1. Don’t go to the huge events held in Convention Center
These talks are basically like watching a YouTube video. You’re likely going to be too far from the person talking to see much, and at that point you’ll be watching the the big screen more than the actual person presenting. So unless you’re a huge fan (and, I’d argue, even if you are) these talks are rarely worth going to. They’re either too promotional and void of much substance (see: Biz Stone’s talk at Interactive 2015 promoting his new app at the time, Super) or the same information you’ve already seen online being regurgitated.
I much prefer the up-close and personal experiences with someone who has carefully crafted their presentation and has made sure it’s packed with new, actionable information. Intensely good talks are out there, but you have to search a little more than just following the A-list lineup presenting in the Convention Center.
2. Download the SXSW app right now and star all the events you are interested in
I also could have titled this bullet “be informed and have goals before going to SXSW”. So, download the app right now. Go through all of the events (yes, this will kind of suck, and likely take 1 hour plus) but is an essential part of getting the most out of your SXSW 2016 experience. Star any event you think the title, presenter, or company the person works for is interesting.
Don’t look at the day or time the talk is happening. You’ll do that filtering later. It’s great to have more than 1 option at any given time slot based on 1) your mood 2) what you’ve already seen that day, and 3) what the other people you’re with want to go see. Delay the final decision of which talk at which timeslot you’ll attend as long as possible (keeping in mind points 4 & 8 below).
3. If you plan to go to a talk in the JW Marriott that is being given by someone from a big tech company, get there 20 minutes ahead of time
By big tech company I mean companies like Spotify, Pinterest, and Uber. These talks have the highest ratio of any presentations at SXSW of people who are interested : seats available.
4. It’s worth it to go to the small talks that you have to get to 20 minutes ahead of time
These were some of the best talks at SXSW Interactive 2015. Yeah, they can be hard to get into, but it’s worth it. This is also why it’s important to follow #2 above and have backups in case you can’t get in.
5. Go to a talk by someone who works at IDEO
These guys are just awesome. That’s all I really have to say. Last year I went to 3 talks by 3 people from completely different branches of IDEO, and they all were equally incredible. Just pick one and go.
6. Take advantage of the free stuff to eat, drink, and do – but don’t let it control you
Follow these Twitter accounts to be up to date. Twitter originally caught on at SXSW, and rightfully so. It’s the best way to stay in the loop as to what’s going on.
One of Jackrabbit Mobile’s team members once got through a SXSW Interactive without spending $1 on food or drinks. It can be done! And after all, you’ve paid all this money for your badge anyways, why not take advantage of it?
7. Get around on a bicycle
It’s crazy easy to rent bikes in Austin. B-cycle is an awesome option for getting around town in Austin, and there are stations all around town during SXSW. There will also be reps around town giving B-cycle discounts and free passes, so seek these people out before you jump on a bike. Austin is very bike friendly, so renting a B-cycle or bringing your own skateboard to help you get around town quickly is a great call.
8. Go to some events by yourself, and go to some events outside your area of expertise
Don’t be a sheep. Like I mention is #2 above, going to the events that interest you most is what’s really important here. Don’t go to something you’re not that interested in just because the rest of your team or friends are going. Plus, going to an event alone is a great opportunity to meet people. Which brings me to my next point…
9. Challenge yourself to talk to as many strangers as possible
When it comes down to it, the part of Interactive you’ll probably get the most long lasting benefit from is the people you meet. Here are a few good ice breakers for chatting up those randoms sitting next to you. And remember, a smile goes a long way…
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey, I’m [Lauren]” *extend hand for handshake*
“Hey! What do you know about the guys giving this talk?”
“Hey! Have you been to anything good so far today?”
“Hey, do you know when he’s going to start?”
10. Reach out on Twitter (or SXSocial) before SXSW and try to set up times to meet with other interesting people coming to the event.
The night before SXSW Interactive starts there’s a big bar crawl around town, except instead of jumping from bar to bar you jump from startup to startup. All the startups are providing free beer, food, and sometimes other cool stuff as well. The event is called ATX Startup Crawl, and Jackrabbit Mobile made the app. The crawl a great way to get accustomed to the lay of the land around town, and meet lots of locals.
It’s also a great way to drink a lot of free beer and eat a lot of free food (see point 6 above).
The startup crawl is a great way to network before SXSW Interactive, and make sure once the event starts you have a leg up. You can link up with multiple groups of people you can stay in touch with over the course of the week, which raises the chances of you always knowing about the coolest thing going on at any given time.
Knowing what’s going on at any given time is especially important because most of the cool and free stuff going on around town isn’t really organized. It just happens once, and happens on the spot. Because of this it’s important to be in touch as many people as possible, and follow as many relevant accounts on Twitter as you can too.
11. Pace yourself
5 straight days of talks throughout the day and parties at night is going to wear you out! So pick and choose. Sleep in some days, and get home early on others. Trying to do everything will make you a zombie for the last 2 days of the event.
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