Just back from attending my first South by Southwest, and it was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be, only better. In no particular order, here are the things I learned or had affirmed:
You can’t do it all – Heard that warning 100 times leading up to SXSW and it was absolutely true. Just pick what you’re going to do and commit. This is double true for the Event Planning Chicago (a.k.a. parties).
(Some) Panels are Great – Choose wisely, and choose items you don’t know much about. If you’re an SEO expert in an SEO panel you’re likely to be bored. Go to learn something new, but don’t hesitate to bail if it isn’t good.
Best Part of Panels is Afterwards – Panels are more than good info, they’re a place to connect with people who share an interest. If you watch a panel later online, you miss the hallway discussion about it afterwards.
People trump Panels – However, if you have a chance to do something with a group of cool people at the same time as a panel you wanted to see, choose the people. The panel videos may not be as good as the real thing, but the connections you make with people in small groups are the best you’ll have.
Support your Hometown – Maybe this is just a personal thing, but I try to attend every panel where someone from Phoenix was speaking.
Meet your Friends, Hang with Strangers – Phoenix was awesomely represented at SXSW, and it was great running into the local crew everywhere, but I wanted to meet as many new people as I could. If you connect with someone new, hang out with them for a while, meet their friends, and work out from there.
No Fear – On a related note, don’t be shy to talk to people. Step outside your comfort zone if necessary, and just do it. I’m not a shy person so this isn’t a problem with me, but I met several people who were nervous or downright afraid to talk to someone they liked or admired online.¬† Of those who went up and said Hi, I don’t know anyone who was disappointed.
Parties are Overrated – Some were fun, some were not. Wasted a lot of time trying to chase the “best” ones. Better strategy would be to pick one or two, go with a group, and just hang out and enjoy it.
Work + Play = Ugh – I was doing some work related stuff while I was there, in addition to trying to enjoy the conference. Big mistake. One or the other would work, but doing both just got really frustrating. Decide why you’re going and don’t clutter it up.
Need More Electrons – Spent far too much time camping near outlets trying to get my device(s) powered back up. Next time will bring an external power pack that I can charge overnight and use to leech power from to keep my iPhone and other things alive.
Eat on the Run – There is great food in Austin, but I didn’t get to sample nearly enough of it. If I had a good group headed out for a meal I tried to join them, otherwise I ate something on the go. The restaurants were so packed that a meal could be a good 90 minutes (or more) out of a day that I already thought was too short.
BLACHOOOO! – I have a strong immune system and rarely get sick. I popped vitamins and tried to eat healthy. I still got just nasty sick on the way back. They call is “SXSW SARS” and it comes from so many people getting in one place and swapping their local bugs like trading cards. I collected the whole set. Prepare for this, and maybe take a day or two off work when you get back.
Wish I could have attended some of Film, and stayed for Music, but that likely would have killed me. Definitely worth the effort, and hope to be back agains next year.