IMG_3645SXSW is a mega conference/festival for geeks in Austin, Texas, United States. Mega means over 10,000 attendees. I came here to see what’s happening at the geek edge of presenting. To observe the interface between presentations and technology.

But what has been most in my face is that the best presenters I saw care! They don’t care about themselves – they care about their audience, and they care passionately. I’ll talk about each of these three best presentations.

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Chris and Julien are co-authors of Trust Agents. I’ve previously admired Chris’s authenticity and his willingness to take risks when speaking. This was my first opportunity to see him live. Chris and Julien’s modus operandi was to have a loose structure and then riff around those themes, bouncing off each other. They’re both quick-witted and funny and it led to some great laughs. They spoke with intensity – like they were underlining each statement. But most important they cared about their message and about us as an audience.

Dan Roam

Dan Roam is author of Back of the Napkin.. This was a presentation he was giving for the first time, based on his new book Vivid Thinking. His caring came through in the depth and rigor of his thinking. Compared to Chris and Julien, He’s quiet and serious – but riveting. In a future post, I’ll talk more about some of the ideas from his talk.

Gary Vaynerchuck

Gary Vaynerchuck is the author of Crush It. Gary greeted  every person who came in and thanked them for coming. Then after 10 minutes of speaking he turned it over to Q&A – this is with an audience of two thousand people. To ask a question you had to line up behind a mike. When a woman was clearly struggling with nerves, he invited her to come up to him and just talk to him quietly and then he repeated the question and answered it to the whole audience. When he didn’t have an answer, he was straight. After the presentation he was there for another 45 minutes answering questions for all those people who hadn’t got to ask him a question earlier. Among them, was a mother and her 8 year old son. She’d taken her son out of school for the day to see Gary speak. The mother asked Gary if he could record a short video to show to her son’s teacher. Gary asked for the teacher’s name and then spoke directly to her on the video. It was sweet and moving.

Gary is known for his passion, but what I saw was his genuine caring for each person in the audience.

So here’s what SXSW reinforced for me. Your style as a presenter doesn’t matter. Whether you’re funny or serious, loud or quiet doesn’t matter. Just care for your audience.

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