SXSW PanelPicker®: 4 Tips to Earn Community Votes

Two people talk in white chairs on a stage at SXSW. Behind them is a black curtain and pink, blue, and white sign that reads "SXSW 2022." To their right is a projected slide with speakers' names and images.

In June 2021, Minerva Strategies submitted an application to South by Southwest (SXSW) PanelPicker® on behalf of our client, Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF). The SXSW PanelPicker allows attendees to have a significant voice in conference programming for both SXSW and SXSW Edu.

Elise and seven others pose in front of a brick wall, flowers, and a sign that reads "EVERYONE VS VS VS VS CLIMATE CHANGE"
Side events make SXSW even more enjoyable! The Youth Climate Lab hosted an event called “Everyone vs. Climate Change” which allowed the climate justice community to connect and learn from one another.

SXSW is known all over the globe as a conglomeration of film, media, and music festivals held in Austin, Texas. Last year, the conference included a climate track – presenting a unique opportunity for our client, which supports women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples to create and share their own climate resilience solutions.

On August 9th, community voting will open for the accepted PanelPicker proposals. Voting accounts for a third of the final selection process, making it a crucial component for proposals to make it to the final stage. 

With this in mind, Minerva Strategies offers up four communication tips to advance your PanelPicker proposal.

SHARE, SHARE, SHARE! As previously mentioned, community voting accounts for 30% of the overall vote when determining which proposal is selected. People must know that your proposal is in the running. For our client, we created several social media toolkits. The toolkits contained graphics, suggested social media posts, and dates for posting. We created one for CJRF, another for people and organizations in their network to share on their platforms, and one for our speakers to share. This allowed us to capture the attention of folks already in the CJRF universe and expand our reach to their networks. There are just under two weeks for community voting to take place; therefore, we suggest preparing these materials in advance of the voting period.  

Explain why your proposal matters. The climate change track was an unfamiliar part of the SXSW experience. This required us to educate folks as to why this track deserved attention and why CJRF’s focus on climate justice should be a part of this conversation. We conducted Q&A style interviews to allow our proposed speakers to introduce their work to an unfamiliar audience, and posted these on the CJRF website. This written content allowed our proposed presenters to share the importance of their work in their words. Additionally, these articles were not focused on convincing people to vote for our client’s proposal. Instead, we focused on the larger issue of climate justice, which allowed us to use these content pieces for our client’s newsletters and email blasts.  

Explain how to vote. Community voting is a multi-step process; therefore, providing clear instructions on how to vote will yield greater success. Using the SXSW voting instructions, we created a voting guide which was published on our client’s blog page. The guide included visual representations of how to create an account on the SXSW website and search terms for our panel proposal. This guide made the voting process as clear as possible for potential voters.  

Use your existing networks. In an earlier tip, I mentioned the importance of sharing information about your panel. It’s crucial that you do not stay silent and ask your existing networks to share information about the panel. We were fortunate to have the benefit of working with well-known speakers in the climate justice space. Therefore, we worked with their communications teams and organizations to help us spread the word about our efforts. Although it may look different in the digital space, word-of-mouth is still a powerful tool! 

Using these strategies helped us gather the community votes that we needed in order to achieve our goal. SXSW officials selected CJRF’s PanelPicker session for the 2022 conference, sharing the good news with us a couple of months after the community voting period closed. We wish you luck in the PanelPicker Process!  

Elise poses with four members of CJRF team. Behind them is a table in front of a black curtain and patterned sign.
Elise (far right) joined the CJRF team at SXSW!

About The Author

Elise McGlothian

Elise McGlothian


Elise thrives when creating a positive social impact through communications. She has a passion for equitably relaying information and moving people to support organizations tackling critical social challenges – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Elise.