Empathy was everywhere at SXSWi this year. Almost every panel I attended urged the importance of empathy whether through a political lens, an urge to create more compassionate storytelling, being more representative in reporting, considering diversity when designing new technology or approaching authenticity from a place of empathy in our marketing. In addition, SXSWi introduced a new track focused on journalism and the pursuit of truth.
Setting the tone for the conference, the opening keynote speaker, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, reminded everyone that “we need each other.” Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, advised that sometimes we need to love past our comfort zones; and famed photographer Cory Richards, who spoke at length about his personal struggles and what he has learned from his travels, asserted that “truth fuc&@%# matters.”
Empathy and truth are inexplicably linked. Certainly, we can create more authentic stories when we infuse empathy and honesty into how we choose to portray the world. Cory Richards also spoke about the effectiveness of authenticity and what he’s learned from his work. Recounting his climb to Mount Everest’s summit, which was captured on Snapchat with the hashtag #EverestNoFilter, he told a more truthful, and not curated, account of how difficult that experience was. The Snapchat stories received a lot of media attention and impressions, proving the effectiveness of authenticity that isn’t manufactured. Also, speaking about empathy, he talked about the importance of listening to each other and representing what we hear in the stories we tell. “Our personal issues are inseparable from our global issues and through empathy we can find each other,” he said. As marketers, there are lessons we can take from his experiences documenting people all around the world to tell more inclusive and honest stories.
This year, there was a shift in the tenor of how panelists spoke about storytelling. These themes from SXSWi are big and warrant ongoing discussions. This traditionally tech-focused conference focused less on tech and much more on how we are all connected and, with that understanding, how we can create and tell more authentic stories.