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SXSW from the Crow’s Nest

How to keep your cool during SXSW according to conference programmer Kelly Krause


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People and speakers aplenty, music and films galoreSXSW can be an extrovert’s treasure trove or an introvert’s incubus. Either way you sway, it’s important to strike the balance between making the most and getting overwhelmed. We asked Conference Programming Manager Kelly Krause how she got her dream job, what she’s most looking forward to this year, and how she stays present through the madness.

How’d you come to work at SXSW?

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I love telling this story and credit getting my gig at SXSW to a bit of luck and serendipity. In 2010, I attended my first SXSW while I was a film publicist in Los Angeles. I immediately fell in love with Austin and knew I had to move here. That following September, I sent a Facebook message to Rebecca Feferman, who was their film publicist at the time, asking if SXSW was hiring. I only sort-of knew Rebecca as we had worked together on a film in L.A., and she responded saying the SXSW Interactive Publicist had just resigned a few days prior. That chat led to a Skype call with Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer. I remember being extremely nervous because I suggested a Skype call; I had never used it before but thought it might earn me street cred if I suggested a new tech platform to the guy who was running a world-renowned tech and creative event. A week later, Hugh offered me the job.

I started in 2010 as the SXSW Interactive Publicist and 8 years later, my role has evolved and pivoted so much. In 2014, I helped launch SXstyle (now SXSW Style,) a 3-day track of programming dedicated to future-focused conversations in the style and tech space. I’m now the Conference Programming Manager, this year specifically overseeing all Style, Food, Health, and Podcast Stage programming. I also curate Keynotes and Featured Speakers, and have a hand in some unique brand activations, which really fulfills my creative side.

There’s so much going on during SXSW. How do you keep from getting overwhelmed?

I get a rush of excitement from it all. To see everything we’ve worked so hard on come to life gives me such a sense of pride, because it really does take an entire staff plus the thousands of volunteers we have to pull off this event.

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The real magic in enjoying SXSW is taking it one day at a time and embracing serendipity. I find a bit of solace in knowing I can’t be everywhere at once and that wherever I am at the moment, is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I always make time to sit down, even if it’s for 10 minutes to take it all in. The Four Seasons lawn is a super relaxing spot (and is the location for this year’s Style Track), and I have Headspace on my phone if I need it to help re-center before I move on to the next thing. Pro tip: this year Headspace will be at the Fairmont with their “Room to Breathe” offering daily meditations – I definitely plan on taking advantage of that.

SXSW is truly what you make of it – if you can remain open to meeting new people, catching sessions, films, or showcases outside of your wheelhouse, and lean into the idea that your original plans for the day might change — then you’re setting yourself up for a really great time.

What’s your ‘break’ from the madness?

Free moments are rare, but if I can, I try to pop into a session and sit in the back of the room to experience the event as an attendee does. We spend 10-11 months out of the year programming and curating sessions, working with our speakers, so it’s nice to show up to support them when I can. If I have a few free hours in the evening, I try to catch a Film, and during Music my favorite place to unwind is the Radio Day Stage.

My birthday always lands during SXSW (March 13), so when I’m done working, I try to schedule time to meet up with friends who are in town and toast with a glass of bubbles.

After SXSW wraps, I have a post-event tradition with my sister (who also works for SXSW). We book a massage at milk and honey and treat ourselves to dinner at Jeffrey’s. It’s a good way to kick our feet up and celebrate another year in the books.

Favorite SXSW moment since you’ve worked there?

It’s literally impossible to nail down a favorite moment, but top three include:

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    • Meeting Snoop Dogg. He stayed after his Keynote to take a few photos with the team and he was so kind, chill, and funny. May we all strive to be as chill as Snoop.
    • In 2016, Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, was our closing Keynote and I had the privilege of introducing him. Backstage, right before his Keynote, I told him I was a little nervous and had butterflies in my stomach. He said (in the most lovely British accent), “You know Kelly, I often think that being nervous and excited feel the same – so what if this is excitement you’re feeling and you can shift the feeling towards a positive emotion.” I now use this tool before any I do any public speaking and remember, I’m just excited! During his Keynote, he got everyone in the audience to close their eyes and meditate together. After five full days of inspiration, networking, and creative exploration, it was cool to see an audience of 2,000 sit in silence.
  • Marc Jacobs was on my wish list since the day SXSW Style was born in 2014, so you can imagine my excitement when Vogue came to the table with him to speak in 2017. The second I met him (he arrived in the most insane chic pink fur coat,) I knew it was going to be a great session. And OMG did he deliver. His talk was hilarious. The audience loved him. He graciously stayed behind to take a pic – it was my 35th birthday that day – and he was so lovely to chat with. That whole “never met your idol” thing was out the door with him.

Who is your dream South By speaker and/or artist?

In no particular order: Beyoncé, Chef Alice Waters, Gucci C.E.O Marco Bizzarri, Hillary Clinton, Anna Wintour, and Kelly Clarkson.

If you could plan a Kelly Krause conference track, what would it be called and what would it entail?

Is a 3-day track dedicated to all-things Beyoncé an option?

Tough call because I feel like so much of what I love already lives within our conference programming, but for a little fun, I’d curate a track of programming called “LITERALLY OBSESSED” featuring everything in life that I Iove right now, which would include conversations like: Gary Janetti talking about the power of memes (have you seen Savage Prince George?); Designers (Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, etc.) and Hollywood actresses (Reese Witherspoon, Michelle Williams) talking about runway and red carpet activism; Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye) paired with Adam Rippon on the topic of living your best life; and Kelly Clarkson paired with Jennifer Lawrence featuring a surprise cameo from Beyoncé on female empowerment. Seems easy to book, yeah?

On a more serious note and inline with a monthly column I write called Living Kindly, I’m so inspired by those who are do-gooders, leading with kindness, and at the core are helping people connect, learn from one another, change the status quo, and stand up for what is right. So the thought of having a conference track dedicated to these individuals sounds so amazing – then I pause and think about our current conference lineup, and these folks are already speaking at SXSW. That warms my heart and makes me excited for our attendees.

For what events are you most excited?

    • SouthBites Dinner (Monday, March 12, 6 p.m.) We’ve partnered with Olamaie on the first-ever all female chef dinner for our annual SouthBites Dinner. This is easily my favorite event during SXSW and with this all-star lineup of women; it’s guaranteed to be a great night of cuisine.

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    • This is Us Cast Panel (Tuesday, March 13, 12: 30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.) I’m such a devoted fan of the show; the writing, acting, storyline – it all tugs at my heartstrings.
    • Audrey Gelman & Alyssa Mastromonaco Featured Session (Monday, March 12, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.) I’m convinced the members of The Wing are going to run the world. They’re talking about “Women + the Power of Community,” and will further illustrate #TheFutureisFemale.
  • Cities Summit (several days) This is new for 2018 and the lineup of programming is really fantastic. Conversations include “Making Cities Inclusive, Equitable, and Sustainable,” “Disrupting Global Trust Starts Local – With You,” and “What Happened to Our Chocolate Cities?” All important and timely conversations curated by my pal and colleague Julie Yost.