How to have an awesome time at SXSW

The world’s largest interactive conference starts in Texas later on this week. In this post, first published by the IPA, Mike Teasdale explains how to get the most from a trip to Texas.

This will be my fourth trip to South By, which by the way is one of the words you quickly fall into using, along with “awesome”. (Awesome is now so over-used in Austin that its true meaning now rests somewhere between pleasant and nice.)

Awesomeness leads me on to the general over-hyped nature of SXSW. A few times I’ve heard it described as things like “the Glastonbury of tech” – and if Glastonbury took place in a conference centre the size of Slough and bands showed PowerPoint rather than playing, then this would be a fair comparison.
The other truism about South By is that it is so big that no two people can ever have the exact same experience. From 11am through to midnight, there are always about a dozen simultaneous strands of content or drinking that you could be enjoying.

With this in mind, you can’t do everything. But you also have to develop a kind of Zen-like recognition that at any point of time someone is going to be having a better time than you. To be honest, there was a point in my last visit walking back to my hotel in the middle of the night in a Texan shower (i.e. monsoon) when everyone was having a better time than me.

So here are some quick tips:

Shoes. Choose comfort above style. The main conference centre is three city blocks long, by one block wide – but lots of sessions take place spread around downtown Austin. You will walk a lot.
The weather. Early March in Austin sometimes is the last days of winter, sometimes the first days of summer. And regardless of the weather outside, the conference centre air conditioning is set to Arctic chill. Think layers.
Bearing 1 and 2 in mind, try not to lug too much around with you. Do you really need a laptop, charger, phone, power-brick and an umbrella? Well chances are you do, but at some point you’ll wish you were travelling light.
Berocca. The only vegetable you will see is a tiny bit of tomato in salsa sauce, so a few extra vitamins can’t help.
Pace yourself. You won’t. I won’t. But it’s good advice all the same.

Finally, don’t over-plan. Leave enough space to enjoy some random sessions – they will often be the ones that stick in your mind. For instance, I’m still having nightmares about the session on ‘Issues of anonymity and sex-blogging’ that I drifted into a couple of years ago.

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