Every year, tens of thousands of people from all over the world descend on our own HQ of Austin, TX., for South by Southwest (SXSW). In case you’ve been living under a rock, SXSW is an annual film, music, and technology conference that brings together the tech geek looking for the next cool gadget, the film buff looking for the next indie hit, and the music lover looking for the next big act. From former Vice President Joe Biden to Kara Swisher co-founder of Recode, this year’s conference promises to be another star-studded affair.
If you’ve ever attended SXSW, or spoken with anyone who has, you’ll get the impression that navigating this gargantuan event can be a bit of a challenge. With so many sessions, meetups, workshops, and events to choose from on the online schedule, even thinking about the conference can elicit anxiety. As SXSW Interactive “regulars” if you will, we’re offering up some tips for newcomers to make the most of their time, sift through the noise, and stay sane.
Tip #1: Come prepared with the essentials
All-day tweeting means tired fingers – and a dead phone battery before 2 pm. There’s no greater buzzkill than having your phone die right before the networking Happy Hours kick-off. Come prepared with back-up. I’m a big fan of Mophie’s portable chargers for quick and reliable power on the go. Other essentials: a re-usable water bottle and a light sweater (for that dry, frigid conference hall air), comfortable walking shoes, plenty of business cards, and a snack (if you’re not a fan of lunchtime lines).
Tip #2: Download the SXSW mobile app
It’s well worth the 30 seconds and additional data to download the official mobile app. There’s no better way to quickly scan and make changes to your online schedule, connect with other SXSW attendees through the SX social portal, and receive push notifications. The app comes in handy especially when rooms fill up. It will direct you to an overflow room, or you can opt for a less-packed session.
Tip #3: Be open and focus on quality connections
Almost everyone at SXSW Interactive is there to make connections, expand their network, and have fun. So, keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Also, if there are reporters, prospective clients, or speakers you want to engage with, focus on quality instead of quantity, especially if you’re trying to set up meetings ahead of the event. Bear in mind that everyone is getting inundated with requests, so a personal and above all sincere message will have more weight than any blanket email you send out.
Tip #4: Embrace going with the flow
Operate with the assumption that things will change. You may create your “perfect” SXSW schedule, but the reality is sessions fill up, you end up deep in a great conversation, or you just get distracted by the theatrics like last year’s St. Bernards or the robot at the Mashable House. Embrace the unexpected. That attitude will set you up for SXSW success instead of disappointment.
Tip #5: Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint
Even if you’re just attending the Interactive portion of SXSW, the days are so jam-packed that a few days can feel like an eternity – and do a number on your body. Pace yourself, be selective with your late-night parties, and do some upfront homework to identify the sessions and events that you think will be most valuable to you.