Tips for Surviving & Thriving at SXSW Interactive 2013

sxswiMy colleagues and I are counting the days until we (and tens of thousands of others) descend upon Austin, Texas.   South By Southwest is just around the corner, and while the music and film festivals will make the headlines, for techies and marketers, Interactive is where the real action is at.

Every year at SXSW, I regret my inability to instantly clone myself.  There’s so much to do, see and attend that one can’t possibly do it all.  Over the years, my colleagues and I have devised strategies to get the most out of our time in Austin.  Here’s a collection of our pro tips for wringing every ounce of awesomeness out of SXSWi!

Sessions & networking

Everyone talks about the parties, but for me, the sessions and the networking are why I go to SXSW.  It’s important to plan your schedule, paying attention to session locations.  While Austin’s downtown is compact and walkable,  there isn’t enough time between sessions to make it from the convention center  to an outlying hotel.  My advice – pick a venue for the day and stick to it.

Indisputable proof of the value of analog content at SXSW.  Sarah Skerik & Nettie Reynolds take shelter in this picture by Victoria Harres.

Indisputable proof of the value of analog content at SXSW. Sarah Skerik & Nettie Reynolds take shelter in this picture by Victoria Harres.

“Pick two things a day,” says Shelli Whitehurst, CEO of Melbourne, Australia based digital agency Code Name Max.  “Stick to a stream, and be ready for magic to happen.”

That said, flexibility is also important – because SXSW is the land of serendipity.   Some of the most interesting and valuable sessions I’ve attended were happy accidents.  If the session you planned to attend is full, turn on your heel and march into the next session happen across, even if you think it will be of little interest to you.  I bet you’ll be surprised.

“The biggest value of SXSW is the critical mass of smart people,” notes Tom Miale, CEO of the start-up Funnlr. “Because of that mass, it’s also daunting for first timers. Plan ahead to try to meet those twitter followers or virtual friends that you’ve cultivated, but also be flexible and be able to “go with the flow”. If you have a bit of spontaneity and a good attitude, you’ll end up having some great conversations.”

One of the best sessions I attended last year was about the impact of gamer culture. I’m not a gamer. At all. But wow did I learn a lot at this session. Be open minded!

“Make good use of the scheduler ahead of time to create an overstuffed schedule for yourself that you do not have to adhere to,” suggests Vicky Harres, PR Newswire’s director of audience development.  “And keep it real. You’re not going to make it to every fabulous presentation you want to hear. There’s just too much. So mark the ‘absolute gotta see’ and then stay open to opportunities to connect with people and perhaps see a panel on something totally off-topic for you that may end up inspiring some creativity.”

Getting around Austin 4sq

One thing that’s worked well for me and some of my colleagues over the years is driving in from our out-lying hotels, rather than relying upon the notoriously slow-to-appear and often overcrowded SXSW shuttles.  We park in a ramp a few blocks from the action, and are able to come and go as we please.   And doing so allows us to follow the advice of Austin local (and good buddy) Nettie Reynolds, a former journalist and now principal of the custom content house Nettie Ink,  reminds us to get away from the downtown crush and see more of Austin.

“All the east side places rock! Don’t leave them out,” she says. “And the best place in the South for coffee and music is Strange Brew.”

During the conference, despite your best efforts, you will need to travel between venues, and time might be tight.  Happily, Austin offers a unique solution that doesn’t involve you sprinting 10 blocks to your next session.

” Use the pedal cabs. Best way to get around,” notes Tony Uphoff, CEO of Business.com.  “Set your meetings up at Starbucks for easy spotting. Stay away from the vacant lot parties. Don’t fight the chaos. SXSW shouldn’t work but it does. Just go with it.”

Creature comfort & connectivity

“Keep your mobile phone charger with you at all times and a Morphie, PowerStick, or other on-the-go-charger so that you don’t lose access to location based mobile and social media apps,” insists Jenny DeVaughn, Sr. Director, Employment Branding and Social Media at Randstad Sourceright. “Some of the events aren’t announced until last minute and you don’t want to miss out!”

Other things you’ll need at SXSW:

  • Comfortable shoes.  Several pairs.  You’ll be logging miles and miles on your feet, and the days (and nights!) are long.
  • A water bottle.  Staying hydrated is really important!
  • Mints. You’ll be in close quarters.
  • Portable snacks (e.g. granola bars).  Skipping lunch is easy, as you dart from session to session, having great conversations along the way.  Keep the wheels from falling off your wagon by carrying a little pick-me-up in your bag.
  • Business cards, a note pad, and pens.  Even though SXSW is the ultimate digital experience, when you’ve sucked the last of the juice from your array of devices, you won’t be totally dead in the water.  You can still scrawl notes (or your next blog post) on your note pad. And business cards are important too.   Order the cool “Met you at SXSW” freebies from Moo.com (at this point you’ll pay a rush printing charge, but you can pick them up in Austin.  Cool!)

More tips!

In this post, 19 Tips for Getting the Most out of SXSW, we offer some more practical advice for SXSW.  We also love this deck from Dave Delaney of Delaney Digital Marketing Consulting, which echoes our own advice, and adds even more tips:

Are you going to SXSWi?  Tweet me at @sarahskerik and we’ll meet up in person.  And therein is my last pro tip.  SXSW is a great place to meet people you’ve known digitally but have never met in person.  Don’t forget to immerse yourself in the human side of the event!

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

4 responses to “Tips for Surviving & Thriving at SXSW Interactive 2013

  1. Sarah, thank you for including me in this post. I’m honored. This is an example of the collaboration that happens during SXSW and the friendships that are generated from this event. See you soon.

  2. Such a great article! I am so appreciative of people like you posting great tips about SXSW, as a first-timer it is a bit intimidating and every little tip helps! :)

  3. Pingback: Wayin | The Wayin Quick-Hit Links Guide to SXSW

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