SXSW: Learn More, Drink More - What to Know Before You Go

What is there to gain besides a hangover and dead phone?

The public image of SXSW is a fickle beast. At the mention of SXSW, most people can’t shake the image of millennials listening to edgy recording artists in the the blistering Austin, Texas heat; but that is just one small piece of the SXSW puzzle. If you are willing to weave through the maze of people, stages, and BBQ joints you will find a business and industry metropolis.  There is an unbelievable amount to be learned at the yearly festival for those who make the pilgrimage to Austin. The list of expert speakers, panels, networking events may seem overwhelming which poses the question is it even worth it? The answer is yes. SXSW has given millions of people the tools information and opportunities to better themselves in their respective industries and take their careers and companies to the next level. Plus, if you need to network to advance your career, learn something new or make a sale or two – Austin is the place.

Every year dozens of industry experts speak at SXSW from all corners of the world.  Although many of the events cover similar topics, the perspectives given in each can vary tremendously; that in itself makes SXSW invaluable.  The events expose people to perspectives and opinions on the digital space that can open their eyes to new ideas and give them a more well rounded understanding of the job they possess and the reach it can have.  Not to mention the people speaking are experts.  There is a good possibility the chosen speakers know something most people do not (that is why they were chosen) and if people listen, they are likely to bestow onto the audience some of their industry knowledge and secrets.  

It would be unreasonable to say that if you attend SXSW you will leave with an infinite wealth of knowledge about the digital space.  However, by attending the festival and listening to experts speak about the past, present, and future of the industry you put yourself in a position to become a more knowledgeable, productive, and efficient representative of the digital world.  

That is if you can focus on the educational events and not the open bars…

Is there a secret?

There is no way to completely avoid the intentionally curated chaos  (and probable hangover) that everyone experiences at SXSW but a couple of insider secrets can save you a lot of time and stress. After attending SXSW for several years we have learned the do’s and dont’s of the week so heed our advice.

One of the most important things to stress about the festival is timing is everything. If you sometimes struggle with time management, SXSW is a great time to practice.  All attendees will spend a large portion of their days waiting in line.  If you really want to experience a speaker or event it is imperative to get in line on time or you will miss out.  Sometimes you will have to sacrifice going to another event to stand inline for one of more importance or value to you.  That is okay.  If you have priorities treat them like priorities, sometimes that involves a sacrifice.

Even the most diligent planners will not make it to every event and speaker they had intended to see. In SXSW’s chaotic environment plans change quickly and you may not make it to every event you highlighted in your program. DO NOT PANIC.  Make a point to have a backup plan for every slot you have planned.  You will get the most out of your experience if you minimize your down time and attend as many sessions as time allows, even if they are not your first choice.  

Another thing to pencil into your schedule is networking time.  This goes without saying, but I will say it anyways because it is so important - SXSW is one of, if not the, best networking events of the year. it would be amateur not to get as much face time with them as possible. There are a plethora of events designed specifically for networking and making professional relationships, these should not be ignored. Bring some business cards, some conversation topics, and a smile to as many as these events as possible. Building the relationships that SXSW allows will send you home with more value to your employer and some new cards in your rolodex.

The days at SXSW are long and warm.  One way to make your days a bit easier, let’s say five to ten pounds easier, is to carry around as little as possible.  It is very tempting to lug your laptop from event to event for the sake of note taking, powerpoint viewing, and article reading...but don’t.  Here are three reasons why we recommend you leave that laptop behind:

  1. Your smartphone can do basically everything a computer can.
  2. Laptops are heavy and the last thing you want is extra weight while standing in lines.
  3. Most of the events and speakers take place in very crowded rooms.  You will be able to take notes more efficiently on a phone rather than fighting for elbow room.
  4. There is a high chance of thunderstorms in Austin this week and the last thing you want is a water damaged computer.

There is no all-inclusive problem solver to the situations you may come across at SXSW but some veteran advice has never hurt. In addition to keeping these tips in mind do not forget to follow #SXSW, #SXSWi, #SXLines, and #SXSWTips for on the spot information.

Before We Go

For those going to SXSW the few days ahead are going to be long, hot and tiring.  However, like most things, those who jump in with both feet will come out the other end having learned and grown immensely as professionals.  The amount of information about the festival published both by us and the rest of the internet world can be daunting but do not let that deter you from making the journey and getting as much out of it as you can. We go to SXSW is to better ourselves and take in as much information as possible.  Why else would we fly a thousand miles? If worse comes to worst, relax at the end of a long and productive SXSW day with one of those famous Austin margaritas, no harm in that.  

One of the most important lessons a professional in the digital space can understand is that in order to be the best version of yourself it is imperative you keep learning and adapting; SXSW is a great opportunity to do that.  To see smith & beta’s journey of changing understanding through SXSW and  keep one eye open  for smith & beta on social media.  Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @smithandbeta.

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