Porter Novelli

With SXSW 2016 officially behind us, it’s time to come up for air and reflect on what it was like organizing my first panel for SXSW SouthBites. It’s hard to believe, but it all began nine months (!!!) ago when the SXSW 2016 PanelPicker submissions process began. Our brains got moving—What would be interesting to attendees? What tracks are new this year? Approaching the conference this way allowed us to truly open our minds and hone in a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts—standing up for equal rights.

sxsw southbites pic

As Melissa Taylor mentioned in her post, our “Standing for Equal Rights: In & Out of the Kitchen” panel presented a thoughtful discussion with three chefs, Aarón Sanchez, Eli Kirshtein and Sarah Simmons, about race, gender and sexuality—and their personal responsibility to raise their voices on these issues. We submitted the topic for SouthBites, SXSW’s food & beverage track, a natural fit for Porter Novelli’s culinary arm Orange Palate. We discussed our topic with a number of chefs, colleagues, friends and family members—and with each discussion, we learned more about how this topic touches nearly every one of us. People have had enough–they want to stand up for equality and have discussions about moving forward. Our panel could help continue that conversation in the culinary community, which is hit so hard with discrimination.

It took four months, but in October 2015 we heard our panel had been accepted! From that moment on it was a race for logistics—travel plans, registration, panel descriptions, finalizing bios; you name it, we did it! Before I knew it, I found myself in Austin, prepping one last time for the session with our three chefs and moderator. We had laid out the conversation prompts and questions, ensuring each participant would have the opportunity to tell their story and have their voice heard. We sat over drinks listening to one another’s stories and soon realized the hard part would be keeping the conversation to one hour, as this topic rallies people and there are no shortage of stories to share. To learn more about what we discussed, head over to Melissa’s post, and drop us a line for what you’d like to hear in a future panel—we’ll keep it in mind for SXSW 2017 ;).

I left Austin feeling inspired—inspired by the work we were able to accomplish, the amazing panels I was able to attend, the inclusive speakers who made their voices heard. I hope to be able to plan a second panel with SXSW and to continue to see progressive topics on the schedule.

My three tips for securing a panel with SXSW would be:

  • Don’t make your panel self-serving; think about the type of session you would want to attend at SXSW and focus on the strength of the discussion.
  • Keep your topic focused—there was so much we wanted to cover in our one hour, but we knew we couldn’t do it all. We had to hone in on the three themes that would make the biggest impact and created a guide to keep the conversation on track.
  • Find participants who are equally passionate about your topics. Aarón, Eli and Sarah weren’t trying to come up with talking points for the discussion—they were speaking from the heart and that could be felt by the audience.