Guide To Getting The Most Out Of South By Southwest (SXSW)

Margaret Molloy

SXSW InteractiveThe South by Southwest Interactive Conference offers thousands of panel discussions, meet-ups, parties, and exhibits. The SXSW experience is exhilarating, inspiring, and a whirlwind.

My mission for the conference is to learn the latest about marketing and technology and make the most meaningful interpersonal connections. Here are my top tips:

  • Be purposeful: SXSW is vast. Be clear on your goals and priorities. Is your goal to get perspectives on the latest in digital marketing? Is it to connect with new people? If your motive is learning, prioritize attending the sessions. If your goal is to connect with people, spend more time at parties, in hotel lobbies, or the hallways. Know your goals and plan accordingly.
  • Do your home work: Want to meet your existing connections at SXSW? Don’t rely on serendipity. Update your LinkedIn status to let others know you are going to SXSW. Check out Q&A platforms like Quora or networks like Sulia to get perspectives on top sessions and topics. Be sure to get familiar with the SXSW mobile app before you arrive in Austin.
  • Plan for battery power: The constant use of social media applications at SXSW taxes the battery life of your mobile devices. Meeting new friends at the charging stations can be great fun, however, the Mophie juice pack is a great device for extending the battery life of many smart phones.
  • Ditch the ones you’re with: It’s tempting to spend the days and evenings with coworkers. Resist. Resolve to spend as much time as you can muster meeting new people. (Consideration: You may want to communicate this approach to your friends before SXSW or risk irritating them.)
  • Find an app for that: Location-based applications are a must at SXSW. Use Foursquare, Facebook, or Sonar or others to check in as you move between events. These apps aim to help you discover friends, friends of friends, or strangers who share similar interests and are in your vicinity. (Consideration: Don’t forget to look up from your mobile device to meet people face to face.)
  • Be visible and generous with social media: Almost everyone at SXSW (and many remotely) are watching the Twitter stream for updates and insights from the event. Tweet from the sessions to increase your visibility. (You have your picture on your Twitter profile, right?) Remember to retweet others and follow attendees you want to meet.
  • Take pictures: SXSW is a visual feast. Capture and post pics of what inspires you. Post your favorites to Instagram and/or Pinterest. Give Vine, the six-second video app a whirl. (Consideration: You don’t have to post realtime. Don’t miss events because you are “curating” images.)
  • Ask more questions than you answer: Curiosity is your best friend at SXSW. With so many changes in technology and business models, it is impossible to have all the answers. Your ability to frame the right questions is the best indicator of your ability to give and get the most from SXSW.
  • Be a connector: Connectors know lots of people and are in the habit of making high-impact introductions. Bringing a connector mindset helps you consider the indirect as well as the direct links with people you met at SXSW.  For example when I meet a new person I often ask: “How would I recognize a valuable opportunity or contact for you?” Surprisingly, few people have a clear, memorable answer. This simple question helps you determine how you can be a valuable connector for others, and is vital one to know how to answer for yourself.
  • Prepare to disengage, gracefully: With so many people to meet, time is your most precious resource at SXSW. Aim to leave conversations politely. A graceful phrase to use: “It was great to meet you. Enjoy the rest of the show.” If appropriate, reiterate that you look forward to following up with a connection, or on another topic you spoke about. If desired, pass along your business card. Yes, many people at SXSW still use them.
  • Focus on follow up: How many times have you had a compelling conversation with someone at an event and neither you nor they have followed up? Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you said you’d send more information or make an introduction, keep your promise.

Fresh connections invigorate our networks and keep them fluid. SXSW is a special environment for building connections with fascinating, diverse, and inspiring people.

Enjoy the event!

Follow Margaret on Twitter @margaretmolloy


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