There's an irony to the mastery of this backslapping style for a man whose national notoriety stems from his social-media outreach and responsiveness to constituents on Twitter (as well as for his heroic exploits in real life). Adding to the irony, Booker used his appearance to argue for the primacy of social-media in politics today.
"The tools of our parents worked so well with media," Booker said. "They mastered it and organized. We're not mastering those tools. We have better tools than they had. We can create values in places that our parents couldn't even imagine."
But he wouldn't go so far during his talk, moderated by Steve Snyder of Time, to officially declare his entrance into New Jersey's U.S. Senate race. His presumed intention to run is perhaps the worst-kept secret in politics -- even the official page for the panel asked how Booker's tweeting would evolve "as a candidate for the Senate."
"Go to CoryBooker.com, register your email, and you'll find out the information in real time," Booker said with a smile and laugh.
Still, his SXSW debut had all the makings (and soundbites) of a man who intends to continue his meteoric rise. The session felt like a formal reintroduction for the mayor, just two months after he filed papers to form a campaign committee for the likely Senate run. (Booker jokingly recanted a playful insult at a man wearing a Boston Red Sox hat when he discovered the man is a Garden State resident and therefore a potential voter. "I take back that insult," Booker said.)
The 70-minute talk was a crash course on Booker, balancing his more light-hearted interests -- characteristically, he was answering tweets backstage about Star Trek before the event -- with more serious discussion of contemporary politics. The lack of a personal touch breeds cyncism, he worries.
"What's happening is getting very, very dangerous, in my opinion, for how politics function," he said. "We're losing truth. We're losing authenticity. We are losing the soul of our politics." Booker added: "If we continue with the zero sum-gain politics, then as a country we're not going to be able to deal with the complicated problems that are still undermining the robust truth of what this democracy could be."
But social-media tools offer a fix, and Booker clearly wishes to personify a new style of politician who can realize that solution. Weaving personal stories into a narrative about how media tools have made a difference in society, he argued passionately that engagement technology and the collective will of the American people can shape government and inspire new ideas.
"My constituency is technically only 280,000 people, but it's also the United States," he said. "It's time to wake people up again, and we can do that."
On the other hand, he believes social media has allowed a shift in perspective for himself and many others in his generation, in which individuals to define themselves publicly by a standard other than their job.