Wow, guys – I just returned from SXSW (South by South West) to attend the interactive portion of the festival – and I am exhausted! I learned a LOT though. It was my first time experiencing what locals call ‘Southby” – and it was quite a trip! I’d heard that there is a unique energy at SXSW and there really, really is! I’m so grateful to the kind people at Pfister who sent me to SXSW as a brand ambassador for Pfister.
I got the chance to catch some amazing sessions on how to get the most out of the festival, digital advancements, internet privacy, meditation, frugal building practices, branding and more. I also got to interact with interesting new emerging brands and technologies. The festival is such a fantastic hodge podge of subjects and disciplines, that it can get a bit overwhelming.
About Austin: As much as technology is the star of the interactive portion of SXSW, so is the city of Austin, Texas. The city closes down many of its most central streets and becomes a pedestrian mall. Restaurants and businesses all around the conference center turn into over the top clubhouses for brands and parties. And because the SXSW music and film conference overlap the interactive festival there are movie premieres and up and coming bands playing at almost every time of day and night.
- Book a hotel as soon as you have your conference pass. Hotels anywhere near downtown book up many months in advance of the conference. If you are booking a room after most of these hotels are sold out, you will need to either get on a waiting list with the SXSW staff or book a room farther away from downtown.
- Wear comfy shoes. Although the conference provides shuttle buses, traffic is often to thick that walking is easier. And sessions and lounges are often 10+ blocks away from eachother.
- Wear whats comfortable. Austin is a city that marches to their own drum. To fit in, you should do the same. If you want to blend in at the conference though – black is a very popular color. Cowboy boots go with anything, there is no shame in carrying a back pack!
- Be sure to check out the Food Truck parks all around downtown – they have amazing and unique offerings. There also some wonderful upscale Austin restaurants worth making reservations for before you leave for SXSW.
- Take advantage of pedicabs! They are often the fastest, cheapest way to get around the city during the festival.
SXSW Interactive Tips:
- Be sure to get to sessions that are really important to you early! Many of the most popular sessions fill up within a few minutes of their doors being opened because people have lined up before hand. (This especially true for sessions that include celebrities in their field, or current event sessions)
- Bring at least one extra charger for your cell phone or Ipad. Maybe even two.
- Bring a power cord if you will want to be on your computer a lot. If outlets are all taken in the halls, you can offer to plug in your power cord so that you can use the power without disturbing anyone else.
- Go through the conference schedule ahead of time. With 800+ sessions you can get overwhelmed with the choices and miss the sessions that you most want to attend. Plan ahead! Being spontaneous works better at other conferences – this one is better with a plan.
- Talk to people. I asked a gentleman if I could take a pic of him wearing his Google glasses – and instead he plopped them down on my head and took a pic of me wearing them! He walked me through how they worked and gave me tons of insight on them. Wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t said hello.
- Be sure to make time in your schedule to visit brand lounges, parties and events around the venue too. A lot of the best networking and learning is happening at those.
Bottom Line: SXSW is not for everyone. Its the second biggest conference in the United States – and you can get lost in the shuffle unless you have a clear focus. I would recommend the interactive conference for entrepreneurs, start ups, those interested in cutting edge technology, and those who want to network with technology or health brands. It’s also great for bloggers and pr. Just know that SXSW is a beast! It’s a beast in a great way – but its a lot! If you decide that SXSW is for you be sure to get plenty of rest ahead of time, and then hold on tight for the ride of your life!
Have you been to SXSW? What Tips would you add?