SXSW Interactive – The 7 Ways to Make the Most of It

Screen-Shot-2013-03-10-at-2.37.31-PM-300x164SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin Texas

Austin Texas is overrun by technology and digital media folks this week during the SXSW Interactive festival. The event itself runs from Friday through the weekend and finishes up on Tuesday night, and consists of hundreds of lectures, panels, information sessions, and technology demonstrations. It all comes off as being a pretty big deal – on Saturday afternoon alone there were over 100 sessions, including Elon Musk discussing the details of his resupply rocket mission the International Space Station, and Al Gore discussing his book. With all of the opportunities to learn and meet people, there can be challenges in making the most of it – or even physically making it through. It is not unusual to go for 14 hours straight with no breaks at SXSW. Here are some survival tips gleaned from 3 years of attending the event:

1.Leave your friends and colleagues behind: Even if you came to this event with your coworkers or friends, say goodbye to them each morning and head a separate way. SXSW is about meeting new people.

2. Diversify: Make it a point to attend sessions about subjects that you know nothing about. SXSW provides the rare and valuable opportunity to share time with experts from many diverse fields. Indeed, one of the recurring bits of advice we get from experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists like investor Vinod Khosla (who shared this advice on Saturday afternoon) is that “diversity matters”. The most successful businesses and executives deliberately surround themselves with people who have different personalities, different areas of expertise, and different backgrounds. SXSW brings you that opportunity to a degree that is hard to match.

3. Conserve your phone battery: SXSW has most attendees tweeting, texting, calling, emailing, and taking notes on their phones all day long. Somewhere around hour 7 they all notice that they are running out of power. In the early morning, turn down your screen brightness and turn off unnecessary services like Bluetooth and GPS if you can. Also take advantage of charging opportunities throughout the day.

4. Bring food: Throw some granola bars in your bag before you head out each day. Sessions get long, and continue one-after-another. Eric Ries of the Lean Startup commented yesterday that he “didn’t know what he was thinking” leaving the hotel without breakfast, and without carrying anything to snack on for the day. Most sessions have water available, so you don’t need to carry around a water bottle all day.

5. Take Notes: Bring a pen and a paper notebook. Capture the best ideas you get during the day, including names and contact info for people you meet. After you get back home or to your hotel at night, go through your notes and notate them from what you remember of the sessions. Be sure to send a quick email to any folks that you met and want to keep in touch with. If you wait until after the whole event is over, your memory of who you met and what you learned will be hard to sort out – do this exercise each night.

6. Plan for serendipity: Allow yourself to spend a good bit of your time at SXSW in an unplanned manner.  Move through the venues and sessions and stumble upon new and unexpected things.

7. The most value is between the sessions: Each event is a magnet for certain types of people: Investors, startup teams, designers, technologists, etc. Before and after the sessions, take the opportunity to meet the people sitting next to you. I have made some good friends during the wait time between sessions, and come across business connections that continue to positively affect my business even years later.

8. Contribute:  Do you want to participate as a presenter or panelist next year?  As a SXSW attendee, I got the chance to talk with panelists and authors who were making a splash on the presenting side of  SXSW.  I used some of that advice to write a book and have it published, so that by the next year I had a couple of events in which to share my message from the stage, instead of just sitting in the audience. You can do the same.

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Kevin Ready

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