I recently saw an infographic about 10 “awesome” things you should do at SXSWi and felt it was lacking several key ingredients of not only the conference but the Austin experience (side note: celebrity stalking is done much easier in LA and NYC with actual celebrities). With that, I present to you the 7 mandatory things you must do at SXSWi. And yes, all of them are legitimately worth doing.
1. Learn from worthy sessions
I was a bit surprised to see that the first reason for going to SXSWi on the infographic wasn’t about learning. Even those of us who troll the internet all day and are on top of the latest shiny object can’t know everything, every start up and every technology that is coming down the pike. Even in the world of digital, while it’s great to be a specialist, there are experts on subjects that you can learn from. Study the panels, presentations and sessions before going and pick those that are of interest to your company and/or clients. Pro tip: Some people re-hash the same presentations over and over again at conferences, so if you’re conflicted between two sessions try searching the titles and speakers first; you may find that this is just repackaged material.
2. Network like crazy
There are roughly three thousand people descending onto Austin and needless to say this is the ultimate networking opportunity, whether it’s to meet agency types, brands, recruiters, start ups, journalists and freelancers. There are a plethora of people so don’t forget your business cards, because you’re going to need them. And don’t play the “I need to meet [insert popular Twitterer here]!” because chances are you’re going to have a very meaningless exchange with them. Sure, it’s nice to appear in the party Flickr albums with them, but realistically it’s not going to help your career.
3. Talk to Saul Colt
Saul is throwing one of the biggest parties at SXSW, but that’s not why you should meet him. “The Smartest Man in the World”, aka the “Mayor of Twitter” and Graduate of the Handsome Boy Modeling School is one hell of a word of mouth marketer. Forget the loud duds, Saul’s the real deal and should be someone you connect with. And unlike a lot of the big talkers and “celebrities” in the social media world, Saul actually gets his hands dirty and does the work (as him about his SXSW guerilla marketing stories and tips!).
4. Buy a Beer
There is a ton of free booze at SXSW. And that’s great if you’re in college, but the local bars that aren’t giving away free stuff because they’re sponsored by startups and agencies need your dollars too. This is the town’s Superbowl, and ignoring them because you want to save two bucks (Yes, the beers in Austin aren’t priced like they are in major markets) is insane. Go local and support these pubs.
5. Take a Walk Down SoCo
Speaking of going local, just up the road from the conference center and newer downtown area, across the river on South Congress (SoCo) is the “cooler” part of Austin. Take a walk down Congress and enjoy some vintage clothes shopping, food trucks, restaurants, artisan shops and a lot of what makes Austin weird (but cool). Also, if you’re planning on getting a tattoo from Award-winning South Side Tattoo it’s best to schedule in advance as they’re usually booked.
6. Go To Bed Early
This isn’t me being your Dad, it’s you maximizing your time in Austin. Nothing good ever happens after midnight, especially after an afternoon, dinner, and evening of free booze. You’ll regret that last drink or taco truck enchilada the next morning — TRUST ME.
7. Tip Your PediCabs
Sure they might be sponsored, sure they might be hipsters, and sure they might not get you there as fast as a car ride, but the hard working women and men of the pedicab crew deserve a tip. They’re a treasure trove of information about the area and can tell you where to check out to avoid the crowds and are part of what makes the town cool, so don’t be cheap on ’em.
BONUS: If you’re interested in making the most of Austin, be sure to tweet at and meet Spike Jones. He might even give you a copy of his book about word of mouth marketing!
There you have it — seven (ok, eight) solid things to do at SXSW that will leave you a more enriched person and your company better off having sent you. Any others to add that I missed? Leave ’em in the comments.