Reflections on an excellent travel blogging panel at SXSWi

sxswi-travel-blogging-panel-courtesy-bj-mccrayThe room was packed as Pam Mandel and I launched our Blog Highways: Travel Blogging for the Wanderer panel at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) tech conference here in Austin.

For Twitter-networked folks, the hashtag was #sxswtravel and the live-tweets were flying from Shannon (@Cajun_Mama) of the Traveling Mamas and Kelly (@kag2u) from Travellious, to name just two.

Thanks also to the biceps/triceps of Canadian travel and tourism marketing expert Todd Lucier, who streamed the panel live to the Web as it happened, using Qik from his cell phone (see Part One video of the panel and Part Two video.)  I’ve shot video from a Flip Ultra, and your arms start to ache holding the camera extra-steady, so I appreciate Todd’s hanging in there for an entire hour.

UpTake’s Elliott Ng attended and wrote a summary post on the UpTake Travel Industry blog; thanks also to writer Laura Moncur and the Austin American-Statesman for their coverage. My co-panelist Pam had her own insights on the panel.

Since others summarized the meat of the panel topics and discussions, here are some of my Big Picture thoughts:

*** Ensure that your audience is comfortable and involved, both in the room and out.  Pam and I scoped out the panel room ahead of time and rearranged everything to bring in more chairs and move a table.  We knew there would be floor-sitters, but we tried to ensure that they had good sightlines. We arranged in advance for people to live-tweet and live-stream, to serve those watching in other timezones around the world. Details matter if you want to step up and bring your A-Game as a speaker.

*** Try to have info nuggets for both newbies and experienced people. Pam discussed basic blog design issues like “yellow on black background is NOT readable,” because she still sees things like that all the time as the Travel Editor at BlogHer.  It’s apparently not too “basic” for some out there.  I spoke briefly about using Utterli to make audio blog posts from your cell phone (for bloggers who are ready to move beyond icky yellow font conundrums.)

*** Experts in the audience enrich the discussion, but speakers must always keep the discussion on track. We’ve all seen conference panels hijacked by big mouths “asking questions” when they’re really making rambling statements. As a yakky, opinionated person myself, I have an inner “Shut up, Sheila!” button that I often poke at conferences. We did NOT have that problem at all; in fact Todd Lucier and Matthew Cashmore of Lonely Planet had super-valuable advice in response to a couple of specific questions from our audience. Don’t be threatened by experts if you’re a speaker; they can enrich your content immeasurably as long as they’re on topic (plus, Cashmore later showed me the new Lonely Planet iPhone app — how cool is that?!)

*** I need to do a better job of creating content on the fly during events/conferences. This post should have gone up days ago; I’m too slow. Every travel blogger has his/her own style – I edit carefully and need quiet time to write full posts, so I need to learn to create other types of content that I can post rapidly without obsessing. Twitter is perfect for me and I use it, but with some concentrated effort I could toss up more photo posts, more to Flickr and TwitPic, more to Facebook, etc. This blog basically went dormant for a week, which is unacceptable to me. The total irony is that my main SXSWi presentation was about how to find maximum blog post material in a short period of travel time, by “thinking like a blogger.” I’m great at finding the material, but not efficient enough in quickly producing timely content from my thoughts.

*** Grab good ideas and go with them despite the extra work, i.e. our travel swag bag at the panel. Pam and I pulled together and bagged up a bunch of travel-related gifts and goodies for the first 45 Blog Highways attendees (I’ll be writing about the bag contents in more detail soon on UpTake’s Travel Industry blog.) It seems to have gone over well, and the surprise added excitement and buzz to our presentation, so it was worth running around town getting things and navigating the tons of stuff piled up in my living room.

I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to present at SXSWi, collaborate with Pam and meet so many other travel enthusiasts, both in person and online. Thank you for the encouragement and support.

There are other travel blogging panels coming up in 2009 – Travel Bloggers as Boundary-Breaking Evangelists on Saturday, July 25 at the sold-out BlogHer conference in Chicago, the Travel Blog Exchange meetup in Chicago on July 26, a travel track has been added to Blog World & New Media Expo in Las Vegas October 2009 and Travel Blog Camp in London, on November 10 and hosted by the UK’s Darren Cronian of Travel Rants.