If you’ve purchased your SXSW Interactive badge, then you and over 30,000 people from around the world will arrive in Austin to participate in one of the largest festivals for new technology, digital trends and entrepreneurship. You’ve likely already started combing through the official programming and sketching out your itinerary. But navigating SXSW goes beyond the calendar of events and can be a daunting task. From my ten years attending the festival and three years covering Interactive for Entrepreneur’s readers, I’ve gleaned a few insights that will help make SXSW one of the highlights of your year.
Get your bearings. You’ll be spending most of your time downtown, so know your way around. The Startup Village at the Hilton Austin Downtown is your entrepreneurial capitol building; the Austin Convention Center (across the street) is your Research and Development center; and downtown Austin is your playground. All of SXSW’s entrepreneur-centric programming happens at the Startup Village, and it’s the best spot to network, pitch, and hone your craft. The convention center has the bulk of programming, including all the keynote addresses, new technology, and trade shows. After 6 p.m., when panel sessions are done, the evening activities begin at every bar and venue in the city.
Your most precious commodity is time. With the volume of activities SXSW offers, you’re going to feel like you don’t have enough time for everything. It’s critical to plan ahead, but impossible to fully anticipate each day. New opportunities, scheduling conflicts, and at-capacity sessions will pull you in different directions. Fortunately, SXSW alleviates some of the headache by making every panel available to stream later. You’ll want to minimize hotel trips, so bring a bookbag with everything you need for the day. Keep your device chargers with you because there are outlet stations everywhere, and they’re very popular spots to network. But most importantly, be aware of and evaluate activities that could eat up a large amount of your time. The official Game of Thrones exhibition at the Austin Music Hall might be tempting, but the wait to enter will be several hours. And yes, world-famous Franklin Barbecue does have the best barbecue in America, but the line for that will be even longer.
It’s (almost) always sunny, and never stuffy. March is pleasant and sunny in Austin, with average temperatures around 70º during the day and 50º at night: a perfect complement to SXSW’s laid back atmosphere. Unless you’re part of a startup wearing matching t-shirts or a promoter in full costume (they’ll be there), you’ll find that a pair of blue jeans and comfortable walking shoes are perfect. I’d describe the Startup Village as five days of relaxed, business casual Fridays. Also, it always seems to rain one day during Interactive so pack a small umbrella just in case.
Networking will not feel like “work.” Networking is what makes SXSW so special. It’s naturally fostered and accelerated at the Startup Village, but you’ll realize quickly that no matter where you are every attendee is eager to talk and listen. Bring whatever you feel is most important to assist you, from business cards to marketing materials. Just remember that whoever you’re talking to is monitoring their own time as well. If you’re trying to sell your great new idea, make sure your elevator pitch is well-honed but, in pure SXSW fashion, be ready to trade the elevator for a happy hour at a dive bar or an energetic line of attendees waiting to discover the next big thing.
For any SXSW veterans, what are some tips and tactics you’ve discovered that have helped you navigate Interactive?