SXSW Interactive is hard to pin down. In one sense, it’s like a buttoned-up Burning Man for the tech industry. In another, it’s a place to do business, to learn, to meet living legends and befriend total strangers. SXSWi is what you make of it. To help first-timers make the most of their experience, we asked a handful of conference veterans to weigh in on a simple question:
Joe Fernandez, CEO and Cofounder, Klout:
“It’s a marathon; don’t destroy yourself on the first night. If you just watch 4sq and Twitter you’ll think every party is better than the one you are at. It’s easy to spend all night chasing where the fun might be and end up spending your whole evening tracking back and forth across the city instead of having a good time. ”
Susan Beebe, Global Communications / PR – Corporate Social Media Management, Dell:
“Be flexible, ready to move at a moment’s notice; don’t lock in your schedule as you will find good conversations and learning opportunities abound if you move with the flow. Always have a plan B for your daily schedule. The must-see panel may turn out to be a dud; leave that one and go to your plan B activity – be agile!”
Lisa Pearson, VP Global Marketing, Bazaarvoice:
“Follow it all on Twitter, but don’t let twitter dictate your experience. It’s easy to get distracted and think you’re not in the ‘right’ place—that there’s something cooler going on elsewhere. Social enhances FOMO. Bring your own snacks. Healthier and cheaper. Try to listen to discussions. It’s easy to get distracted, so really listen to at least one session each day. Bring a buddy to parties. It’s hard to network at a crowded party alone. Allow time and energy for spontaneous conversations. They are the memorable ones. Watch this video:
SXSW: Do it like a local”
Greg T. Moss, Director Partner Ecosystem, Resource Interactive:
“Don’t get overwhelmed with all of the sessions. Make a list of what you’d like to see, but don’t be afraid to deviate. One of the best parts of SXSWi is the networking that happens in hallways, food trucks and outside on the streets. Make yourself available and don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to others. Chances are, you’re bound to have at least 5 things in common.”
Robert Gilbreath, e-Commerce Exec, Calendars.com”
“Keep your gadgets out of your right hand so you can extend it to shake others’ hands.”
Amy Hayes, Director of Communications, Bazaarvoice:
“Stagger the sessions you really want to attend so you have plenty of travel time in between as well as good seating choices. Attending back-to-back sessions is a painful & frustrating way to participate in the conference. Bring mobile broadband because Wi-Fi can be spotty throughout the conference. Pedicabs are a ripoff.”
Wesley Faulkner, Digital Strategist, Snoball:
“I can tell you one thing I didn’t know, that actually helped me. I didn’t know how powerful and influential the people were that I was meeting. If I did I would have been so nervous. Seriously, the one thing I wish I knew: parties are where you make lifelong friends. People’s memories tie shared events together in ways that is not always clear. When I meet someone at a party, and they have a blast, that feeling is subconsciously stored together in their mind. When they think of me, they think fun. I like that.”
Jon Loyens, Vice President Engineering for Products, Bazaarvoice:
“Don’t expect any particular panel or talk to go really deep. SXSW is a very broad conference and so a lot of talks tend to the beginner side of things. Therefore, don’t go to talks on topics you already know a lot about. Use it to expand your horizons and get inspired for the remainder of the year. Are you a coder? Go to a design panel or a panel on social change. Are you a social media junkie? Go to a panel on film production. Definitely go to the panels and talks hosted by big speakers like Clay Shirky or Mark Cuban.”
Shama Kabani, CEO, The Marketing Zen Group:
“Don’t try to do it all. Keep room for “spontaneous” events.”
Mike Svatek, Chief Strategy Officer, Bazaarvoice:
“Open your mind and get inspired. You will learn a lot from people and companies who are in completely different markets.”
Matt Marx, Director of Media Products, Bazaarvoice:
“Start every day with a full charge, you’ll need it! Don’t be too aggressive scheduling back-to-back sessions in different locations. It’s inevitable you’ll end up stuck at that far-away venue too long to make it back for the session you’ve waited on all day. Skip a session if need be and make sure you know which handful of sessions are musts!”
Mack Collier, social media strategist and speaker:
“My advice is to decide what your business goals are from the trip, and then think about who you need to connect with while you will be in town. The first two times I went to SXSW in 2008 and 2009, I didn’t do this at all, and as a result I spent a few days in Austin each time on a very expensive vacation. I had a ton of fun, but when I got back home I realized I had spent a lot on socializing. That’s why I didn’t go in 2010. Last year, I went back but had a specific business strategy for going, and set up several meetings with people while I was in town. In fact I even made a business deal during my CONNECTING flight into Austin! Last year was a huge success for me because I planned out my time in Austin to make sure that I got business value as well as time to socialize and catch up with friends.”
Did you get all that? Three common themes shine through.
1. You can’t do it all, and will only turn into a FOMO-suffering nervous wreck if you try.
2. Seek out new people, ideas and experiences.
3. Be flexible.