I recently had the opportunity to attend South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, for the first time. If you’ve never been, SXSW is a giant festival in downtown Austin that draws in thousands of people. Founded in 1987, SXSW can bring more than $300 million to Austin’s economy every year.

Since it first began, SXSW has grown in both size and scope. It now combines a number of festivals into one, including music, film, comedy, health, and more. My main focus was on the “more” part, and I attended a number of sessions on topics related to today’s workplace trends.

The workplace sessions were structured in one of two ways. Either a single speaker would give a lecture on one topic, or a panel of 3-5 experts would weigh in on a particular issue. Topics included negotiation, sexism, diversity, new employer perks, faith in the workplace, the gender pay gap, and neurodiversity. This was a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time!

As you can imagine, the speakers were incredibly talented and informative, and they shared so many important ideas in these workplace sessions. Some of the most notable takeaways for me included:

  1. Companies are getting creative with benefits, including doing things like paying back employees’ student loans.
  2. It’s no longer unusual to start your career over from scratch midway through, and more programs than ever before are available to help you do just that.
  3. Organizations are focusing more and more on diversity and inclusion, using both their existing teams and new technologies to make it happen.

The most important takeaway of all, however, has to do with networking. You can listen to all of the lectures you want, but nothing compares to what you can learn from other people — and SXSW is the perfect place to meet those people.

I met up with a number of old colleagues during my visit, and I connected with many new people from various industries and around the world. The conversations I had with these people provided an incredible amount of value — more than I could have gained in any classroom. They led to new connections, new ideas, new podcast episodes, and new opportunities.

The experience reminded me just how important networking is to your overall career. It’s important to meet new people, but it’s also important to stay in touch. It’s important to reconnect. It’s important to help one another. Networking very often leads to your next job.

I look forward to attending SXSW again next year, but my focus on networking will increase next time around. Where else in the world can you connect with so many creative and talented people?

A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.

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