By Kelli Rathke, Vice President, Media Director

I arrived in Austin late Thursday afternoon for my first SXSW and my first thought was, “Wow, it’s not crazy here at all. Where are all of the people?” I went over to the convention center and picked up my badge with only a few other people in the vicinity. Fast forward 15 hours and the convention center was a totally different place, buzzing with thousands of people hoping to get smarter, learn about the newest technologies in branding, music and film, and hopefully not have to wait in line an hour to get their badge.

The first session I attended was “Influencing Impact: Through Story and Innovation”.  This was hosted by Noor Tagouri, an American Muslim woman born in West Virginia, who has embraced her culture and her true identity in order to become the successful journalist she is today.  She discussed 9 ways to influence impact in our lives, which she calls The Noor Effect:

  • Put on for yourself, and leave your insecurities behind
  • Become who you are
  • (Let) this little light of mine (shine). Noor, her first name, means light
  • Bet on yourself + create relationships
  • Find your tribe
  • Create more mediums for yourself
  • Respect the mic and control your narrative
  • Play on, Playa – take control over your story
  • Celebrate the 10,000 (those who are just like you and have also had to overcome similar hardships or experiences)

The point of her words is that we need to think about things differently by challenging people’s perspectives, staying balanced and being curious human beings. Don’t block people with opposing views, instead hear them out and allow yourself to get the full perspective in order to better tell your story. The Noor Effect offers a powerful storytelling guide for marketers and brands.

The second session I attended featured Cory Richards, named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012, National Geographic Fellow in 2015, and is most recently known for using Snapchat to document his climb of Mt. Everest (sadly his phone died when he reached the summit). While the story of his life is amazing and inspiring, he was authentic and honest in his narrative, describing the many hardships he has endured (surviving an avalanche, PTSD, divorce, and much more). He is a photo- journalist who uses images to tell his stories and to hopefully incite social change. The raw truth behind what is captured in his pictures is emotionally jarring, connecting us in a way that words cannot do.

A takeaway from his speech is the reminder of how much more people connect with us (and brands) when we, too, are authentic and honest. 

The final session of the day was entitled “The Election that Changed Everything” featuring CNN’s Jake Tapper. Despite the unprecedented historical significance of this election and elections to come, the message Tapper gave is to rise to the occasion, and not play into the “fake news” of today. Keep reporting on, and demanding what is true, and rise to the challenge our new reality has brought us.

Truth seemed to be the common theme of my three sessions: stay true to ourselves and demand truth from others — including media and brands — in order to ensure the best chance of connection.