How to Get the Most Out of SXSW

SXSW 2012Has it already been a year since South by Southwest 2011? Each year, we get a little bit wiser about how to have a successful SXSW weekend, and we thought we would pool the collective Janrain wisdom for some tips and tricks that would keep you productive and having a blast for the entire run of the conference. So, here are our top tips for getting the most out of SXSW.

1. Know who you will know, before you go

With more than 20,000 attendees, you probably know a few people who will be there. The worst thing about such a huge, sprawling conference is that you only find out about all your contacts you didn’t see after the conference is over. Connecting with your network before you arrive is a critical first step to a productive time in Austin.

Post out to your social networks to learn who is coming into town, when, and where they will be partying. Look to meet up with them during the casual get togethers that happen throughout the week. Don’t let them sway which sessions you attend – there is more than enough mental stimulation to go around, and it gives you something to review with friends when you re-connect later.

Livefyre Austin BashIn fact, Janrain wants to make sure you have an inspirational late night conversation at SXSW on Sunday night, as sponsors of Fyrebash with our partner, Livefyre. Check out the details and get yourself on the list here.

2. Make a plan, but prepare for serendipity

It’s always a good idea to have a plan in mind to get the most out of a conference. Spend some time reviewing the must-attend sessions and workshops for yourself. Get to know the schedule, and keep some critical sessions sacred.

But, inspiration comes from unexpected places, too. So, if you are a marketer, attend one or two sessions led by developers working on new open standards. If you are a gamer, attend a session about the emerging social justice work happening on social media. Allow yourself to see the technology space, which you work in every day, from another perspective.

Of course, some of the most compelling reasons to attend a live conference are that casual conversation that you strike up in the hallway, or that late night brainstorm for a new product that comes to life on your fourth beer. Don’t be so beholden to your agenda that you cut short the opportunities for serendipity to strike. Pad your schedule knowing that you will want to take advantage of those odd moments where a spark of a new idea is starting to form.

3. Come healthy, leave healthy

South By can feel a little bit like ten weeks of summer camp crammed into ten days. Long days, late nights, open bars, breakfast meetings, no breaks for lunch, crashing in a friend’s hotel, waiting an hour for dinner, and even the bright sun of Austin (at least for us Portlanders) can all take its toll on your stamina and your immune system.

Make sure you are feeling rested and ready for long days before you arrive. And while you are hoofing between 6th Street and the Convention Center, make sure you stay hydrated with water. Go easy on the caffeine (including those free Monsters from the promo truck), and pace yourself with alcohol. If you are staying close enough, consider even taking a nap one afternoon.

4. Plan time to follow up after

There are lots of talkers, and few doers. You want to be a doer, and that means taking all those interesting conversations, introductions, chance encounters, high fives, and inspired late night philosophical banter from the conference, and translating it into meaningful relationships afterward.

Set aside 2-3 hours per day for the rest of the week after you get back home to follow up with the people that you have met, and find ways to keep the dialog that you started in Austin, continuing until SXSW 2013. You’ll come back next year with deeper relationships, a better finger on the pulse of technology, and the appetite for even more great experiences.