As I write this, I'm on the plane headed to South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin for my third year. One big question newbies and veterans of the show are likely thinking about is how to get the most out of their experience given the flood of events, people, conversations and opportunities that the show will have. I did a quick Twitter search for "#sxsw" yesterday afternoon and it had 100 new conversations using the keyword over just 60 seconds. Equated to meteorological terms, SXSW isn't a flood or a tornado – it's an ELE (Extinction Level Event).
So, if you read one post about getting ready for the show (and staying alive through it) – perhaps this should be it. The show kicks off later tonight – so in between RSVPing to parties and twittering your gripes about airline delays, check out this super quick list of tips on how to get the most out of SXSW this year, separated into five key activities you might be doing:
HOW TO BLOG AT SXSW:
- Forget live blogging everything people say. It's too much pressure and I guarantee there are way too many pro/experienced bloggers doing it better and more consistently than you in the crowd. Let them.
- Bring out insights and single gems in your blog posts. Focus on the big things that you learned or will take away from the show, and your blog posts will be much higher quality (and more useful for everyone).
- Be self sufficient. Set up your blackberry or iPhone so you can do mobile blog posts if you can't get on the Internet. Buy an extension cord to share outlets with people. Have a usb flash drive so you can use a different computer if you need to. Essentially, don't expect all the services to be available for you. Think like a road warrior.
HOW TO PARTY AT SXSW:
- RSVP for everything you can
- Choose the 1 party each night that you absolutely can't miss.
- Go there first around the time it starts. Being fashionably late is an amateur move at SXSW because the lines get long.
- Go to the party where you know someone later (and use your connection to jump the line)
- Pay attention to the "flash mob" parties that spring up on Twitter. Skip the lines and go to those. Pepsi has a great tool to help you do that here.
- Broadcast your whereabouts as much as you can or are willing to – often people in your social network may find you through these updates, and you can meet people you never expected to.
HOW TO LEARN AT SXSW:
- Plan an escape route. There are lots of conflicting great sessions at SXSW – so don't be afraid to get up and leave if a session isn't living up to what you thought it would be.
- Decide by Twitter. If you are conflicted between two sessions, wait 5 minutes into the sessions and see what people are saying about the sessions, and then pick one to go to. Trust the mob.
- Take good notes. In other words, don't write down everything – just the "aha moments" that come from the session. Those are all you'll really need afterwards anyway. In fact, doing that also makes live twitter an event particularly easy, because your tweets are far more useful and can serve as your notes after the session.
HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR BRAND/SELF AT SXSW:
- Use the influencer model. One of the most effective things you can do at SXSW is to tell influential people about your product, service, or yourself. This is not about sucking up to anyone, but getting the right people to know about your product.
- Have something to give people. A business card is a good start, but somehow you need to stand out so that people will remember you and connect with you after the event. So get some stickers, handwrite a URL or Twitter name on the back of your business card, or make it a point to follow up with people that you meet as soon as you can.
- Create and tag content. This may be tough advice to follow because everyone is doing it, but there is an archival quality to having good photos, video and blog content come out of SXSW that you should use as much as you can.
- Add a special offer or exclusive promotion for SXSW attendees to WWW.SECRETSXSW.COM, a list that our team created to help manage the overwhelming amount of marketing at the show. After SXSW, it will be THE place people go to follow up on offers and marketing that they saw during the show.
HOW TO NETWORK AT SXSW:
- Meet your rockstars. Everyone has someone that they admire who will be at SXSW. The nice thing is that it is definitely the kind of show where you can (and should) introduce yourself to your rockstars (the people you really want to meet).
- Film and interview instead of chitchat. If you meet someone interesting, think about asking them a few questions in an interview for your blog. Or grabbing a quick video with them on a flip cam (assuming you brought one with you, of course). The point is, as much as you can, go beyond idle chit chat.
Above all else, my final tip to anyone making the show is to actually BE THERE. This means not Twittering during a conversation with someone, or focusing so much on getting your next blog post out that you don't actually take a moment to really learn something, or to actually get to know someone, or to truly enjoy your time at what is probably one of the most FUN shows you'll go to all year. Good luck – and hope to see you there. Follow me at @rohitbhargava on Twitter to try and say hello!