South By Southwest starts next week, and while this will be my third time to go as a badge holder, I feel like it gets more complicated as the festival (especially Interactive) grows every year.
Here are my 11 tips for navigating SXSW Interactive:
1. Wear comfortable shoes. There’s so much walking and standing that happens during SXSW that comfortable, supportive shoes are a must. Especially now that Interactive is spread across a bunch of downtown hotel venues, expect to be on your feet a lot.
2. Wear comfortable clothes + layers. March seems to bring cold wet weather to Austin. We’re experiencing it this week with temps between 30s and 50s and lots of rain, so it *might* clear out by next week. Fingers crossed for 70s and sunny. I’m going to be prepared with layers, something waterproof and an umbrella just in case.
3. Make a rough schedule with lots of options. I’ve been scouring the SXSW panel schedule and marking ones that I’m interested in. In years past, I’ve found that some panels will hit capacity and/or 10 minutes in, you realize it’s not what you were hoping. On to plan B!
4. Network, network, network! Thankfully, Twitter and SXSocial are making it easier to connect with people prior to and during the event. I always bring extra business cards because inevitably I’ll be sitting next to someone at a panel who I’ll want to stay in contact with afterward. Also, my being a local means they usually have questions about where to go eat.
5. Pack snacks and a refillable water bottle. There’s 30 minutes built in between panels, which is what time you’ll need to make a pit stop, catch a shuttle and get to the next session. I found myself STARVING around lunch time, so keeping trail mix and small portable snacks tied me over until I could get something more substantial in my body. Also, expect to pay around $10 for a sandwich anywhere you go. At least the water fountains are free (hence, the water bottle)!
6. Roam around. In between the sessions are a TON of sponsored lounges and events. Yes, you’re being marketed to in order to get a free taco, but it’s all part of SXSW. Save room in your bag for branded swag!
7. Take only the good swag. This advice comes from my husband, who is tired of my coming home with stuff that is useless. That and hauling around an extra 4 pounds of keychains, koozies and notepads gets pretty tedious.
8. Tweet down a Chevy. One of the very helpful sponsored features of SXSW is “Catch a Chevy.” Tweet @chevrolet with hashtag #ChevySXSW and someone will find you to give you a ride. I will DEFINITELY be using their services this year.
9. Hop into some smaller sessions. Everyone wants to get into the big keynote presentations, but I found some of the most interesting ones to be the offshoots in some of the smaller hotel venues. The topics tend to be more niche, and there are better networking opportunities than in the giant exhibit halls. (Come by my Message Board Besties meetup and say Hi!)
10. Bring your phone charger and/or extra battery pack. All the tweeting, Instagraming and running the SXSW app will drain your battery quickly. (Oh, and sometimes just trying to get a signal when you’re competing with 70,000 other smartphones.) Sometime in the afternoon each day, you’ll be huddled with a bunch of other people around a wall plug. If someone’s nice, they’ll bring a power strip. Great time to network!
11. Start your mornings with yoga. At 9:30 each morning of Interactive, there’s a yoga session on the schedule. It was a great way to start each day, and I loved meeting other yogis and newbies alike.
So this is my experience from attending SXSW Interactive. If anyone has tips for the Film portion of the festival, I’d love to hear it! This will be my first time with a Gold badge and having access to screenings and such.