South by Southwest Interactive is less than 10 days away, and the buzz is building about an event that showcases Austin, TX as a tech mecca. More than 25,000 entrepreneurs, innovators, geeks and investors from around the world will crowd into downtown Austin for a week’s worth of panel discussions, speakers, competitions, networking events and more. You can see the full conference schedule here and my picks here.
It’s a lot to take in. But there is no better place to get a sense of what’s next and new, and who is making it happen. Remember, SXSW is where Twitter and Foursquare got famous.
Here’s what I’ve learned about navigating the event, as a participant and presenter in past years and this year as a member of the advisory board that determined the lineup from among hundreds of amazing possibilities.
1. No badge? Come anyway. There are plenty of Meetups, networking opportunities and side activities, including the March 7 SXSW Startup Crawl starting at Capital Factory -- a free tour of downtown area startups. Drop in on ffMASSIVE hosted by ffVC on March 9, Women 2.0 events on March 8 & 11th, or join the Good X Global Summit over at City Hall on March 10.
2. Don’t be overwhelmed by the schedule. Get the conference app and tag all the sessions that interest you, even if the times conflict; you can make the decision on the spot, and it’s great to have a backup if a particular session is overcrowded.
3. Make the most of after-hours events – search Plancast and Eventbrite for “sxsw” and let your network know you’re coming by updating your profiles on LinkedIn, Angel List, Facebook, etc.
1. Get a Twitter app for your smartphone and use the conference hashtags (#swsx #sxswi) to tweet and track panels, parties and people you want to meet. (check out Tweetbot , Echofon and Twitterrific.)
2. Set up a group text for the people you want to stay connected with during the conference.
3. People still use business cards, even at an ultra-digital event. Make sure yours has your Twitter handle, and consider adding a QR code linking to your contact information, websites and social media personas. (A smartphone business card reader makes it easy to add notes about people you meet.) For all-digital business cards, check out LinkedIn’s app and newcomer Icon.
5. Even though the SXSW conference badge has a QR code with all your contact information, write your Twitter handle on it so people can instantly connect with you.
1. Get everywhere early; the badge line at the Convention Center can take up to two hours, and sessions can quickly reach capacity. Everyone will want to hear former vice president Al Gore, for example.
2. Charge your devices every chance you get. Bring your own hotspot; the Convention Center WiFi can get overwhelmed by such a connected crowd.
3. Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll be walking a lot among venues. Carry a sweater or light jacket; it can get cold in the Convention Center. Drink a lot of water, use hand sanitizer, and get some sleep. Who wants to get sick at SXSW?
Austin has a great food scene. You can walk to the G’Raj Mahal Indian food trailer in the Rainey Street bar district or El Sol y La Luna Mexican restaurant on East Sixth Street. Check out Eastiside hotspots: Blue Dahlia and Buenos Aires Café and Southside food truck faves: Touch of Fire, Torchy’s Tacos and Conscious Cravings. Barbecue Lover? Anthony Bourdain raves about Franklin Barbecue and JMueller.
SXSW Music and Film continue for several days after Interactive ends. With plenty of parties and unofficial events, you don’t need badges to enjoy them. They have the same creative intensity as Interactive, just a different crowd.
See you in Austin! Got questions? Ask me! @VSpotMom
Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of ffVC portfolio company VolunteerSpot – the leading time-saving coordination tool that makes it easy for people to join together and make a difference in their communities and schools. VolunteerSpot connects brands with the most influential, active moms in local communities while they are feeling good about doing good. Connect with Karen on Twitter @VSpotMom, and give her a shout if you’re heading to SXSW!