This was my first year at SxSW Interactive, and I have to say that it was absolutely a blast. I am definitely going back next year, and now I have these 10 lessons to take with me:
1. Pack your hipster gear
Never in my life have I seen so many hipsters in one place. This one is merely a joke—please don’t take me literally and go buy skinny jeans, a plaid shirt and funky sunglasses just for SxSW. But be ready to do some great people watching. And if you’re a hipster, then you absolutely belong here.
2. You look like an outcast without a Mac
I was definitely one of the only people without a Mac or an iPad. Boo me. This point is just another fun one. You can rock your Dell with pride too.
3. Carry your chargers with you at all times
Everyone here was hoarding the outlets. Good thing they were so accommodating and had power strips everywhere. I mean, we have to be connected at ALL times, right? Trust me: you do not want to have your phone or laptop die on you. It’s your way to stay in touch with everyone. Keep your charger on you, even when you go out at night.
4. Use a location-based check-in service (even if just for this occasion)
So, I actually didn’t do this. I don’t use Foursquare or Gowalla and I made it through SxSW just fine. Part of the reason is because everyone also shared their location via Twitter and/or Facebook. But really check-in apps are ideal for a conference like this.
You’re trying to meet up with people you either just met or only know from social media and planned to meet in person. We’re all floating around one concentrated area, so it only makes sense to check in and see what’s happening around you.
5. Talk to people you don’t know
This might be the most important point. Talk to everyone because that is the most interesting part of SxSW. I learned more from the people I met than any panel I attended.
6. Attend sessions you know nothing about
I realized that the panels and speakers aren’t very beneficial if you already know about the topic. Don’t get me wrong—these are some very smart people with great insight, but if I blog about social media and talk about how it can be used from a marketing perspective, why would I attend a panel on it? I made that mistake. Then I found myself thinking: I’ve heard most of this before.
But, there are so many panels and speakers that covered subjects I don’t really know anything about. I should’ve gone to those, even if it wasn’t directly related to the industry I work in. I’d rather learn something new than hear the same ole shit I read/write about all the time.
7. Prepare to cope with a hangover for a few days in a row
Bring your aspirin, eye drops and whatever else you need to deal with your hangover and lack of sleep. It’s inevitable. You want to go to the events and parties at night, but you want to make it to those early sessions too. SxSW is one place you need to be a trooper.
8. The SxSW Go app is extremely useful for figuring out which sessions to go to
The official SxSW Go app was great for finding out about everything going on around you and planning ahead. You’re able to set up a schedule of events you want to attend and receive alerts beforehand, which is very helpful because time really gets away from you when you’re down there.
9. Wear comfortable shoes
You will end up walking all over the place all day and night long. Be prepared for it. You’ll regret it if you wear shoes that aren’t made for walking. I always wear flats and I’m still bandaging up my baby toe on both feet. Ha!
10. Unofficial parties and unplanned outings with new friends are WAY better than the official stuff
You’ve probably heard this before and it’s so true. The official stuff ends up being packed. You’ll probably wait in line and be super crowded in. Not very fun.
On that same note, skip a panel or session and go to lunch with new friends instead. I promise you it’ll be much more interesting and beneficial to you. If you stick to all the planned, official events you will be missing out on the best part of what SxSW has to offer: the people around you.
Above all, take a step back, think about why you’re there, and enjoy what’s happening around you. Take your nose out of your smartphone for a few minutes and take it all in. There is a lot of creativity and innovation happening all around you. You don’t want to miss it.
For those who have been to SxSW, are there any other vital lessons I should add to this list? Let me know about them in the comments.