SXSW in Austin is a very crazy time. There’s a lot of people running around, startups, entrepreneurs, agencies, marketers and VCs. It’s a fantastic time for networking and for getting involved with everything that’s going on in the online market and social media. The interactive part of the conference has really grown in the last couple of years. To get the most from SXSW, you have to have a game plan. Like any other event, you need to plan ahead and be ready. Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve learned after decades of attending conferences for how to get the most out of an event.
1. Have a game plan. Identify ahead of time what you want to get out of this conference. Are you looking to find an investor, are you looking to network, are you looking to find other marketers, are you looking to find a client? Identify a goal.
2. Create a calendar early. Make a calendar of the meetings you have going on just for SXSW. If you’re going with a group, then make it a shared resource. For example, I like to create a Google Calendar and invite the folks that I go with to my SXSW calendar. You can share different events that are going on, things that you will be attending, as well as share the knowledge of the different things that are going on. There’s a lot of events going on at SXSW.
3. Register for events early. Things will get sold out. Look at events on Eventbrite, LinkedIn, Facebook, and register for them ahead of time. Even if you’re not sure if you’re coming, register anyways, you can always cancel later. You don’t want to be left in a situation where things you are interested in are already sold out.
Check out this site with a summary of events.
4. Start networking before you get to SXSW. Look on LinkedIn and see if there are folks you’d like to meet at SXSW. Schedule meetings before you get there. There’ll be a lot going on. Reaching out to folks ahead of the craziness will help you get the most of your time in Austin.
5. Get your marketing collaterals ready. You will run out of things at SXSW, so plan ahead. Order business cards, order T-shirts, order things you want to give away. Order them ahead of time and ship them to SXSW so they’re waiting for you when you arrive to Austin.
6. If you’re going to be giving out trinkets to folks, make them memorable. The fact is, there’s a lot of things being given away at SXSW, so you want to stand out. T-shirts are always popular, and everyone always wants another T-shirt to wear to the gym. The challenge is that they take up a lot of space. Other things to have your brand on that might be a great thing are hand sanitizers. Especially at events like this, everyone wants to have a little hand sanitizer — so why not have your logo on one? They’ll probably use it at the conference and afterwards, so people will see your logo; they’re small, and they’re not very expensive. Another idea is a nice pen, with a stylus. It’s a little bit more expensive, but people are less likely to lose a nice pen with a stylus. You always need a pen in your purse or bag.
7. Bring a battery. You’re going to be on-the-go the entire day. Your phone will die. Bring an external battery to make sure that you always have the juice for your phone or your iPad. Here’s a battery that I like to use. You can find it at Amazon.
8. Bring a bag. Ladies, small purses are useless at SXSW. You’re on-the-go the whole day, you’re networking, you might want to take some notes — bring a bag, don’t be shy, you will be thankful.
9. Things to put in your bag. Here’s a list of must-haves for SXSW, for your bag. It’s almost like your SXSW survival kit. For the ladies: bring a pair of flat shoes. Put them in your purse/bag, and if your feet give tired, you have options.
Put together a small first aid kit because you never know what might happen. Make sure you include some Advil and ibuprofen, some vitamin C, hand sanitizers, band-aids, maybe an alcohol wipe just in case, you never know.
It’s sunny in Austin, so make sure to bring your sunglasses. A few other small items to include would also be: a water bottle, a little note pad, and some gum.
10. Grab an extra shirt for the evening. There’s a lot of alcohol at SXSW, especially in the evening. It’s great to wear the brand of your company on a T-shirt or a polo shirt, but in the evening, if you plan on drinking, you may consider removing your branded logo T-shirt. The fact is, we’ve all seen those videos or pictures of people doing silly things at a party. The worst things that can happen from your perspective, is your logo’s all over it. So whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small startup, leave your T-shirt at home if you’re heading out to the bar.
So here you go! A list of some good ideas for how to make SXSW a successful venture. Just remember, don’t wait until the last minute — plan ahead. There’s no such thing as being overly-prepared.