Over the past month I’ve been asked at least a dozen times if I’m going to SXSW Interactive 2011. This would have been my 5th consecutive trek to Austin and while I’m sad to miss it, I’ll be relocating to Atlanta at the end of March and desperately need that week to get packed for the move. So, to the friends I see there every year, have an extra drink at one of the sponsored, open-bar parties…it’s on me.
For those of you who are heading to Southby for this fist time this year, you’re in for an exciting ride. From the buzz I’ve heard, SXSWi 2011 is shaping up to be an epic year. A friend of mine asked on Twitter last night if I had any tips for first-timers. I definitely couldn’t fit my reply in 140 characters so I used Longreply to send him a few tips. I figured it’d make a good blog post too, so here are my top 10 tips for enjoying SXSWi:
Invest in a backup battery for your smartphone. I currently pack a NewTrent IMP500 for conferences that has enough juice to charge my iPhone4 at least 4 times before needing an outlet. If that’s too much to carry, a battery case is a good option as well. I’ve also used the 3GS version of the Energizer Powersleeve, which worked pretty well but left me needing mo’ powa.
Being tied to an outlet really sucks. (Photo credit: Scott Fegette SXSW 2006)
Plan out your daytime programming. The official SXSW Schedule and sched.org are great resources for planning what talks you want to go to. Try to pick a backup talk for each slot because rooms can fill up in the time it takes you to walk/run from one side of the convention center to the other. If you’d rather just wait and see where your friends are heading, Twitter and sitby.us can help make your decision a little easier.
Screenshot from http://austin2011.sched.org
Wear comfy shoes. As you may have guessed from my previous point, you’ll be doing a lot of walk/running during the day. The same will probably be true at night if you plan to hit up several parties that are spread out across downtown Austin.
Bowling shoes at the 2006 Avalonstar Bowling Extravaganza (Photo credit: Jeff Croft 2006)
Be flexible at night. The official SXSW parties are sometimes fun, but always crowded. On any given night though there are dozens of other non-official parties going on. Keep an eye on Twitter/Gowalla and ask the people you meet what their plans are for the evening. You might end up getting an invite to a more fun, less crowded venue.
A typical “official party crowd” at the Mashable Party (Photo credit: Andrew Dupont 2010)
Bring business cards. Sure, there are plenty of ways to exchange contact info via phone, but swapping cards is fast and allows you to carry on the nerdy conversations you’re having without diverting it to phone talk, especially at parties. It is a nerdconf though, so if you want to bump, sms or ocr someone’s contact info, it won’t be as awkward as it is back at home sweet home.
Business cards are still in style at SXSW. (Photo credit: Brian Warren 2006)
Hit up the local joints. Austin is chock-full of amazing places to eat and drink. Ginger Man, Draught House Pub, Stubb’s, Iron Works, Juan Pelota, The One Taco trucks, Casino El Camino, Salt Lick (worth the drive)…I could go on, but the moral to this story is that you should explore the city and not hang at the same places all week.
Stay healthy. I’ve managed to come down with a cold after most of my trips to Austin. This is a regular occurrence that’s affectionately referred to as SouthByScuvy among attendees. Your immune system defenses are bound to drop when you’re traveling, staying out late, getting up early and hanging out in crowds of people. Drinking plenty of water, washing your hands often, taking VitaminC every day, eating well and trying to get *some* sleep will keep you from being useless the week after the show.
A very tired person at SXSW (Photo credit: Brad J. Ward 2009)
Don’t embarrass yourself. Although my SXSW friends might tell you otherwise, I’m not a big drinker. If you’re like me, be sure to pace yourself at the parties. Keep in mind that there are people there that can make or break your career. I’ve heard plenty of stories about no-name kids insulting industry leaders at parties and at least one that ended with projectile vomiting. Have fun, but don’t be an ass and remember, what happens at Southby, goes on Flickr…and Instragram, and Twitpic, and YouTube, and…well, you get the picture.
Me, after a few drinks, pretending to be Jeremy Keith. (Photo credit: Rob Weychert 2007)
Prepare for the weather. March in Austin can be beautiful, rainy, cold or hot and can fluctuate several times a day. Be sure to pack sunglasses, an umbrella, a poncho, long sleeves and a jacket. It’s a very casual event, so don’t worry about dressing up. Even the speakers typically wear jeans. A jacket and tie will most certainly be made fun of.
Yes, it rains in Austin. (Photo credit: Dave Delaney 2008)
Have a blast! No matter what specialization of the web you work in, you’re guaranteed to learn something new and make some great connections at SXSW. Don’t let it just be about learning and networking though. If you’re not having fun, ur doin it wrong. “Spring Break for Nerds” really is an accurate description of the SouthBy experience. Break outside of your comfort zone, talk to people you don’t know, heck, ride a Mechanical Bull if you get the chance. SXSW is as much a party as it a conference.