Director of the SXSW Interactive Festival

imgresGeek Christmas has arrived! On October 20, the SXSW Interactive Festival unwrapped more than 600 accepted sessions for next March in Austin. This is the biggest announcement for the upcoming season, as these 600 sessions represent the bulk of daytime programming for the 2015 event.

Content covered in the October 20 announcement ranges from design to branding, from coding to MedTech, from entrepreneurism to next-generation journalism. Speakers include a handful of big names (people like Steve Case, Josh Clark, Kristina Halvorson, Tara Hunt, Ben Huh, Matt Mullenweg, Clara Shih, Kara Swisher, Stephen Wolfram and Amy Webb), plus hundreds of names of up-and-coming innovators who you probably haven’t heard of yet. Indeed, SXSW specializes in previewing people and ideas that you may not know about now, but will be big in the future.

Five tips for a better understanding of this huge programming announcement are as follows:

1. How sessions are selected. Most of the 600+ sessions came from the SXSW PanelPicker, a unique approach that allows anyone in the community to enter a speaking idea and likewise allows anyone in the community to vote / comment on all the received ideas. The PanelPicker has become very popular over the last few years. This year’s interface received more than 3000 total entries from across the US and around the world. 2015 was also a record year in terms of total number of votes cast. But public voting accounts for only 30% of the decision-making process on any given proposal. The other 70% of the decision-making process for each proposal comes via analysis from the SXSW Advisory Board (40%) and the SXSW staff (30%). Three different inputs helps prevent people with large social media followings from unfairly influencing the PanelPicker system.

2. The PanelPicker is great. Leveraging the intelligence of the community has helped SXSW Interactive content continue to improve and improve. The PanelPicker interface helps us keep in touch with the newest and most relevant digital industry trends. Likewise, this interface empowers experts to organize sessions on topics that fit their expertise. In many ways, the PanelPicker embodies the bottom-up ethos that structures so much of what we love about online culture.

3. The PanelPicker has plenty of flaws. But pretending that the PanelPicker system of selecting content is perfect would be completely silly. Because so many proposals are entered via this interface, lots of amazing speaking ideas often fall through the cracks. If you entered a speaking idea in the 2015 PanelPicker and your idea wasn’t part of the October 20 announcement, then its entirely likely that the PanelPicker system failed again. The system isn’t flawless — sometimes the content that rises to the top is incredible and sometimes it isn’t. Apologies for any judging mistakes and oversights that we made this year.

4. Sessions are the heart and soul of SXSW. Attending SXSW Interactive programming provides an unparalleled opportunity to hear some of the world’s foremost experts preview tomorrow’s top trends. With so many different areas of focus, the event is your one-stop-shop to gain valuable insights on a variety of verticals. Or take part in our workshops to enjoy extended, in-depth learning that will help you master the given topic at hand. For 2015, these workshops move to the new JW Marriott in the heart of downtown Austin.

5. Sessions are just the tip of iceberg. While daytime programming is hugely important, superior networking drives so much of the popularity of SXSW. Being in Austin in March allows you to makes dozens of career-enhancing connections over the course of a few days that would otherwise take months to achieve. These connections are often made before, during and after sessions. Meet Ups that are scheduled throughout the five-day event offer another fantastic forum to make new acquaintances with people inside (or outside) your current area of focus. Connections are also facilitate via the dozens and dozens of social events that occur during SXSW.

Visit the SXSW Interactive website to learn more about the 2015 event, which runs March 13–17. Or, if you have three minutes to spare, take a peak at the sizzle reel for next spring. Save $300 on the walkup fees by purchasing your badge by the end of the day on Friday, October 24.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission from Hugh Forrest.