Lessons from SXSW: How to make a conference trip a full-blown international business-development opportunity


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Super-sized international tech events such as SXSW present unique opportunities for growing businesses in terms of both organisational and professional development.

Our team recently returned from two weeks in America where we attended SXSW and DTx West Summit as part of a targeted US market-research trip.

So, whether it’s your first international conference, or you’re a veteran looking for new ways to make the most of your experience (and the investment), these tips will ensure optimal results.

  • Focus on one key goal

Having a focused goal for large-scale conferences helps you to refine your direction and make tough decisions about what to include and exclude from your itinerary. Those attending events such as SXSW, Adobe Summit or Web Summit, with between 10,000 and 70,000 attendees, need to take a proactive approach to maximise opportunities.

Identifying smart goals — like what relationship you need to establish or build and how to get your brand in front of the right people — helps you to plan and adjust your schedule to include the activities with the most value potential.

  • Find your niche and plan ahead

While the scope of SXSW and large tech events is incredibly broad, planning ahead based on your key goals and target audiences is critical. Don’t leave meetings to chance encounters. Before you leave Australia, identify the key companies and individuals you want to meet.

If the companies you are hoping to connect with are attending the conference too, you should consider presenting.

A presentation is really important for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it can build awareness and recognition for your brand. You can get your name out in front of hundreds of people in that session alone. This might not sound like much, but when you consider the targeted nature of the group, and how it could kickstart word-of-mouth and conversation, it is significant.

More importantly, the presentation may encourage potential partners from the audience to approach you afterwards — relationships you can continue to build on once the initial connection has been established.

  • Send the right team

We took a divide-and-conquer approach to our international trip, which if resources allow, is highly recommended. Working in tandem allows you to cover more sessions, more of the program and take up more opportunities to connect.

Of course, with events of this scale, there’s so much going on at any one time that you have to leave room for ambiguity as things will pop up and you’ll find yourself rushing off to explore a meet-up or smaller session on the basis of word-of-mouth or on a whim. Having multiple representatives at a large-scale event ensures you can explore these types of opportunities — which are the real magic parts of the experience.

From a practical perspective too. if one person is presenting or engaging potential clients and partners with technology or content, the other can be capturing leads, facilitating logistics or fielding incoming requests.

  • Build your program out around the central event

The final but critical piece that will transform a conference visit into a full-blown international business-development opportunity is to connect with organisations with established networks on the ground who can help you leverage the opportunity.

Building out your program via the expertise of major on-the-ground organisations not only gives you clout and opens doors, but it also provides an immediate cohort of peers with whom you can share the experience.


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