Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, or college students storming the beaches of Fort Lauderdale, the digiterati’s descent upon Austin, Texas for their annual mating ritual marks the arrival of spring. SxSWi is where ideas have sex. Creators, developers, entrepreneurs, media makers, marketers, authors, SoMe types, content strategists and academics show up for five days to seed their theories, launch new apps, pimp their books, learn what works and seek what’s new. There is a willingness to share, a desire to learn, and a need to connect. Oh, and there’s beer, Marguerita’s and ribs, too.
I left Boston this morning on Jet Blue flight 1265 and recognized a third of the people on the flight from their Twitter avatars. Tamson McMahon, Margot Bloomstein, CC Chapman, Laurel Ruma and dozens of others were making their way to Austin. Someone joked, or perhaps was serious, when he quipped, “You know it’s the nerd bird when a flight has its own plan on Plancast.”
What started as a techie event gets more and more mainstream each year. As software and storytelling merge, as technology and marketing become more inter-dependent, as developers and creative types actually speak each other’s language, SxSWi becomes a must attend event. In fact, predications call for more than 20,000 people. (They’ll all be staring at their iPhones and Androids as they walk around, so watch out for collisions.)
The Interactive sessions have gotten so big this year’s event sprawls far beyond the venues surrounding the convention center. Saturday’s lean startup sessions take place at the AT&T conference center way up on the University of Texas campus, while a press corps of journalists deliver their dispatches and content presentations at the Sheraton on 11th.
It presents both challenges and opportunities. There will inevitably be three presentations that you want to see all happening at the same time. You’ll miss out on the sessions that get the best reviews and find yourself sitting through what appeared promising in a description but turns out to bomb in real life. (At least you’ll have Made by Many’s Holler Gram app.)
But if you go with the flow it will all work out.
Here’s how I do it.
I over schedule my day by adding every event of interest to my SxSW Go app, and to Lanyrd (where more people tend to share plans), sometimes four at the same time. I see who else is attending and depending on how much I value their opinions I may let that influence my choice at the last minute. I opt for sessions that are entirely unfamiliar and beyond my technical comfort zone. I don’t worry about offending friends by skipping their sessions. I always go to hear Clay Shirky. And I reserve the right to cast aside all well laid plans and simply join smart people for a conversation on the deck or an outside bar across the street. Also, I try not to consume any alcohol until the official cocktail hour. Of course, that’s just me as Austin’s unofficial cocktail hour seems to start whatever time you wake up.
There is no shortage of other suggestions and ideas, but here are four others you might find useful.
Dan Weingrod: You may need a jetpack
Good reminder that the spread out nature of this year’s conference calls for some extra planning. If you thought it was hard in past years getting from one session at the conference center to the next one across the street, don’t forget that this year you’ll have even more ground to cover. Plan ahead.
Ben Malbon: Seek not what you know, but what you don’t know
Ben has a blog post with his recommendation (robots versus social media). But here are his bullet points. Provoke serendipity by running toward your discomfort zone. Remember that innovation happens at the intersection of disciplines, not within them. Chance encounters with random new people can lead to the unimaginable (including, but not only, wonderful late-night burrito trucks).
Marc Nathan: What should a first time attendee know or check out
No idea who Marc is, but his answer on Quora seemed pretty good. Plucked two of five suggestions to share here. One, stay healthy — after three days, late nights fueled by a diet of Shiner Bock, barbeque and coffee will leave you without a voice a mild case of SARS. Two, bring an open mind and the ability to change plans on the fly. The best experiences are the ones that happen naturally by letting yourself go with the flow and getting to know people you’ve just met.
Barbarian Group: Let’s do this
These veterans share an internal deck, created for employees I believe, on how to take advantage of the experience, people and opportunities. As well as how not to get wasted too early when the night is but a pup.
If you’re here, have fun. If you’re not, perhaps you can plan for next year.
Thanks to Laurel Ruma for the heads up on Barbarian’s deck.