This Year’s Annual SXSWi Survival Guide

It’s that time again.

For all the SXSW rookies or those who can’t clearly remember what they experienced at last year’s Geek Bacchanalia, here’s this year’s guide to SXSW Interactive survival and success:

  • When you’re here, always call it “south by.” If people don’t know what you’re talking about, they are not people you want to talk to anyway.
  • SXSW started as a music festival. It’s still a festival. It is *NOT* a tech or business conference. Approach it like ‘Spring Break for Geeks’ and you’ll have the right mindset.
  • SXSW is about relationships, old and new, and soaking up the scene.
  • All the action @ the convention center is in the hallways.
  • Don’t book yourself back-to-back-to-back in sessions. Instead, hit a few that are super-relevant to what you do, attend at least one keynote so you can say you went to one, but spend the majority of your time meeting people and interacting with them.
  • For a session you for-sure want to attend, be outside the door at least one hour before that session starts. Don’t worry about the wait. Some of the best connections and conversations you’ll have will be in line waiting for a session.
  • Most of the real innovative thought and “what’s next” will happen in the tiny meeting rooms in the hotels five blocks from the convention center (the show is about 3x larger than Austin can accommodate, so sessions are in hotels all over town)
  • Stay flexible and be ready to change your plans instantly. Serendipity rewards flexibility and spontaneity at SX (no, that’s not a typo, that’s your chance to practice saying “south by”).
  • Be ready for 18 hours of continuous, heavy phone use. Bring extra batteries or an external, rechargeable power source.
  • Don’t get too hyped up about anybody you meet or connect with. Almost *nobody* follows-up after SXSW. If you want to sustain a relationship or connection, it will be on you to do it.
  • Try to spend at least 15 to 30 minutes a day watching the scene and immersing yourself in the energy at different locations:
  • Charging station @ the convention center
  • Hilton main lobby
  • Hilton 4th floor lobby (startup accelerator)
  • Vendor/brand reception/party (too many to begin to comprehend until you witness it for yourself)
  • Local club/bar (best scene is not 6th street, seek out the other areas of downtown for more interesting interactions)


And, very important:

  • Pace yourself. Drink a lot of fluids. Load up on “Airborne” every morning to ward off the exotic mix of worldwide germs. There is no shortage of parties, receptions and general festivity. It’s a long show. Save some energy for the last days.
  • Bring lots of business cards. For all its techiness, it’s still a physical business card show.


[edit: added need for 18 hours of phone power]

[great additional points in the comments on this post]


One thought on “This Year’s Annual SXSWi Survival Guide

  1. Stephanie Hackney

    Great synopsis, Doug.

    I will add:
    -People will be typing, tweeting and texting during sessions. This is no longer considered “rude” or inappropriate behavior while a speaker is speaking. In fact, the speaker(s) will likely encourage it! Share what you’re hearing/seeing/learning!
    -Look for the hashtags (#PRESENTATIONNAME) in sessions. Use these tags when Tweeting about what you heard, saw, learned, etc. If you are looking for more Twitter followers, this is one great way to attract people to your Twitter stream. Be sure to add value when possible, rather than just Tweeting out quotes.
    -If you have a question to ask of a speaker/panel, then by all means ask it (at the appropriate time, of course). But, if you simply want to make a statement to prove to the world how brilliant you are, save it. There are many brilliant folks at this event and you’ll do more harm than good to your personal brand if you are seen as grandstanding.
    -Always focus on adding value, in conversations, in roundtable discussions, etc. Give first, always.
    -Wear comfy shoes as you will likely be doing a lot of walking.
    -Business dress is, of course, acceptable, but not the norm. Think about the impression you want to make – what’s the “brand” you’re selling, or the goal(s) you’re trying to achieve while at SX – and dress appropriately.
    -Food and drink lines can get very long. Bring water and a snack to hold you over.
    -A camera is essential. Yes, your phone camera will work just fine.
    -Charging your mobile devices is fairly easy in the conference rooms, halls and meeting spaces. There are usually even companies (like AT&T) sponsoring charging stations, complete with cables. But, I recommend bringing your own cables/plugs so you can charge when and where you need to.
    -Go pick up your badge early!!! Even in this day of automated everything, the process for badge retrieval at SX is a bit antiquated (or at least it has been – maybe they’ll surprise us this year?) and can take a long time if you wait to pick up your badge until the opening day.
    -If you want a piece of SXSW memorabilia to take home with you, be sure to buy it asap. The best stuff (2012 t-shirts, bags, etc.) is likely to sell out early.
    -And I would be remiss as a mom if I didn’t add this last one: don’t drink and drive. It’s just not worth it.

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