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how to survive SXSW/Wrap up, tips for n00bs

4 minute read
by Alex Hillman

I’m not going to blog about what i did at SXSWi07. What I am going to do is give you a couple of simple tips for how to make it through the week and get the most out of it.

Packing Tips

First off, before you even leave, you have to pack. Here are some things that I discovered would have been handy:

  • Power Strip. I actually packed one of these at the last minute and im sure glad i did. plugs are at a premium, both in the hotel rooms and at the convention center. you’ll need to recharge your stuff…so why not share.
  • Umbrella. It was strangely rainy in Austin this year. You never know whats going to happen. be prepared
  • Clothing wise: bring extra socks, comfortable shoes (you’re gonna walk, a LOT), and as few tshirts as you can. this place is free-tshirt heaven. I came back with twice as many shirts as i packed, and my suitcase isn’t thanking me.

Planning your panels

Once you’re there, attend any n00b panel they might be providing. Find out who’s there as a veteran that is expecting you to ask questions about what to do. And then…ask questions.

Don’t overplan your itinerary. In fact, try not to plan it at all. You arent going to make everything anyway, so you are better off finding interesting people and following them to panels, and then engaging in discussion afterwards. you wont learn much in panels, anyway…its all about the conversations that they start for you.

Taking Photos

On the same vein, dont take pictures if this is your first time. I saw lots of people stuck behind a camera the entire time and therefore, IMO, missing out on the REAL benefit…the actual interactions. Besides…there were something like 60,000 photos uploaded to flickr in the course of 5 days…if you spend some time searching, youre GOING to find yourself, and the places you were…odds are, these people take better photos than you anyway 🙂

How to make friends

talk to everyone. everyone. random weird dude on the couch (at a geek conference, there’s a lot of those) might be a developer for your favorite web app. See one of your internet heroes across the room? go introduce yourself. don’t be creepy, just say hi, and start asking them questions or telling them how they have affected you. remember, they are people too. they have ideas, passions, and they like sharing and knowing they make a difference.

DONT do what I did, have a brief lapse in judgement, and say something like, “i know more about you than you know about me” to jeremy keith. its weird, uncomfortable, and not as flattering as it sounds in your head.

DO have meaningful conversations. I got to explain my mission to rejuvenate Philadelphia’s interactive community with people who really care. I got to find out what they had done in their local communities. I got to brainstorm ridiculous ideas, and great ideas.

Meet your heroes

Ask your mentor out for dinner/drinks. Again, don’t be creepy…but something like “i know you’re busy but i really think this conversation should be kept going. what are you doing for dinner?”. If you do it as a group of a few people, it can help cut some of the discomfort of being in a booth at a restaurant with Ryan Carson and a few of the coolest guys on the dev team at Weblogs Inc.

Bring enough biz cards

For the love of god, bring LOTS of business cards. I burned through a run of 250 without trying. You should leave with the same amount of business cards as you came with…since its a trading action you should be striving for. And, as I intend to spend the next couple of days doing, keep in touch with those people. Drop them an email, thank them for talking with you/drinking with you/dancing with you/carrying you home from the bar. These are your peers. You should know them, and stay in touch with them. Utilize tools like Conferenceer and Flickr (and the internet in general) to help you match faces to names as you recall who each card belongs to. If I can find some time, i’ll be building a tool to help you do that for the next conference (unless I can get Jacob to build it into Conferenceer).

All of these ideas really go for any conference, meetup, barcamp…whatever. I’ve given some SXSW specific tips but on the whole, these can apply anywhere. If all goes as planned, I’ll be at Web2Open next month and will hopefully be presenting material based on some of these tips, with a focus on “how to lower communication barriers and really interact with your global peers” or something like that.

But for now, that’s my SXSW wrap up/tips for n00bs, I hope that n00bs can find this next year when they are planning.

One more HUGE thanks goes out to the Viddler guys for putting me up in their hotel room. BFF forever.

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.