Session Logo
South by Southwest (SXSW): Enlightening, Energising, Entertaining!

South by Southwest (SXSW): Enlightening, Energising, Entertaining!

SXSW, based in Austin, Texas, is a conference that celebrates the convergence of tech, film, and music industries. In this piece you can read about the history and vision of the conference, as well as our main takeaways from participating in SXSW.

Niamh Pardi |

South by Southwest®, abbreviated as SXSW, is an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences organized jointly that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas. It began in 1987 and has continued to grow in both scope and size every year.

In this article, we will run through SXSW’s history and mission, what we as a company got out of participating.

“SXSW’s mission is to welcome a diverse group of creative professionals and innovative companies to further develop careers and businesses whether it is through music, film or technology.”

- Forbes, 2018

Photo credit: SXSW

The History of South by Southwest® (SXSW)

In 1987, a small group of people in Austin, Texas began a series of long discussions about the future of entertainment and media. The meetings were in the offices of The Austin Chronicle, and participants were sworn to secrecy. A fundamental opinion shared by the group was that the local creative and music communities were as talented as anywhere else on the planet, but were severely limited by a lack of exposure outside of Austin. In these discussions, music was a fundamental factor, but the group also were curious about art and other ideas. Inclusiveness and reaching for new things were core values. The solution that transpired was a diverse conference that would bring together an international group of people to Austin. The first event, held in March of 1987, saw an expected 150 registrants swell to 700 on the opening day. As hoped for, Austin’s charm won over the visitors, and SXSW took on a life of its own.

Growth was steady for the first seven years. For SXSW ’94, often remembered for the Johnny Cash keynote/performance, two new events – Interactive and Film – were introduced. It would mark a fundamental shift in how the world viewed SXSW. Still early in the paradigm shift created by the internet, the film and digital communities found a home in SXSW. As said, the event has changed significantly since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas. Here is how SXSW has evolved over the years:

  • SXSW Music is now the largest music festival of its kind in the world!
  • The music event has grown from 700 registrants in 1987, the first year of the conference, to over 345,066. attendees in 2023
  • SXSW Film Conference spans five days of conference panels and sessions, and welcomes filmmakers of all levels. Programming consists of keynote speakers, panels, workshops, mentor sessions and more, with expert filmmakers and industry leaders.

SXSW Interactive is focused on emerging technology. The festival includes a trade show, speakers, parties, and a startup accelerator.

Photo credit: SXSW

Who Goes to SXSW?

“South By Southwest has long been a sacred annual pilgrimage for brands, tech companies and ad agencies alike, offering a heady mix of technology and creativity under the Texan sun.” - Business Insider

SXSW’s audience is incredibly diverse - and that’s what makes it so fun and interesting! Although the event is open to the public (with the cost of the ticket price), a number of heterogeneous groups primarily attend:

  1. Thought Leaders and Innovators: Particularly from the tech sectors, SXSW attracts key influencers and innovators who go to share their stories, connect, broaden their networks, scale, learn, and be part of future innovation. SXSW is the perfect place to go to get a pulse of future and emerging trends.
  2. Creatives and Entertainers: ‘’Keep Austin Weird’’ is a famous slogan associated with the city. The saying originates from the city’s reputation for gathering all sorts of innovators, misfits, troublemakers, hippies and more. SXSW also has strong roots in being alternative, and attracting creatives and entertainers. ‘’The weirder, the better’’ is certainly the case with SXSW! While the festival has gotten increasingly mainstream with more corporate partners appearing each year, the festival still predominantly attracts creatives, including artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and more.
  3. Start-ups and Entrepreneurs: Many start-up companies, entrepreneurs, and technologists attend SXSW with some hope of finding the right investor, getting press coverage, or simply to network with like-minded individuals and organizations. Many tech start-ups and entrepreneurs attend the event.
  4. Curious People: It’s important to remember that not everyone attends SXSW with a concrete goal in mind. Plenty of people go to SXSW not for a specific goal or reason but out of a sense of curiosity about the world, what is changing, where the opportunities and challenges lie. Regardless of background or profession, people leave SXSW with a glimpse of key trends shaping the future, as well as heightened perspectives as a result of meeting diverse people from all over the world.

Photo credit: SXSW

Session at SXSW

Session was invited to attend SXSW 2022 thanks to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Creative Denmark, DI - Dansk Industri and Denmark In New York who together organized a number of Danish tech companies to attend. The Danish venue was housed in Wanderlust Wine Co. in downtown Austin - the perfect location for mingling, networking, panel discussions, and enjoying some delicious catering and wine! We were there to present our company solution - a scalable coaching platform facilitating the coaching journey with highly professional business coaches from all over the world - to a wider audience. We managed to get introductions, buzz and concrete sales meetings in our calendar as a consequence of participating - but that’s not all. On top of that we learned a ton about emerging trends within the tech industry and how to market your product in the US and beyond. Besides from positioning Session, we also got to do quite a few talks on topics close to our heart - read on to learn more.

Nordic Leadership Presentation:

We were thrilled to have our CEO present on the topic of Nordic Leadership at the Creative Denmark House at SXSW. Over 700 people signed up! Pernille highlighted key insights from her book “On the Move, Lessons for the Future from Nordic Leaders” including the benefits, pitfalls, and outcomes of Nordic Leadership and why this way of leading is relevant for leaders all over the world wanting to engage a motivated workforce of the future.

Future of Work: Optimizing for Professionals of Tomorrow

Together, with Morten Becker Gronning, UX and Product Designer AeroGuest, Pernille also delivered a talk which discussed how technology is optimizing the workforce of tomorrow. Aeroguest works within the hotel industry to streamline check-in and check-out processes, and saves users time on traditional desk check-ins. Although AeroGuest and Session operate within completely different industries, Morten and Pernille were still able to draw a number of interesting parallels between our companies. Firstly, they discussed the accessibility of technology which produces an equal playing field. Those people that did not traditionally have access to in-person services can now avail of technology within the online space. We ended the panel by discussing how 3-D technology may come into effect in the future.

Highlights, Wine and Reflections from a Scandinavian Perspective

Towards the end of the conference, Pernille also attended a panel, ‘’Highlights and Wine” which was a wrap up session featuring a panel of CEO’s from different forefront startup companies from Denmark, including Session, Simon Max Bloch Lajboschitz from Khora Virtual Reality, Matias Møl Dalsgaard from GoMore, Dorthe Hove Olesen from Roskilde Festival, and Andreas Cleve, from Corti.

In this session the panelists were asked to reflect on their key takeaways and reflections on their own business strategy going forward following their participation in this year's SXSW. It was discussed how future business strategies may be influenced by developing tech, and Pernille addressed how the future of online coaching journey’s might be 3D, not 2D. Simon and Andreas also shared some particularly interesting opinions on the future of the metaverse going forward.

Summing it all up

SXSW exceeded our expectations even more than we thought it would! The people that we met, the companies that we were introduced to, and the new ideas that we discovered were all incredible. We left SXSW feeling rejuvenated, revitalized and excited for the future of work and leadership! We would like to encourage everyone who gets a chance to go - to go! It is an enlightening, energizing and entertaining event highly recommendable.

On behalf of Session, we would like to thank the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Creative Denmark, DI - Dansk Industri and Denmark In New York for organizing this amazing experience and bringing us along.

Enjoyed the article?

Related content

Meet the Author

Niamh Pardi

Niamh Pardi

Content and Marketing Specialist, Session

Niamh is an expert marketing specialist with First Class Honors MA in International Marketing. Niamh crafts targeted articles and other relevant material for our esteemed readers and clients.

Ready to get started?Put your learnings to work.