An Insider’s Guide to SXSW

An Insider’s Guide to SXSW

[vc_row type=”in_container” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”left-right” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″ offset=”vc_col-lg-11″][vc_column_text]Besides being our good friend, Eric Swayne is VP of Product & Marketing at MutualMind, Co-Founder of DrawAttention, and Founder of DataNarrate, a marketing data consultancy.

This year I will attend my fifth SXSW Interactive. I’ve experienced SXSW as both a general conference attendee and as a presenter; I’ve attended dozens of parties (as a VIP or otherwise), and one year I even threw my own little party. It is easily the most mind-blowing week of the digital world, and still one of the most relevant events I have ever attended.

My favorite way to describe SXSW is with the phrase “Of course they are.” Let’s be honest, after you’ve been to as many of these as I have, you learn to expect the unexpected. For example:

  • FX is promoting a show by converting a vacant lot into an interactive napping capsule spa? Of course they are.
  • Microsoft is hosting a midnight party to launch Titanfall, complete with a life-size mechanical statue? Of course they are.
  • Nest painted a fire truck blue and is giving away free hand sanitizer (among other things) at a “relaxation tent”? Welp. Of course they are!
  • Instagram is hosting a secret concert with Snoop Dogg (ahem, Snoop Lion) where you have to post a wild image to some crazy hashtag just to win the chance to get into the lottery to get in? Of. Course. They. Are.
And that’s just what happened last year.

If I may, let me suggest a few tips, tricks, and gadgets to help you navigate this year’s craziness.

 


 

SXSW is about population density. Take advantage.

Yes, SXSW means Austin gets completely overrun with techno-hipsters, and anything resembling normal infrastructure crumbles under its enormous presence. But the reason I keep coming back isn’t the parties or the presenters or the installations: it’s the people.

This is the only time you can have eight meetings with companies from all ends of the digital industry in just one week. This is also one of the few times you can meet someone in a bar who turns out to be that awesome person who built that thing you love.

So, since you’re in such a rich environment, use it. Introduce yourself to everyone. Listen to their stories before you share your own. Make a connection over some wacky story or common love or unique idea, because you’re going to probably want to keep that connection for the rest of your life.

 


 

Avoid the insane badge pickup lines by going satellite.

On Thursday and Friday this year, SXSW will let you pick up your badge at the Palmer Center, and there are always far fewer people there than at the main Convention Center pickup. The first time I attended SXSW, I went to the Convention Center and waited in line two hours to get my badge. Last year, I went to the Palmer Center and it took 15 minutes. Take a cab or walk, just trust me.

 


 

Plan your schedule in advance to ward off FOMO.

I’ve used the official SXSW mobile app a few times, but I just can’t say it’s ever been quite what I need. I highly suggest checking out the unofficial app from the kids at SCHED, they’ve just released their 2015 SXSW Schedule.

When picking my sessions, I just skim through SCHED and highlight anything that looks even remotely interesting. I always prefer a session on a topic that I know nothing about, because I’m guaranteed to learn something. A panel on social analytics (my field) is probably gonna just bore or frustrate me; but “neurolinguistics”? IN.

SCHED has a neat feature where they publish all your highlighted sessions into an iCal feed. That way, you can check your calendar at any time and see what’s going on — and see what you’re missing. If what’s right in front of you is more interesting than what’s on your schedule, feel no fear my friend. You are where you need to be.

 


 

Party for the experience, not the name.

Everyone loves a good party, and lest you doubt, I do too! But instead of trying to get into the parties for this hot startup or that music artist, focus on the ones that will give you an awesome experience.

Case in point: the IEEE (That’s the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, homes) party. Sounds boring, right? WRONG. Last year’s party included a robot bartender, a human-sized trackball, a laser maze, hacked retro games and more. Experience? Check.

That said, here are some of my favorites:

 


 

My SXSW Essentials

Now that you know what to do at SXSW, let’s go over what you should bring. If you’ve been to a conference like SXSW before (lots of walking!), you know that the key is to bring exactly what you need, and nothing more. I’m going to assume that everyone knows to bring their smartphone (it is SXSW, after all), so here’s the other essentials I keep on hand:

MophiePocketBatteryTravelOutletMoleskinePeniPadStand2MessengerBag

  • Mophie Juice Pack Air – I still carry an iPhone 5, but this is always on it. It provides another full charge once your phone’s internal battery is done. Plus, you can charge it separately from your phone, so when you get back to the room you can have both going at the same time.
  • Pocket-Sized External Battery – There are always 2 or 3 of these on me at one time; the one linked here is a great $15 one on Amazon, but if you’ve been at a tech conference, you probably have a couple of these laying around too. They’re perfect for giving your phone a quick boost while it’s in your pocket at a party.
  • Travel Power Strip – When the outlets are full (and they usually are), you can easily make some new friends by offering to use your power strip to share the electricity wealth! This one is often used as a giveaway, but I love it because you can either unroll its short cord or lock it all together as a wall unit.
  • Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook – Kids, it just doesn’t get any better than the classic Moleskine. I have tons of these (brand name and knockoff), and I use them liberally. I prefer blank pages because it gives me space to sketch as well as write: sometimes you just gotta draw something!  And if you’re incredibly artistic, you can be awesome like Mike Rhode and do Sketchnotes.
  • Retro 1951 Deluxe Stealth Tornado rollerball pen – You guys, I’m in love with this pen. The weight is solid and balanced, and the look is just classic. If someone needs a pen and you lend them THIS, they will know you know your pens. Also, if you have any business meetings, you need this pen — you don’t want to pull out a cheap plastic freebie in front of an important client!
  • iPad Mini with Logitech Hinge Case – iPads are perfect for SXSW. They’re big enough to show off a site or app, small enough to carry around all day, and they have a fantastic battery life. I have an iPad Mini and this case is a perfect all-in-one cover and stand.
  • Lightweight Messenger Bag – Once you leave your room for the day, you’re probably not coming back until late, so you’re gonna want a bag to carry all the stuff. And, if mine just happens to highlight the awesomeness of Studio Ghibli that’s just even better, isn’t it?

 

I hope these tips will serve you well during the marathon that is SXSW!
If you’re there, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.

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