Every year, thousands descend upon Austin, Texas: music geeks, film geeks, and then the rest of us – tech and marketing geeks. After hearing stories of this event for years, I decided to embark upon my first SXSW Interactive.
My first day was a bit of a culture shock. I’ve attended in many conferences, usually focused on a particular niche, and I expected the same sort of dynamic.
Lesson #1: SXSWi is a beast unto itself.
I got lucky. Being an early riser, I made it to the first sessions, on digital marketing and mobile, quite early. Those sessions are held way across town. SXSW is huge – and therefore, it is quite spread out.
Lesson #2: Get there early.
Long Lines in the Rain
I hung out in the mobile marketing sessions from 9:30 until about 11. When I walked back outside, I was shocked. There was a line down the stairs and out the door to get into these sessions!
Lesson #3: Dress for wind and rain.
It was also pouring the rain. I waited in the rain and crowded onto a shuttle back to the convention center. For the rest of the afternoon, I failed at attending sessions. There were lines wrapped around buildings – lines that continued long after the sessions had begun.
Lesson #4: Think outside of the session box.
So with 20,000+ people attending SXSWi, it’s a basic fact that I won’t get into all the sessions I’d like to see. My new strategy is to pick two, maybe three sessions, and strategically plan around those, understanding that I’m losing a part of my day to standing in line and making friends with those around me. But, it’s not all about the sessions at SXSWi. Companies and groups have set up tents everywhere, and there are exhibits and food crawls and start-up events. It’s time to think outside of the session box and explore everything else SXSW has to offer.
What I’m noticing is that everyone fits in and everyone is friendly and excited. The attendees are very international and everyone is willing to discuss the latest tech and the craziest marketing ploys.
Today I’m better planned out and, and an hour early, I’m sitting here typing outside a venue. I’m ready for all weather and have backup plans for everything.
SXSWi is an experience. It reminds me of CES, in that it is overwhelming and a bit of a behemoth. A lot of information, a lot of smart people, and a lot of crazy marketers trying to launch the next big thing.