[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:

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:



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.