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Sketchnote Guide to Speaking at SXSW

SXSW INTERACTIVE is one of my favorite events of the year, so when Shawn O'Keefe from the SXSW organizing team contacted me about creating a guide for speakers with sketchnote illustrations, I was all in.

Organizing the Details

Shawn provided a list of 9 messages he wanted speakers to remember as they prepared for their panels, which included:

  • Be at Your Green Room an Hour Before Your Session
  • Stay on Topic During Your Session
  • Watch the Time During Your Session
  • Show Your Passion for Your Topic - Have Fun!
  • Get a Good Night's Sleep the Night Before Your Session
  • Treat Fellow Speakers and Audience with Respect
  • Speak into the Microphone and Look at the Audience When You Talk
  • Remind Your Audience to Rate Your Panel or Presentation
  • Start Thinking About SXSW PanelPicker 2013 (Entry Process Starts June 25)

I began mulling these ideas over in my head and then moved to sketching out the concepts that appeared, using pencil and paper.

Sketch Concepts

SXSW 'Stay on Topic' Sketch

Each concept was sketched out for Shawn's review, with notes in the sketches and included in the Basecamp project we used to communicate. One of my favorite concepts was of an x-wing fighter from Star Wars (Death Star trench scene) related to the "Stay On Topic" recommendation.

All 9 concepts were sketched out, reviewed and approved by Shawn and the team, so I began inking up the ideas.

Inking and Final Design

As I started inking the images, I also began thinking of the best way I could organize the 9 elements into a cohesive, logical unit, easy for a SXSW speaker to scan and understand.

SXSW 'Stay on Topic' Ink

Each image was inked in my Moleskine sketchbook, scanned and edited in Photoshop. There, I remove dirt, fix contrast and generally optimize the images for their eventual vectorization.

Finalized images were processed with Vector Magic, so I can easily work with the final vector elements in Adobe Illustrator. This approach lets me easily size images up and down without quality loss and creates excellent art for print production.

Designing the Flow

I realized that re-ordering the images in a flow that would make more sense to a speaker was the right way to go — starting with a good night's sleep and ending with the Panel Picker to encourage speaking at next year's event.

I worked the separate illustrations by adjusting sizes and adding bits of typography, until a cohesive illustration emerged after a few iterations. Shawn and the team at SXSW loved the final piece:

Sketchnote Guide to Speaking at SXSW (B&W)

After final updates, the art was sent off to the printer. Here's the final image, mocked up on Neenah Environment Desert Storm, the card stock it will print on:

Sketchnote Guide to Speaking at SXSW (Kraft)
Sketchnote Guide to Speaking at SXSW

The speaker card will be inserted into every speaker packet, with the goal of better preparing all SXSW speakers for their panels.


Thanks Shawn, Hugh, Caroline and the entire SXSW planning team for choosing me to communicate this message in a fun, unique way.

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