1. Plan your panels… but be adventurous.
SXSW interactive is a cross-section of the interactive world. This makes the panels incredibly diverse. Try to get the most from the panels in your specific area, but also attend a few outside your field you think might be helpful. If you’re a developer, try a user-experience panel. If you’re a designer, a content strategy panel could give you new skills. And don’t forget to network in the sponsors’ lounges or hit the trade show to meet vendors.
2. Consider time and distance
The panels are spread across the Austin Convention Center and nearby hotels, so remember that it could easily take 10 to 20 minutes to go between meetings and panels. Depending of how far your next panel is, you may want to head out during the Q&A to make it on time.
3. Dress comfortably
Between the distance you’ll walk and the time you’ll be standing at events, parties and waiting on lines at restaurants and venues, you will definitely be walking and on your feet a lot. Don’t repeat my mistake of wearing a nice pair of patent-trim Oxford lace-ups to my first SXSW 3 years ago… It was as painful as it was unforgettable!
4. It’s a conference not spring break
SXSW is known for its parties, and you should definitely hit more than one a night to network with the stars of the interactive world. Make sure you RSVP if possible to all the parties you want to go to. But don’t go crazy! Remember, you’ll have to wake up the next day to attend the panels and get the most out of the conference. Take vitamins several weeks before the event to ward off the flu and colds. You’re going to meet a lot of people, and some of them might be sick. I caught the flu during my first night in Austin, but got a healing hair cut and complimentary beers from the friendly folks at Birds Barbershop. This retro, modern, rock-n-roll inspired spot delivers top notch service and cuts. Did I mention the free beers?
5. The internet is your friend and Twitter your concierge!
You’re at an interactive conference, so make sure you know how to use your toolbox. All the official events will be posted at SXSW’s official site. But there are plenty of other can’t-miss events published in other sites like Meetup and Facebook. Make sure you check these sites regularly. Also save a custom search in Twitter for SXSW and check it often. If there’s something really cool going on, you’ll find out there. It will also tell you what events are trending and help you find the most popular venues and parties.