12 Most Savvy Tips for SXSW Interactive

12 Most Savvy Tips for SXSW Interactive

I’m heading to Austin for the third time. Yes, it’s that time of year again — when several thousand geeks, technologists, critics, entrepreneurs and hip folks descend on the weirdest city in the U.S. for the South-By-Southwest SXSW Interactive Conference.

I’ve found it attracts a cast of characters. And yet, I return anticipating learning, connecting and having some fun. For those who are returning or those rookies just joining us, here’s a list of reminders for y’all.

1. Pack your technology — all of it

Enjoying the moment at SXSW is also about documenting and sharing it. Don’t forget your chargers, your USB connectors, your laptop locks, your extra batteries. You will need them.

2. Schedules are meant to be broken

Yes, there are elaborate tools on the SXSW site to help you build a schedule for every waking moment, but it’s better if you just let some things happen. I found the best memories were made when I found a Twitter friend in the hall and ended up chatting for an hour, or happening upon an impromptu gathering of authors. Let it happen.

3. Don’t forget your confidence

My first few moments at the Austin Convention Center in 2010, I felt like I had made the wrong choice. I was on my own and just a few months out from creating my business. What business did I have there? I sport no tattoos or ironic t-shirts. I felt out of place. And then I realized that there were more people like me than people who felt like they were the one to meet. I started introducing myself, and found like-minded folks all over.

4. But… please remember your humility

Ego, overconfidence and arrogance abound at SXSW. It’s annoying. My favorite example? The guy who handed me a business card with the title Truth Teller. OMG. Really!? Don’t be that guy.

5. Some speakers and panelists are really good

There seems to be a trend of people saying “I didn’t go to any panels” because they don’t get enough out of them. Yes, some of them are terrible. But, some are outstanding. You are down there for a reason — go learn something!

6. You don’t have to act 22

Yes, the parties are fun. But you don’t have to feel compelled to hang with the crowd until 4:00 in the morning. Lots of people are happy partying the night away and sleeping through the day, but in my opinion, you’re missing out.

7. Show some respect to the tech royalty

One thing I love about being at SXSW is the access you can get to speakers you admire. There’s nothing wrong with approaching someone you like and starting up a conversation. However, I’ve seen plenty of tech celebs try to walk through the party/conference room/blogger’s lounge and barely make it three steps without some opportunist shoving a business card, product demo zip drive or other annoyance into their hands. Don’t do that. It will never get you anywhere and it’s just a bad way to start any relationship.

8. Don’t start every conversation about you

Networking is about making other people feel good. Start with the person you’re meeting — let them answer your questions. If all you’re doing is talking about yourself and your business, you’re doing it wrong.

9. Look out for your homeboys and girls, but welcome some newbies

I’ve been lucky to know enough people to be included in some nice groups. A lot of hometown folks I don’t get to see enough here in Chicago end up as part of my posse in Austin. That’s totally great, but it’s also great to meet new people. If your hometown crew is setting up dinner, see if you can rope in a few strangers to broaden your network.

10. Take notes and do something with the information you get

It’s so easy to let the information become overwhelming. Any time you can, take notes on key ideas and then figure out something to do with them — blogging is a great way to do this.

11. Pack remedies you may need

I had a cold while I was there last year. It was not fun. Pack cold medicine, vitamins, Pepto Bismol, or whatever else you hopefully won’t need. I like to think of this as the umbrella policy — if you bring the umbrella, it probably won’t rain.

12. Just take it in

It’s ok to be a little star-struck when you spot an author you admire. It’s fun to party like you’re younger than you are. It’s nice to just move from one cool event to another. There’s no shame in enjoying it. Have fun!

See you in Austin!

Featured image courtesy of Ian Aberle licensed via Creative Commons.

Jeannie Walters


Jeannie Walters is the founder of 360Connext, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. She is a board member of the Chicago chapter of the Social Media Club and a member of Faith Popcorn’s Talent Bank, a group of experts tapped for trend-setting information.

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