SXSWi is a mere days away and I must say that I’m pretty excited. Although last years’ was a whole lot more crowded than I expected, it was a blast, and based on the panel selection, I’m sure there will be tons more people there this year. I’ve been pondering writing this for months now, and though I was beat to the punch, I still want to go over my take on a beginners guide to SXSW. So, After Andrew and I discussed what first timers might want to know, here is my advice:
Have business cards – There is nothing more embrassing than meshing with a [potential] client or business partner and telling them that you don’t have a business card. Make sure you have plenty, because you should at least expect to hand out as many as you get from others. And you will collect quite a bit of cards.
Plan panels wisely – There are a ton of panels this year. Make sure you plan which ones you want to see carefully, because though there will be a lot that you want to see, there are also a lot of crap panels as well, and you want to make sure you’re not sitting in one of those when there is another panel going on at the same time that you would rather be in. I would recommend ranking the panels you want to go to. Have a tangible list handy so if you’re in a panel you don’t like, you can easily find where another panel is you can go to.
Get to popular panels early – While on the subject of panels, you will probably notice some of your favorite designers on them. Get to those early because the good seats fill up very fast. And the closer you are to the front, the better the experience. Last year I had a front row seat to a panel with Jason Santa Maria and Rob Weychert, and it was a great experience.
Travel light – You will do a lot of walking between going to panels, and eating out, so pack light. A laptop bag might get heavy after a lot of walking. If you can part with your laptop, try using a notebook to take notes. And if you plan on attending the evening events, you definitely won’t want to have a laptop bag with you.
See the town – There will be some days that you aren’t in panels all day, so take that time to explore Austin. There are lots of cool places to eat, and things to see, so while planning panels, also plan some time to go check out the town.
Speak up – SXSW is no time to be shy. If you are, force yourself to talk and meet people. How often are you surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of people who love doing the same kind of work as you? If you find someone you meet and connect with, go to dinner with them. It sounds that easy because it is. Everyone is there to network and meet more people in the industry.
Know your pitch – I’ve written about getting your pitch down, and being at a major networking event like SXSW makes it all the more relevant. Know how to pitch yourself because the people you meet, are trying to meet other people. So be interesting, and quick.
Go to the parties – Your SXSW experience is not complete unless you enjoy all of the evening events. This is where all of the real networking happens, and there is no shortage of parties to attend. List a few you want to go to, write the the addresses, and go have fun. You will thank yourself when the conference is over.
Use Twitter – I was not only shocked at how much buzz Twitter got last year, but also how useful it was. I signed up for my account last year while at the conference, and it’s interesting how much stuff I found out about, whether it’s happenings around town during the day, or events at night. It was very useful. So follow some people you meet, or stalk your favorite designers, but it could be worth it.
So those are my tips for you first-timers at SXSW. A lot of what I mentioned in basic networking stuff, but going to a new conference can be overwhelming at first. Iit is a great experience, and possibly the cheapest conference you will go to for that many days. I hope this is helpful.
If you are going to be there and want to meet up, shoot me an email and we’ll work something out.
If I’ve missed anything on tips for beginners, feel free to add in the comments.