SXSW Interactive has the reputation of being the “business” weekend and/or the “nerd spring break” of SXSW. If you’re attending SXSW for business – not just to enjoy the people watching, attend new film screenings and party at epic concerts – than here are some tips that will help you make the best of the event as a business trip.
Have a goals and objectives in mind
It can be very easy to get distracted by the all simultaneous conference sessions, pop up booths, and people watching during SXSW. Before you go, be sure you have your goals and objectives in mind so you don’t end up regretting a weekend of work with nothing to show for it. Are you there to extend your network? Meet with your prospects? Host a client event? Strengthen media relationships?
Advance register for everything
SXSW is all about which events you can get into. Events are where you get the most out of networking and meeting new people. It may be overwhelming to see 100+ events listed but make time to get on the list so you can make a game time decision when you are there.
You don’t need an official SXSW pass
There is a lot of value of getting an official pass such as attending the sessions and exhibit hall but you definitely don’t need a pass to ‘do’ SXSW. Around the city there are several of panel sessions, sponsored events, and pop up exhibits to attend where you don’t need a pass to participate.
“The NSA, Snapchat, and privacy. Should you be freaking out?” panel hosted by ffmassive
Don’t worry about packing ‘festival’ outfits
Yes, SXSW is a big festival where people will dress in their best festival outfits to get photographed by SXSW press. If you are there for business, just wear your branded t-shirt, hoodies and/or sunglasses. Everyone does it. Be sure to check the weather to pack appropriate layers. This year it was cold and cloudy, downpour rain, sunny and humid, all in one weekend.
Bring and exchange business cards
You will (hopefully!) meet a ton of new people while you are at SXSW. Carry a handful of business cards so you can easily exchange contact information.
Follow ups with new contacts
Start developing relationships with the new people you met. Add them on LinkedIn and/or send them an email so you can keep in touch.
Book a hotel or house right downtown
Transportation around Austin is terrible. If you aren’t staying within the downtown core area it can be a major hassle (and expensive) to book a taxi to get downtown. It is more convenient to stay walking distance of 6th and Congress (the cross street of the center of everything). You’ll get an earlier start to the day and will be able to drop stuff off or take a work break in the middle of the day.
SXSW is not for shy people. Everyone is there to meet and connect with like minded people. Be bold and strike up a conversation with that you are standing in line with or even one of the panelists after a session.
With new friends from Sponsorpay and Fiksu at the Hootsuite social labs event
Carry extra phone changers
It’s a fact. Your phone will die by lunch.
You’ll be on your phone all day looking up addresses, calling people to meet up, checking the conference schedule, Tweeting, taking photos, texting partners and customers, and checking work email. But the last day, I was carrying five external phone chargers and was still stressed about my phone dying before the end of the day.
Do burn yourself out on the first day
If you get drunk and stay out the first night, you’ll have to catch up the rest of the week. Represent yourself – and your brand – with class, because first impressions count.
With back to back events and meetings, it could be 5pm before you know it and you haven’t eaten all day. Schedule time in your day to eat so you don’t gorge on pizza at 2am. The best option is to optimizing eating by attending events that have catering or having lunch meeting with prospects and clients.
BBQ plate, team lunch at Stubb’s
If you see a line, evaluate if it will be worth your time
There might be an awesome band playing at the Spotify house but take a minute to evaluate if it’s going to be worth going inside if you have to wait an hour in line. Sure it would be awesome to attend, but will you be meeting the right types of people or should you head to one of the other events right down the street?
Pay attention to social media
By following the event hashtag(s) you can also join the conversation online in addition to being there yourself. There were also times that I found out about events to attend by seeing people tweet about it on social or checking in to active places on Foursquare.
Go with a crew
It’s easier (and more fun) to attend SXSW with a few coworkers to. Sometimes you’ll want to divide and conquer if there are simultaneous and relevant events. Walking into a room with 500 people and striking up conversation with random people is easier when you have a coworker by your side.