If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely going to SXSW and have no idea what to expect. I recently put together a quick primer for the lucky WCRS gang going this year and found the “Just Google it” route was a bit vague. Lots of “keep an open mind” and “value serendipitous conversations” and not enough practical tips like “take a phone charger brick with you”.
So, here’s my top 15 practical tips for SXSW beginners. Everyone likes a list, right.
- Download the app now. It will allow you to search for sessions, see what happens every day and RSVP to certain sessions. You will need it.
- Research your daily session plan in advance. There are several hundred options each day, WAY too many to even consider. It’s not one of those “everyone goes to the same, big sessions” conferences. You have to choose. Have a plan each day.
- This is one of the key tips. If the session you’re in is dull or not what you expected, walk out. Find a better one. Everyone does it. This is hard for Brits to do but just think, it’s your time you’re wasting and you know you envy all the other people who are walking out. Just do it. Seriously.
- If you’re going with others, divide and conquer for most sessions. Come together for the big ones like the keynotes.
- Sometimes the best things aren’t in the sessions. Don’t be a session junkie. It’s ok to skip a few. There are plenty of sponsored houses and demos, exhibitions and popup events you should take time to wander around.
- Some sessions (the busy / superstar ones) are RSVP only entry and need pre-booking. Go to the app and click the RSVP button next to the session. DO it BEFORE you get there as they fill up real fast.
- Factor in queuing time into session times, especially if you have to walk the bridge from your last session. It’s about 10 minutes to walk. Either way, when the sessions are full, the doors are closed so consider leaving your last session early if you’re desperate to go to the next one.
- Get there early for popular sessions or smaller venues
- Set up a WhatsApp group for your company / colleagues or friends. It’ll be invaluable when hooking up later or arranging lunch etc.
- This may make me a little unpopular and is potentially a little uncharitable, but the panel sessions are’t as good as the solo presenter sessions. The panels tend to run on a “here’s a topic, now have a chat for 30 mins” whereas a solo session is “I’ve researched the hell out of this for 6 months to make this presentation as good and informative as possible”. I’m not saying they are all “less good”, just if you have the choice, go for the solo sessions.
- Stay hydrated. There are water stations all over so carry a refillable (leakproof) bottle.
- Book early for some of the sponsor demos – often days ahead for the physical ones. A few years back Google had a VR flying machine that had a 3 day waiting list.
- Sign up for parties. They are quite hard to get into unless you search them out. They are also like unicorn sparkle. There’s no real list or schedule for them. It can be who you know or just plain right place, right time. One tip is to follow the official SXSW social channels like a hawk past 5pm. The thing you should do right now is click this link for a handy web page with a list to all the known parties.
- Take a small rucksack with you … and a mobile charging USB brick. Wifi can be a bit sketchy so your phone will be working overtime to keep connecting.
- Carry photo ID. If you’re a “foreigner” like me, this is weird but if you want to get into bars and parties, you’ll need it. And you may get stopped by the police and you really don’t what to be the person not carrying ID.
Hope that helps!