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Most Innovative Meetings 2021: SXSW Online 2021

The online edition of South by Southwest featured a complex lineup of keynotes, music showcases, film screenings, networking opportunities and virtual brand activations.

Sxsw Vr In Vr Chat Michael Brown 604a731b25045 (1)
Photo: Courtesy of SXSW

The Basics: South by Southwest’s all-virtual festival, which took place March 16-20, 2021, included a mix of keynotes, panels, music showcases, film screenings, networking opportunities and virtual brand activations, with speakers including the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, President George W. Bush and Ava DuVernay. New for 2021 was the Creative Services Exhibition, a digital expo highlighting creative organizations and small businesses, as well as SXSW Online XR, an immersive 3D experience that recreated downtown Austin. AI-powered event and matchmaking platform Swapcard served as the official virtual platform.Keynote Pete Buttigieg 5 Scaled 60550fbf810eaPhoto: SXSW

Steal-Worthy Innovations: In one of the festival's most headline-grabbing moments, participants with compatible desktop PCs, Oculus Quest or PCVR headsets were invited to explore an extended-reality re-creation of the Austin streets that typically host the festival. Powered by VRChat and designed by VRrOOm, the space allowed attendees to “walk” the streets and visit various venues for events and panels.

For the festival itself, the team worked to make it as accessible as possible with a single sign-on landing page, where users could easily view and filter the schedule, tune into various programming, network with each other, find sponsor info and more. There were five “channels” to watch live conversations; those videos were reduced to picture-in-picture mode so people could keep watching while clicking to other tabs.  In addition, a new SXSW club was also added to the wildly popular social network Clubhouse, where the team hosted daily rooms with special guests.

Another innovative new feature? An accessibility filter, where attendees could search for events that featured American Sign Language, closed captioning, English subtitles or even a strobe warning. Screen Shot 2021 03 19 At 9 56 55 Am 60550cbb59db6Photo: BizBash

Lessons Learned: Swapcard CEO Baptiste Boulard said a major focus with the way things were organized was to “reduce all barriers to discovery for an individual attendee. With all of the distractions that exist in our world and at home, it was important to allow the attendee to be as efficient with their time as possible.”

He added, “Attendees want an engaging experience. People are tired of attending virtual events on static platforms. This forces virtual event platforms to innovate and provide an experience as amazing, engaging and emotional as we used to see at in-person events.”

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BizBash's 10 Most Innovative Meetings 2021 is sponsored by Bevy, a community event engine fueling virtual, hybrid and in-person events.

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