If you've ever tried to navigate SXSW — aka Tech-chella aka Marketing Buzzword Palooza — you know how overwhelming it can be. Any time you're trying to prioritize seeing real-life meme Joe Biden (Will he be wearing his Barack friendship bracelet?) and absorb the latest VR trends, it's going to be a struggle. You need a full nine days: three to figure out what the heck you're doing, one to wrap your mind around an Uber-less environment, and another five to absorb as much Tex-Mex and tech insight as possible.
We've been hitting SXSW for several years, and every time, at least one of us looks at the other and says, "I really wish I had a guide to figure out how to make the most of the Austin art and media scene. Also, how many articles of clothing with fringe I should bring?"
As we pack our suitcases full of Urban Outfitters apparel and metallic temporary tattoos, we thought we'd bless you with our in-house guide for SXSW Interactive 2017. Bust out your nondescript, slim Moleskine and quill, and jot this down:
SXSW can get pretty hectic, and you'll be surprised by how easy it is to forget what you planned on going to. Save yourself the trouble by putting together a loose itinerary before you get there. Obviously, things will come up and plans will change — that's fine. But without some kind of game plan, there's no way you'll get everything you're looking for out of the event.
When planning your schedule, be prepared to flip your typical workday a little — all the good stuff usually takes place between 3 p.m. and 1 a.m. (If you're working at a hip startup, this is actually probably pretty normal for you. You'll thrive!) Treat your phone charger like an umbilical cord, but ditch your computer at your Airbnb. Don't be that guy.
It turns out that Austin is hot, and depending on where you're coming from, this kind of climate is going to take some getting used to. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and energized, and give yourself enough time to rest and recuperate each morning.
Most events don't start until after lunch anyway, so designate your mornings for catching up on your work and focusing on your health. SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint. It's a long few days, so don't go too hard in the paint, or you're going to have have all the regrets.
You'll probably hear awesome things about the Mashable House or a huge TechCrunch party. Try not to get too distracted by all the parties happening around every corner. Some are free and open, but others are bougie and private and require RSVPs in advance.
Parties like these are put on really well and promise a ton of networking opportunities, but unless you have some sort of crazy VIP status, you're going to be dealing with crowded bars and crazy lines with the rest of us plebeians. Instead, opt for the more curated groups and smaller parties — they'll be equally fun, require less small talk, and provide more opportunities to actually meet new people.
It's a universal truth that everyone at SXSW dresses better than me (and probably you). When everyone around you looks effortlessly chill, you're going to want to attempt harem pants, too. That's totally up to you — just remember to dress for comfort. This event is happening on pretty much every street in downtown Austin, so you'll probably be walking a ton. Invest in some platform Tevas or some other comfortable shoes and clothes so you're not dying to go back to the Airbnb and change after an hour.
The last time our team went to SXSW, the plan was to meet up with a bunch of our clients we knew would be there. We had this list of people we thought that we'd for sure bump into, but the only ones we saw were the clients we'd actually scheduled meetups with.
It's not like that one time you went back to your hometown and made the mistake of going to the grocery store in sweatpants only to run into your entire graduating class. This event is too big for you to assume you'll bump into someone you know.
Reach out to your network in advance to find clients, partners, leads, and friends who will be there, and schedule times and places to meet. Utilize RSVPster and the SXSW Twitter handles to find particular events that certain people of interest may be attending.
Don't pull a Cady from "Mean Girls" and opt to weep into your free tacos in a port-a-potty instead of eating with someone new. In my experience at conferences (especially SXSW), people are always open to sitting with others during a meal, and that's when some of the best networking takes place. Ask to sit with a stranger for lunch, and strike up a conversation with your new lunch buddy. Don't be weird about it. Everyone's doing it.
Adopt the same philosophy I use when I go out with my girls: If you had to pay, something went terribly awry. Stay alert, and search for freebies. If you play your cards right, you shouldn't have to spend a dime on food.
I'm cheap, so I'm always on the lookout for freebies. Last year, we had the chance to take a free spin class with Peloton right by our Airbnb. It was a great way to wake up fresh after a night of socializing, and we got to experience technology that remarkably hadn't made its way to Columbia, Missouri. Take a few minutes to enjoy the perks of all the brands trying to market to you.
Lastly, if you need some recommendations on events to add to your itinerary, we'll be at these events, and we're pretty fun to hang out with:
To see more events, check out the SXSW schedule.
If you're heading to SXSW and want to meet up to talk content or exchange insights from the festival, holla atcha girl!
I like my coffee black, my whiskey straight, and travel when I can afford it. I think most people just want to feel heard, and I’m happy to comply. I've also taken a sworn oath to never eat sushi.