I recently found this great post by Danielle Morrill, CEO & Co-founder of Referly (she has almost as many “L”s in her name as I do!). I can’t say I have her stamina. Does anyone? But there are some great tips in that article for anyone heading to SXSW and hoping to make the most of it.
Her blog post inspired me to come up with my own top tips for SXSW. This will be my third year in attendance, so I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a thing or two.
1. Go to good sessions:
People will tell you “No one goes to sessions!”. That’s not entirely true. There are some sessions that are full to overflowing. There are even more that are not. There are some amazing speakers. There are even more that are less than amazing. A great session can energize and inspire you. Pick some things that are outside of your normal interests so you can learn about something new.
How can you tell which sessions to attend before you get there? You can’t really. Unless someone has made a recommendation about the speaker beforehand, it’s pure luck. It’s perfectly acceptable and common SXSW practice to get up and walk out of a session if it isn’t interesting to you. Move on. Find something else. No worries.
That said, I’ve got a recommendation for you. It’s Kevin Hale, the founder of Wufoo and one of my partners from the BarCamp Tour. I’ve seen him speak a ton of times and he’s always great. His talks are a great mixture of literature, art, languages and technology with reflections on Entrepreneurship. I always learn something from him.
Do you have a great speaker recommendation? I’d love to hear it.
2. Make friends:
Smile and say hello to the person sitting next to you on the plane, at the airport, in the registration line, at that cool session. Even if this is not something you’re usually comfortable doing, it somehow works out fine at SXSW. I’ve met some really great people in Austin just by saying hello and striking up a conversation. People are working on really interesting things and they are excited about their projects. It’s really fun to get a glimpse into other people’s passions.
What are you working on? Let’s meet for coffee while at SXSW so you can tell me about it.
3. Stay casual:
Most people you see will be wearing their company t-shirt with jeans and running shoes. Comfortable shoes are a must. As are some band-aids and ibuprofen for when you find out even your most comfortable shoes are not up for the job of carrying you through SXSW. I’ve made some people pretty happy just by keeping band-aids in my bag. Be sure to check the weather before you pack. Last year’s torrential rain caught more than a few people by surprise and it looks like the weather may be less than perfect this year as well.
It’s good to stay casual with your schedule as well. While there are some meetings that are can’t-miss opportunities, you’ll find that some of the things you thought were really important may not be. It’s okay to change directions when a new opportunity arises.
4. Take care of yourself:
Conference goers cannot live on just coffee and alcohol alone. Drink lots of water and try to get a healthy meal in at least once a day. Invite some of your new friends (see #2) to grab a meal. Try to get some sleep and pace yourself. It’ll be pretty hard to recover if you over-do it on the first day.
5. Follow up:
Collect business cards from the people you meet. Write notes on them so you’re more likely to remember the people that gave them to you. No, business cards aren’t dead. So make sure you bring some with you. Later, you can say “hi” on Twitter or send an email to tell them how great it was to meet them.
Some people may be great business connections for you and some won’t, but it’s always nice to thank someone for their time and attention. Many great business deals and friendships have been born at SXSW.
Both Ray (@rbonachea) and I (@stellel) will be at SXSW March 8-11. Since we work for a Social CRM, you know we’ll be socializing! Please let us know if you’d like to meet up. I’ll have plenty of band-aids.