SXSW Newbies, this post is for you. I have a group of friends going to SXSW for the first time this year, so thought I would write a little post for you who are attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX.
My first SXSW Interactive was in 2002. I’ve been to a total of 4 – including 1 while VERY pregnant (I don’t recommend this, btw.) The conference has changed DRASTICALLY in the last 12 years since my first time attending. I can’t say it’s all bad, but I do miss the days where not a lot of people knew about this event, and where you could show up 5 minutes before a session and actually have a chair to sit in.
What is SXSW Interactive
SXSW Interactive is a technology conference in Austin, TX offering over 800 sessions.
Let’s get into this. What do you, the first time SXSW’er need to know about you the event? Let’s chat:
Tips for SXSW First Timers
1. SXSW is HUGE
Yes, this may seem like a well DUH, but seriously it’s CRAZY town. The event has grown by leaps and bounds. That being said, you need to PLAN. Me, the NOT planner – hates this. Keep reading to help formulate your plan.
2. Choose Your Sessions Wisely
In the early days, you could choose which events and sessions you want to go to and hop from one place to another. Not so much anymore. The sessions are in NUMEROUS locations, NOT just the convention center. SXSW utilizes several hotels downtown and across the river to hold sessions. Yes, this allows them to accommodate the huge crowds, but what it doesn’t do – is let you easily access all of the sessions you might want to see.
Honestly, I would choose maybe 3 sessions scattered throughout the day. Leave plenty of time to get to a session early because if you aren’t there early, plan on standing. The last time I went to SXSW, I stood or sat at the back against a wall every time.
3. Keynotes are Where it’s At
Of all the sessions I’ve been to, the MOST memorable have been the keynotes. Watching Frank Warren talk about Post Secrets back in 2008. Hearing Sarah Lacy interview Mark Zuckerbrg (awkward). Blake Mycoskie talking about the art of one-for-one – OR Tony Hsieh talk about Zappos – the list goes on and on… Try to be at the keynotes, there you will get why you are there.
Know how you are going to get from one session to another. Some of the hotels, sure you COULD walk to them but honestly you will be walking a lot – consider using the SXSW shuttles.
Staying in a SXSW hotel is great, but good luck! These rooms sell out QUICK. All hotel rooms in Austin, TX SKYROCKET during SXSW – especially those down town. I’ve stayed everywhere, close by – far away – and most recently with relatives since thankfully we now have family that lives in Austin. If you plan on partying, just make sure you budget in cab fare back to the hotel. Oh, partying…. let’s talk about the SXSW PARTIES.
6. SXSW Parties
Back in my 20’s *sigh, the days of cluelessness* – I thoroughly enjoyed the SXSW parties. Big companies put on these amazing parties that at one time were the highlight of SXSW for me. There was the fire dancers, the freak circus show, the amazing Google party, the VIP RV… People there is serious money put into the parties for SXSW, and that said there are some SERIOUS partiers at SXSW.
Parties for me depend on who I am with. If you are going with a group, yes – go to the party. By yourself, it’s total lame sauce unless you want to be hit on by awkward guys.
As I was saying in #4, make sure to budget in cab fare. Taxis are the best way to get to parties, or walking – but as much as I love Austin, there are some shady areas.
My friend Mel and I can tell you about partying SXSW style. Actually we can’t. We have made a vow to not discuss SXSW 2008. (Love you Mel! and the VIP RV.)
7. What Tech to Bring to SXSW
I’d ditch the laptop and just bring your tablet. Laptops can get heavy, and seriously as much walking that you will do – you don’t want to carrying a heavy bag.
When conferencing – I typically bring a messenger bag. It’s easy to carry around, will carry a lot of stuff and then just keep a wristlet in it. Ditch the purse, nobody’s got time for that!
MAKE SURE TO BRING A POWER STICK! This is the Anker Battery Pack – it will charge your phone 4-5x, bonus: this battery pack let’s you charge more than one device (so charge your iPad as well!). Believe me, you don’t want to be without your phone, this will ensure you are charged.
Ladies, leave the heels at home! Plan on bringing flats. I bought a pair of these Puma flats for CES – and they were a God-send! They were comfortable for the miles and miles we walked each day in Vegas. No complaints, most definitely worth the buy. Plan on walking a lot. Setup the Moves App to find out how much you are moving.
9. What to Wear to SXSW
Keep it casual. Jeans, leggings and those of the such are best. Remember there is a good chance you will be sitting on the floor often, so save the dresses for the parties. Austin is a VERY laid back town. You can go just about anywhere in jeans and flip flops.
10. What to See & Where to Eat in Austin, TX
Remember, SXSW is crazy town so anything you want to see – plan on a wait. A few things I suggest to people visiting Austin:
The Congress Bridge Bats – Watch over a million bats fly out from under the bridge. Yes, it sounds weird – but it’s amazing. My favorite location to watch the Austin bats is the top of the Ramada parking garage. We go get a Starbucks, and get parking validated. Go to the very top, sip your Starbucks and wait. The bats fly from March – November.
South Congress is by far my favorite area to just walk. The shops are unique and eclectic. There’s a food truck park (CREPES! Get the CREPES!), as well as a super fun candy store – Big Top Candy Shop. Amy’s Ice Cream is amazing – as well as Home Slice Pizza.
Magnolia Cafe – This is our favorite joint and the only place we will wait 45 minutes with 4 kids to eat at. It’s GOOD, affordable food and is open 24/7. There are 2 locations – call ahead to check the wait.
Momoko’s - If you like bubble tea, then Momoko’s is your place. My husband and I try bubble tea every town we visit, and have NEVER found anything that compares to Momoko’s bubble tea.
There you have it. Your 10 tips for SXSW newbies.
Go to lunch with random people. I was invited for a tag long lunch several years back and one of the guy’s is still someone I follow along with on Instagram. It’s fun to meet random people and have virtual friendships and SXSW is a great place to start those.
Have a great time. Embrace the crowds. Make memories. Enjoy SXSW and indulge yourself in Austin!