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Tips for South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) from a local

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Austin Motel marquee, So Close Yet So Far Out (photo by Sheila Scarborough)It’s that time of year again, when the tech universe is abuzz with the digital creative delights of the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference in Austin, Texas.

Since I live in the Austin metro area and this is my third “South by,” I thought I’d update last year’s post on why SXSWi is like Disney World and revisit the lure of conferences.

Just yesterday at Jelly Coworking, I discussed the five geeky days of craziness with City of Round Rock communications guy Brooks Bennett.

This will be his first SXSWi and he’s really psyched about it, but also a bit overwhelmed by the barrage of offerings.

Here’s the advice I gave him….

  • Forget about seeing everything. Heck, forget about seeing half of it! There are the big keynote speakers, a crazy-huge number of panels, the smaller Core Conversations (I’m speaking at one with writer Pam Mandel, about travel blogging) plus book readings on the Adobe Day Stage (where I heard then-unknown Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek speak in 2007,) early evening salon discussions and my personal “secret” favorite that often has big names in a small setting, the Studio SX discussions in the northeast corner of the Exhibition Hall.  There are hang-out lounges and parties galore, both official and “unofficial.” This goes on for five days – you’ll be fried.
  • Pick everything that sounds good, and weed it all out later. Here’s what I do – I go through the online schedule and say, “Yes, Yes, Yes” to everything that sounds good and every speaker that I know and/or like.  I don’t worry that I’m double-, triple- and quadruple-booked for events. I print the whole thing out (yes, print – paper always boots up & never needs a power outlet or WiFi) and stuff Beast Schedule in my purse. Each morning of the conference, I do ruthless triage to pick the happenings that it would KILL me to miss, saying a fond farewell to the rest. It really sorts itself pretty clearly as the conference wears on;  some people hardly make any panels, but their whole day is a schmoozefest in the hallways and lounges. Whatever works for you!
  • Loud, packed parties are overrated. Networking and socializing are not. Look, I’m not a big party girl if it means jammed, loud rooms full of people that I don’t know.   I assure you, however, that I get plenty of fun time at South by – I’m socializing in smaller gaggles, with lots of folks I don’t know but a few that I do, hanging out in places where we can actually find a seat.  Many people do the same thing – go to the “big” parties, discover they’re not all that insanely fun, go back out on the sidewalk and regroup, run into someone from the day’s panels and all go off together to have a civilized beer and proper geek bonding. (OK, you want a nice bar? The Driskill Hotel, since 1886. Take that, Sixth Street lemmings.)
  • The basics – bring business cards, check that your cell phone has unlimited texting, pack a couple of energy bars, bring a water bottle, comfy shoes, power cords. It is truly an endurance event, but I mean that in the most positive way.  While we’re talking basics, there’s good BBQ right around the corner from the Convention Center: Iron Works BBQ at 100 Red River.

I hope to run into any and all of you during South by Southwest – I’m @SheilaS on Twitter, Connie Reece is @conniereece and Jennifer Navarrete is @epodcaster (don’t forget @sxswi – unofficial tweets – and @sxsw – official tweets.) See you there!

More good advice:

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This post was written by:

Sheila Scarborough - who has written 31 posts on Every Dot Connects.

I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism,travel and social media. Co-founder of Tourism Currents.

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Taylor McKnight Says:

    A bit of self promotion, but I think you’d dig our SXSW scheduler we put together: http://sxsw2009.sched.org

  2. Brad McCall Says:

    Great advice thanks! As it is my first visit to SXSW, I’m anxious to do as much as possible. But with the sure size of the event, and how many days it is… I’m sure I won’t hit everything. I’ve found at previous events that some of the parties don’t turn out to be good networking events either. Yelling over the loud entertainment isn’t a good way to meet someone. I’m hoping to make some good connections and learn some great info.

  3. Sheila Scarborough Says:

    Hi Taylor and Brad, Thanks very much for stopping by, glad you found the post useful. I hope I’m able to meet both of you in person!

  4. Joe Doyle Says:

    Great tips and advice. I love the one about smaller parties – makes lots of sense.

    We created a blog for newbies called http://www.SXSWisEASY.com. Check it out and let us know what you think. It’s a collaboration started by four gents who met at the fest a couple years back.

    Oh, one last, The Driskill is technically on Brazos, but at 6th street (in case someone thinks it’s off 6th from your post).

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    [...] local and SXSWi veteran and speaker Sheila Scarborough shares her tips at Every Dot Connects on how attendees can get the most out of the conference and enjoy their time in Austin, [...]