and developing ideas together.

“Even if you don’t get picked,” she said, “it’s a pretty exciting and community-oriented effort.”

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