The South by Southwest Conference and Festivals, or SXSW – or, to the veterans, “South-by” is where the tech-set come to let their “Geek flag fly.” It’s where early adopters come to stay early adopters and learn what they need to before someone else writes about it.
The event has three tracks: Music, Interactive and Film. The freshest bands, films and tech converge each March in Austin, Texas. I’ll focus on the Interactive track, as SXSW IS where the current and future tech meet. It will be up to the attendees to decide what it means for customers and businesses. This year, there is a large number of sessions on emerging wearable technologies (or wearables), location related tech and big data solutions.
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your #SXSW experience.
1. Know why you are going to SxSW
Nothing could be worse then being around some of the brightest people in tech 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. Don’t Let FOMO Win!
Pick the top 2 “must see” sessions for the day and plan your day around those events. Be sure to leave about an hour to get to the venue if it is not at the ACC. A trick I learned covering SXSW as a journalist was to arrive for the session before the one I wanted to cover. This way I had my seat before the popular sessions starts. I also ran into some of the most best content, by accident.
3. It’s Really About the Shoes.
There’s A LOT of walking, so wear light colors and comfortable shoes. Comfortable sneakers could make for a great week. Sure, bring those “real shoes” for the nighttime events if you must, but there is walking and standing on line then as well.
4. Preparation is 90% of Success: Daytime Version
SXSW has a pretty outstanding app that list, in part, the schedules, locations and the SxSocial community. The community is a great way to focus on who you want to meet and introduce yourself before the event – and keep in contact after the conference.
Once you download the app, go through each day and pick your choices for the day, and then select your two MUST SEE events. They cannot be one after the other – you may not get in to see it. This preparation is a must.
This year there are also several workshops available, but sign up as soon as possible!
5. Preparation is 90% of Success: SXSW at Night
There are numerous official and unofficial events. Some are during the day, but most are at night. The key to a good event is remembering why you came to SxSW. There is a great chance you can have more in-depth discussions during the evening events, but pick wisely. That means signing up for a lot of different events. Here are the best ways to find out about them – and this needs to be done NOW!
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.
- Lanyard has become a great tool to get a different feel for the events being planned.
If you want to dance, go for it. I don’t suggest waiting on line for an event unless you are seeing some really good tweets from the location. But wait – this means you need to be on Twitter, FourSquare and …
6. Be 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!
7. Take a Night Off
Sorry, but to keep getting the goodness, you will need to rest at least one night.
8. Be a Super Power Hero
By 11AM, the first seats that fill up are on the perimeter of the room, near the power outlets. Be a hero and have a power strip with USB adapters (like the Belkin Power Swivel Charger). You will be quite popular. Also, bring a power adapter than can power your phone at least three times. I’ve had a lot of luck with the Anker® Astro 3E 10000mAh Dual USB Backup External Battery Pack on Amazon.
9. Food Wasn’t Included!?!?!?!
No, it is not. Austin is known for awesome food trucks, and I have yet to have a bad meal at one. 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 will also reveal some very cool Twitter handles to follow for unofficial food events. Also, try and eat slightly off-hours and you can avoid long lunch lines (noon- 2PM).
10. 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.
Daria Musk and William Dafoe at SXSW
Photo Credit: Wayne Kurtzman
[This was originally published Feb. 12, 2012 and was updated Jan. 23, 2013 and Feb. 16, 2014]