I’ve just come back from the festival mecca of all festivals — Austin, Texas, my college days haunt and home to South by Southwest (SXSW for short or, for those hipsters who’ve been, just “SouthBy,” just because). In the 27 years that SXSW has existed, it’s beginnings as a music festival has rapidly grown to encompass both film and interactive events, the latter of which has even overshadowed the music portion of the festival. It makes sense that this happens in Austin — halfway between either coast, in a city known for it’s eclectic music scene and colorful creativity. This festival is so big, you attend by the topic — music, film, interactive, interactive AND film (they go on at the same time) or, if you’ve got money and Red Bull to spare, you get the platinum badge that encompasses the whole ten day enchilada.
I was exhausted by just Interactive (SXSWi).
There’s a lot to tell you about. So much so that it’s going to take several posts just to get it all in. Not to mention I’m in the midst of a site redesign, so I’m bringing traffic to a work in progress but, as they say, it is what it is. So much to say, so little time to say it before I move to the next thing. Here are a couple of SXSW truths that became self evident.
This is a networking event, first and foremost. I know, I know; you have to beg, justify and promise the world to get the opportunity to attend SXSW — especially if you’re in higher ed. Of course you agree to attend every session even slightly relevant to responsive design. But SXSW is just as much, if not more so, about the people who attend. It’s the cutting edge, folks, and it’s highly likely the game changers in your field are attending this event. GO FORTH AND MEET THEM. I can’t tell you how many people I would never have met had I stayed with a group of coworkers, choosing sessions by consensus. It’s incredibly important to be present and involved in the conversation — and you need to be outside of your comfort zone, talking to people who do amazing things. This is the conference for doing just that. Don’t be afraid to peel off from the group and meet up later for drinks and session swapping.
Buddy up. Okay, I know this sounds like I’m totally recanting my first point, but I swear this is different. The sheer number of offerings at SXSW is practically overwhelming. Try to find a SXSW veteran (bonus points if they’re a local Austinite) who can tell you what not to miss and what to avoid at SXSW. Having that insider’s knowledge allowed me to leverage my experience and make it more about owning my experience at the festival, rather than letting the festival pwn my experience. I should also note that I didn’t hang with my friend all the time, which also allowed me to mix it up and meet new people.
Do or do not; there is no plan. Sometimes you’ve got your heart set on a session and you can’t get there — too many people in line before you, too far away from where you’re standing, whatever. Sometimes it’s like cable TV — 600 channels and nothing on that you want to watch. Or sometimes you’re so focused on what you’ve planned to do that a detour can completely derail you. Take a breath and try something else. I stumbled into a couple amazing sessions and while, on the surface, they weren’t specific to what I do, there was information and takeaways which were highly relevant to me in one way or another. Go ahead and plan your day, but be ready to take the detours, too. You never know what you’ll run into.
These boots were made for walking. Or else. I walked, on average, five miles each day I was at SXSW. Not only are sessions spread throughout many venues (oh! and lots and lots of lines), but much of my walking was often in the evening, after the sessions are over. That’s when parties, people, and magic happen. Sore feet seriously take away from the fun, so I’m really happy I packed for comfort. You see just about everything in Austin, and SXSW is an extension of that casual approach. Likewise, it’s always good to have a back up in case of rain — a change of clothes stashed in a friend’s close hotel room or a rental locker if your home base is too far away to hit during the day. Be prepared, and be comfortable.
Revel in the unexpected. Some things just happened by magic. I met quite a few people whose work I really admire, and had some amazing conversations with complete strangers. The punchline here is that sometimes I didn’t realize which was which until after the fact. Really. It was only after talking to this fabulous person named Samantha that I discovered it was the very same Samantha Warren responsible for styletil.es and badassideas.com, both resources I frequently use. (Yeah, that.) Or how about the time I got asked, “You’re Robin2go, right?” Twice. Apparently these things happen at SXSW. It’s a bit surreal. Surreal, but nice.*
Follow up with the follow up. Yes, I had an amazing opportunity at SXSW, and there are a lot of fresh connections in my brain. Now ask me what I did this morning: I made sure I followed up. I looked for them on Twitter, and I connected on LinkedIn. (Yes, this is also different than how I’ve been using LinkedIn previously. Post on that forthcoming.) Now the next step is to continue to connect.
And also get some sleep.
*William Thacker, Notting Hill