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19 Tips for Getting the Most Out of SXSWi

South by Southwest Interactive gets better – and bigger! – each year, and 2012 is no exception.  PR Newswire is sending a large team to the event, and I’ve been sharing some tips for navigating SXSW with some of our newbies.

Planning your SXSW experience:

Get organized:  Before you go, spend some time with the SXSW schedule and identify the sessions of most interest to you.  Then, note whether they are being held in the convention center, or one of the hotels. It can take some time to travel between venues, and many sessions fill quickly.  Simply put, you won’t be able to leapfrog between venues.  My best advice – picks a venue and stay there for several sessions. Our manager of blogger relations, Tom Hynes, agrees, noting, “Last year I found success in trying to stick to one track. For me it’s the journalism/media/publishing track. By not trying to do too much, I feel I was able to get a richer, albeit more focused experience.”

Don’t focus on just the big names:  As my colleague Vicky Harres, our director of audience development and a fellow SXSW veteran says, “There are treasures in the trenches.”  Some of the best sessions we’ve attended featured speakers that weren’t big names, but who had unbelievable experience to share.  Hearing from the people who get down and dirty with development, implementation and making things really work is fascinating. Don’t skip a session just because you’ve never heard of the speakers.

Get out of your comfort zone: It’s tempting to focus on the sessions that align closely with your interests.  But do yourself a favor – spend some time exploring concepts that are foreign to you. SXSW features some of the brightest minds – take advantage and learn something new from the very best.

Flirt with serendipity: Did you miss out?  Go find a session nearby that’s not full. You’re still going to learn something.  Many of my best experiences at SXSW have been happy accidents.

Smile and say hi: You will meet interesting people everywhere.  The person sitting next to you on the bus or standing next to you in line might be launching a start up, looking for business partners, or hosting a party.  Smile and say hi! You never know who you’ll meet.  A couple years ago I offered some people hanging out waiting for the show shuttle bus a ride downtown in my rental car.  It turned out that one of the people who took me up on the offer was someone I had been communicating with via Twitter for more than a year.  As big as SXSW feels, it can be quite a small world!

Getting around Austin

The logistics of SXSW can be challenging, especially if you are staying at a hotel that’s not right downtown.

Grab a hotel shuttle:  Many of the outlying hotels are on an SXSW shuttle line.  Take advantage of the shuttles to ferry you back and forth.

Rent a car: This is not as crazy as it sounds, and is the way to go if you’re at an outlying hotel that’s not on the shuttle line. I rented cars several years running, and had no problem finding reasonably-priced parking downtown, about 4 blocks from the convention center.

Ride in a pedicab and pay those folks generously:  A battalion of very fit folks driving pedicabs (bicycle-cab thingies) abound and they are willing to haul your tired self to bars, parties or back to your car.  They are so worth it, and if you tip generously, you might be handed a business card and wind up with a guy that’s willing to come pick you up.

Apps to download:

SXSWGoThe official mobile app for SXSW, lets you build your schedule and stay up to speed with news and events.

Foursquare:  Even if you’re not into recording your every move in “real life” it’s fun to do so in Austin. Special badges are usually deployed for SXSW, which are often amusing.  And Foursquare is a great way to see where your friends are.

GroupMe: Group texting.  Essential if you’re part of a team.

Localmind:  An app that lets you check out what’s going on at your favorite bar or restaurant before you even get off your couch.  They’ve loaded SXSW party info into the app, so you can find out where people are (and how ridiculous the lines are) as you traverse Austin.

A QR code scanner: I’ve used I-nigma for a few years and it’s worked well for me.  Lots of information is available via QR code and the scanners are useful.

What to bring

Communications gear:  I will be taking two mobile phones (work and personal) and iPad and my laptop.  I don’t plan on lugging the laptop around during the day, but you never know.  Staying connected is crucial – and fun!

Back up power, and all of your chargers:  You will want to take every opportunity you can to replenish your batteries.  Backup power is also important.

Multiple pairs of comfy shoes.  Tom Miale, our director of multimedia engagement, notes “You will be on your feet for long periods of time. Substance trumps style here!”  My own advice – bring multiple pairs of shoes. You will be putting so much mileage on your feet that even old favorites might rub.

A water bottle.  Between racing around the event and staying up past your bedtime, you will need to stay hydrated.

An umbrella. Rain is in the forecast.  Texas needs rain so we are not complaining.

 Mints.  You’ll be in close quarters.  ‘Nuff said.

Have fun at SXSW!  To stay in touch with the PR Newswire crew, follow our PRN @ SXSW Twitter list, and keep an eye on our Tumblr page for photos and quick hits.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.