5 Ways I Conquered SXSW and How You Can Too

This year I had the good fortune to be invited to speak at SXSW, which also marked my first time attending the conference. Long having heard of South by Southwest’s glorious speaker lineup, proclivity for introducing cutting-edge tech concepts, and many other concert, film, and learning opportunities, I was pumped, to say the least.

I booked my flight, downloaded and set up my conference profile, and then began perusing the schedule. That’s when it hit me; there are almost too many events to attend. It was overwhelming. Slowly I formed something of a schedule and set off on my grand Austin adventure.

I’m here to share with you a handful of tips on how to make the best of South by Southwest should you attend next year and also give you a recap of my experience.

1. If attending the Tech Industry/Interactive Track, be there by Friday.

I didn’t arrive until Saturday night (because I wasn’t speaking until Tuesday) and quickly realized that a lot of good stuff had already happened on Friday and Saturday. I learned from other attendees that the best time to attend the Interactive Track is Friday through Tuesday.

2. Build your schedule around your passions.

Before landing in Austin take a moment to think about what truly interests you in the tech, music, and film space and then seek out programming built around your interests. For example, I knew that I wanted to target events about metaverse technologies, women in tech, and emergent mental health protocols and approaches. I also planned to spend my nights listening to music, so I planned my days as such. I set aside 10 a.m.-5 p.m. for learning and discovery, and 5 p.m.-midnight for music and film.

Simple keyword searches in the events list helped me find exactly what I was looking for. Also, the daily SXSW digest email helped ensure I didn’t miss any superstar keynote events.

You can also throw out this entire idea and just wander around Austin and you will, without a doubt, find some random, crazy SXSW event to drop into. Because there are just. so. many.

3. Hit the brand activation spaces early.

I like to think of the brand spaces as tiny circuses. There’s wacky (but good) food, music, people flying around on stages, wild costumes, goofy pins and merch, the works. I was able to access a couple of brand spaces (Amazon Prime/Lizzo, Doodles, Cheeto’s Hands-Free, Porsche, Slack) and all of them had completely different vibes and different goodies to grab. But their supplies don’t last, so try to hit these earlier if you can.

Also, these spaces are a good way to see how in-person experiences can merge with technology, giving you true experience design.

Questions I asked myself as I was experiencing each unique area:
1. How did they build the flow of the space?
2. How did they capture your info in a non-intrusive way? Because they always want to capture your info.
3. How did they use food, merch, and entertainment to heighten the experience while remaining on-brand?
4. How did they incorporate the latest technologies into their space?

4. Digital Business Cards

Save trees and fanny pack space by skipping printed business cards and going digital! This was a huge improvement to my meeting-people flow. Instead of fumbling around in a pocket, I just grabbed my phone and let folks scan my business profile QR code. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t have their phone immediately on them. And it made things hassle-free for the receiver as they now didn’t have to keep a card in their pocket and worry about losing it.

I used the HiHello app for free, but there are many other apps and services available for both iOS and Android.

5. Wear walking shoes and bring a water bottle.

I know you’re probably rolling your eyes at me for this weirdly maternal tip, but do not ignore this one. You will be walking everywhere. South by Southwest engulfs all of Austin, and it isn’t a small city.

So, this is no time for red-bottomed heels and martinis. Wear your favorite, most comfortable walking shoes and bring a decent-sized water bottle and use it. It’s easy to get dehydrated and blistered after just a single day. And with so much to see and do you don’t want holes in your heels ruining all the fun.

With these pearls of wisdom, I bid you good luck and a fun time at your next SXSW. Please comment with any tips and conference tricks of your own below!