4 Lessons from a SXSW Rookie

Many tech/social media personalities and “gurus” etc. have written posts about advice for SXSW, so I thought I would write something up from the perspective of a regular guy from Boston who was thrown into the fire down in Austin for the first time last week.

(I tried to leave out the obvious ones that I’ve seen people write, like “drink lots of water” and “don’t make a fool out of yourself at parties”…I mean, cmon..)

 Just talk to people.

SXSW was the best networking event I’ve been to.  I don’t know if it was the breakfast tacos or the Shiner Bock flowing on the tradeshow floor, but everyone down there was super friendly and willing to talk.  I was able to spend some time with Brian Solis, Ramon Ray, Ann Handley, Erica Swallow and a few others just by asking and having a normal conversation: not pitching our business, trying to sell a product or trying to get media coverage.

Pick two sessions to go to each day and get there early.

I learned this one the hard way missing out on panels early in the week because I didn’t plan well enough.  Panels are spread out at hotels all over the city, so make a list of sessions each day that you might want to go to and then pick two that you can attend depending on your location.  I tried to land at the convention center downtown each morning and then see which ones I could make it to.  Unless you stay at a hotel that hosts sessions each day (looking at you Josh), it’s going to be tough to make it to more than two sessions and you’ll end up running all over town.

Also: if there’s a big name VC, CEO or tech reporter on one of the panels you want to see, the session will get full no matter how big the room.  Get to sessions 30 minutes early.  You can grab a coffee, a good seat and catch up on email while you wait.

Skip the big parties.

Don’t get lured in by all of the hype.  And trust me, the line “but I know Pete Cashmore!” doesn’t work.  The waiting line will be around the block and the place will be too crowded so you a) won’t get any of the free booze that’s promised on the invite and b) wont be able to walk around and talk to the people that you are trying to meet.  Some of the best nights were spent at random bars all over the city.  You never know who you’ll meet and the live music is pretty damn good too.

Wander around the city.

Splitting off from the group and just wandering around downtown was one of the best things I did while in Austin.  It’s the best way to learn about the city, where all the hot spots and food trucks are, and it forces you out of your comfort zone and to meet new people.  Plus, it was the best way to find some power and even some controversial free wifi.

Think I’m missing something? What advice would you share from SXSW?


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