By Sarah Curry, Associate Social Media Director
March 25, 2015
As I prepared for my first trip to the South by Southwest Interactive conference, I had no clue what to expect. I knew it would be overwhelming and chaotic, the days would be long and that I’d have an amazing time. But despite all my research and planning, I couldn’t find simple, practical advice to help me get the most out of the experience.
I’m by no means an expert, but here are 10 SXSW tips I wish I knew before going:
- Book travel ASAP: As soon as you know you’re headed to SXSW (or your company knows it will be sending someone), book a hotel downtown and arrange to arrive on Thursday. This way, you’ll be close to the sessions and won’t have to mess with the shuttle system. Badge pick-up also starts on Thursday so you can avoid all the lines and hit the ground running Friday morning.
- Do your homework: It’s helpful to have a loose game plan but don’t be tied to it. Before I left, I browsed the schedule on the official SXSW app (a must-have) and starred 2-3 sessions I was interested in at each timeslot. Then, each morning I checked to see if a session was labeled “hot” (meaning lots of people starred it in the app), looked at the location of the different sessions (be prepared to walk!) and mapped out my day accordingly.
- Think before you pack: This is one area I really struggled with. Did I want a backpack? Would I be bringing my laptop to sessions? While it will be different for everyone, I found my laptop to be the easiest way to take notes and keep up with social media, and my backpack was a lifesaver for my shoulders. I was also thankful I had on layers each day—it was cool in the morning, hot in the afternoon and the session rooms are cold! But the absolute number one thing I’m glad I packed? My portable phone charger.
- Be prepared to wait in line: Popular sessions, brand activations and food venues will all have lines, so be prepared to wait. Yet another reason that I was thankful to have a portable charger.
- Pace yourself: Driving up to the convention center on the first day, I felt like a kid on the first day of school. There was so much to see and do and I didn’t want to miss anything. It’s important, however, to remember that the conference is five days long and you need to pace yourself. I found that 3-4 sessions per day was my magic number.
- Schedule a break: With just 30 minutes between sessions, it’s important to schedule breaks. Give yourself time to explore the trade show, grab lunch and check out the brand activations.
- You will have session FOMO: With so many interesting sessions at each timeslot, you need to make some tough choices. Read the session descriptions—because as I quickly learned, session titles do not equal session topics. I also found that while the keynotes featured amazing, accomplished speakers, the individual sessions and panels were more informative and insightful.
- Use the session hashtags: The easiest way to follow the conversation around individual sessions is to use the right hashtag. That may sound like a no-brainer, but with so much #SXSW social media chatter it can get overwhelming. Check out the session description in the SXSW app or in the schedule to find the correct hashtag.
- Check out the trade show: For the newest tech trends and tools, visit the trade show. It’s massive and overwhelming, but you should only need an hour or so to cruise through, chat with vendors and try out the tech toys.
- Have fun: Give yourself time to enjoy the activities happening around town. You don’t need to go to parties if that’s not your scene—there are plenty of free concerts, film screenings and lots of comedy shows.
Have you been to SXSW? What tips would you include in a guide to SXSW Interactive?