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Beyond the Pitch: Leading Thoughts at SXSW - Mindshare, Not Market Share, Leading Thoughts at SXSW

communication tips entrepreneurship how to communicate better team alignment Mar 17, 2024

I recently returned from SXSW in Austin for a week of learning and connection. I will share more about this experience in a later post, but I did see many speakers selling from the stage. To me, this is a real turn off. One speaker said, “As you’ll discover in my book…” before every insight. And then he jammed in stat after stat after stat all while promising to share his insights. 


Look, I get it. This is a captive audience! They are all potential buyers! And for hungry entrepreneurs they are likely thinking that an opportunity at SXSW could push them or their businesses to next level.


Here’s the thing: Sharing how your product works and all the data that supports the rationale for building it, rarely works. In fact, it often puts your audience to sleep. 


What people really want to see and hear is original thought leadership, aimed not just at disseminating information or promoting your wares, but at shaping the discourse within an industry. This approach requires content that is not just high-quality but backed by extensive research, offering perspectives that are both insightful and forward-thinking.


Sage from the stage

The influence wielded by a thought leader, or an organization can be measured not by the volume of output but by the depth of impact. To be seen as a beacon of knowledge or sage from the stage, one must foster an environment where audiences don't just passively consume content but look to you for answers that inspire innovation and provoke thoughtful discussions.


Conversations not clicks

True engagement in the context of thought leadership is about sparking conversations rather than generating clicks. It’s about creating content that resonates on a deeper level, encouraging dialogue among your audience, and building a community that values depth over breadth. This kind of engagement is more meaningful and indicative of a genuine interest in the insights being offered.


A different kind of funnel

The goal of thought leadership is similar to traditional marketing approaches in that it aims to fill the funnel with potential customers. However, the quality of engagement and the level of interest are significantly higher. This approach tends to attract individuals who are more invested and potentially more loyal, leading to a customer base that is both engaged and informed.


Here are some great examples of Thought Leadership at SXSW 2024:


Deloitte (Full disclosure, Deloitte Canada is a client) stands as a paragon of thought leadership in the professional services sector, not just in Canada and the U.S., but globally. I remember getting my hands on their Innovation Report several years ago and ate it up! Their annual reports, such as the "Global Human Capital Trends" and "Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions," offer foresight into the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing businesses today. Mike Bechtel, Deloitte’s Chief Futurist delivered an incredible keynote at SXSW this year. One well respected colleague of mine shared, “It was amazing. I was literally in tears…” You can find an audio recording of this session here


Amy Webb, CEO, Future Today Institute’s launch of their Emerging Trends Report has become a tentpole event at SXSW for years and for good reason. Their report and her presentation delivers a deep dive into all the trends that will likely impact you and your business in the coming year. Not only does she lay them out, but she connects them and provides you with a path forward. Here is her keynote and you can download the report here. Both are worth checking out.  


Interac is the Canadian leader in digital payment solutions and financial services innovation. (Again, full disclosure, Interac is a client) Interac's thought leadership is evident in their commitment to educating consumers and businesses about financial literacy, digital security, and the future of payments. Through reports, blogs, and participation in industry forums, Interac provides valuable insights into the evolving landscape of digital finance. At SXSW, Interac hosted an invite only chat with Debbie Gamble, Interac’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer and  Amy Webb, CEO, Future Today Institute exploring trust in a rapidly changing technology landscape. They also recorded an episode of Everyday Trust with Debbie in Conversation Melanie Subin, Managing Director of the Future Today Institute about how strategic foresight can be a tool to help leaders and organizations embrace chance. You can also find their ongoing Everyday Trust series here


Thought Leadership Works

According to the Edelman-LinkedIn research, 58% of respondents turn to thought leaders' content one or more hours per week and 60% of decision makers admitted that thought leadership convinced them to purchase a product or service they were not previously taking into consideration.These interactions can reinforce a company's reputation as an industry authority, contributing to higher market share and increased growth. The tangible benefits of thought leadership, magnified by public speaking, highlight the importance of articulating a clear, insightful message through all channels of communication.


Thought leadership is not just about what you say but how you say it and…the conversations it initiates. By focusing on quality, influence, engagement, and outcomes, thought leadership can elevate a brand, inspire innovation, and ultimately lead to significant growth.