The South by Southwest (SxSW) Conference and Festival is where you can let your geek flag proudly fly. It makes no difference if you are the New Geek on the Block or if you know what is happening in tech before Mashable writes the story; SxSW IS where the now and future of tech is the topic, and the attendees will decide what it means for customers and businesses.

[This was originally published Feb. 12, 2012 and was updated Jan. 23, 2013]

The event has three tracks: Music, Interactive and Film. The newest up and coming bands, films and tech converge each March in Austin, Texas. I’ll focus on the Interactive track, as that is where I spend most of my time.

1. Know why you are going to SxSW

Nothing could be worse then being around some of the brightest people in the industry and not knowing what you want to get from the event. Have at least three distinct goals before heading to Austin. There are certain hang-outs and lounges around the ACC (Austin Convention Center) that attract people of different interests. Find yours!

2. Forget about going to all the important sessions

There are over 700 sessions in five days – and that’s just for the Interactive Track. Pick and choose – and be flexible. Transportation between venues sometimes runs way behind, so allow at least an hour transit time – just in case. Besides, the greatest value of SxSW comes from the attendees.

3. It’s all about the shoes.

As a guy, I feel a little uneasy about saying that. The days start early and run late (or early). Sessions start at 9 AM and the evening events can run all night long. I don’t want to call these parties because chance are you are talking how existing or emerging media will affect your customers and how do you measure and implement these changes… and how hard it may be to explain them to your management. But you get a lot further if you are not also dealing with blisters.

4. Sign up for those evening events ASAP

You read this far, here’s the gold: sign up for the evening events ASAP. And be prepared to wait on line: A ticket doesn’t guarantee entry expect for a few venues. Here’s the best ways to know about the events, official and not:

  • Plancast. If you have set up and curated a Plancast account, following some people who you respect, see which events they are going to attend. Try and get in to those. Search events in Austin that mention SxSW and those that do not. Some of the more exclusive events do not mention it. Do this twice a day starting in January.
  • Eventbrite. An Eventbrite account is a must! This is how you get tickets for most events. You can search for events referencing SxSW in Austin as another great way to find out about events.
  • Twitter Search. The fastest way to information is Twitter, so use it to find the latest events. I like using Tweetgrid to search so my search doesn’t go against my API allotment. (Don’t worry if you didn’t understand that).
     Click hereto see the real-time listings. 
  • [Updated Jan.,23,2013] Lanyrd.  Special thanks to Anne S. and Raul Colon for sharing the Lanyrd goodness.  They also have an unofficial SXSW planner available and worth the look!
  • Don’t forget to check the official schedule! This year, even more events are listed as part of the official schedule at Register there to use the SXSocial app which crosses between mobile, tablets and regular browsers. 

There is a much business that occurs in quiet pockets around these events that occur in the Austin Convention Center, so don’t blow off these events.

5. Take A Night To Rest.

Sorry, but to keep getting the goodness, you will need to rest at least one night. Getting in at midnight is okay.

6. Food Wasn’t Included!?!?!?!

No, it is not. Some after hours events have food, so eat when you can, keep the water going (refill at the water coolers in the venues).  The Twitter search above will also reveal some very cool Twitter handles to follow for unofficial food events. Also, try and eat slightly off-hours unless it becomes a working lunch.

 7. Go Mobile!

If you don’t know how to use FourSquare or Twitter yet, learn. They are extremely important in learning which venue is hot and where the people YOU want to speak to are hanging out. The Eventbrite mobile app for IOS and Android devices is a must!

8. Finally: TALK (and Listen).

Talk. Ask questions. Be social. Collaborate. Learn. Get excited. Make content. Share content. EARN content. This is not a place for shy people. Force yourself to ask the question, shake the hand or open the conversation. Everyone is from somewhere, everyone has an idea what they want from SXSW, and everyone has a story – and everyone wants to learn and connect.

There are only two types of people at SxSW: Those influencers who make things happen and those who will be influencers who will make things happen.


Photo Credit: Wayne Kurtzman

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