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I have attended South by Southwest (SXSW) for several years and, like most things, practice makes perfect. The Interactive portion of SXSW allows the who’s who in the tech world to descend upon Austin, TX, as the opening act to one of the best music festivals in the country. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend circling dates on your calendar now to attend next year. You won’t be sorry. And to help you have a winning experience if you do attend, here is my tried-and-true game plan to get through the week.
Preparation: Those who don’t plan, plan to fail. This includes:
- Accommodations--Don’t make the rookie mistake of waiting until the last minute. Book your hotel and airfare now! If you plan on attending the conference, be very strategic about the speakers you wish to hear. No need to try and hit all the sessions, just focus on what is relevant to you and your company.
- Essentials--Be sure to pack an extra battery for your cell phone. You’ll want your phone fully charged to use the handy SXSW app. Make your schedule in advance but always have a Plan B in mind, because there are a lot of concurrent activities. Have cash in case you need to flag a pedicab to get to your next session. Also, bring mints. You will meet a lot of people, so you’ll want to have good breath.
- Gear--Jeans are a no brainer, proper walking kicks, no need for a suit (or anything that resembles a corporate look) and your best button up for the evening festivities. You are going to be busy, if you do it right, so there might not be time to change.
Morning plans (9:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.)
Don’t skip breakfast! This is not a time to ignore what our parents told us when we were kids. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and you never know when you will have time to sneak in a meal before dinner. This is also a good time to schedule meetings. The key is to always leave a 30-minute window to take an impromptu meeting with someone you meet while you are in town.
Related: How to Survive South By Southwest
Afternoon plans (12:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.)
Mix in a few networking events with a few sessions. During the day, a number of companies and VC firms will host pool parties, BBQ gatherings and networking fiestas, which are a great place to meet people. Whatever event you plan to attend, find out if there is guests list ahead of time. Otherwise, be polite to the folks working the door and if you don’t mind waiting in a line, you will eventually get in to join the fun. More importantly, don’t forget your business cards because you will go through them fast.
Late afternoon/early evening plans (4:00 p.m.– 6:30 p.m.)
This is a great time to find one last session, or catch up on emails and possibly take a few more meetings. I like to set up shop at the Four Seasons, either outside, weather permitting, or in the lobby bar. The Four Seasons is in the heart of the action; especially for the SXSports track this past year. Everyone that’s anyone will roll through the lobby at some point.
Related: My, SXSW, How You've Changed
Freshen up and dinner plans (7:00 p.m.- 9:30 p.m.)
If you can, find a few minutes to rest your mind before a long night of action. If you are on a solo mission, use this time to take a quick nap and grab a bite to eat at a dive spot, off-the-beaten path. If you have trouble deciding, you can’t go wrong with BBQ. If you are with your wolf pack, co-workers or new friends from the conference, plan a dinner at a cool foodie restaurant. Austin is full of great spots with excellent food, just make sure to make a reservation.
SXSW Evening Fun (10:00 p.m.- whenever)
One thing you can count on is a several great parties to choose from each night at SXSW. Pick a spot and own it! Rainey Street and Sixth Street are full of parties. They will all be tempting, but if you try to get to them all you are going to miss out on just being in the moment. If you find yourself at a dud, don’t be afraid to call an audible. You can always find another party because, if there is one thing I have learned about SXSW Interactive, it’s that the tech world knows how to have a good time late into the night. So you can go home early or throw a Hail Mary and find a SXSW after-hours venue. Just remember you have to get up and do it all over again.
So if you haven’t been, I highly recommend registering for next year. It is a good event to learn from peers, make solid business connections and have some fun. Just make sure you have a game plan like I do!