I am on the fence about SXSW. It is eye candy, ear candy, brain candy, and it gives me a very big headache. It is the place to be, but you can’t really be anywhere because you are constantly worried about what — and who — you are missing. Stand and try to speak with someone, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone’s eyes skip over your shoulders scanning the room because there just might be someone else walking in the door that they must meet.
Riffing off Dawn’s SXSW tips, here are mine:
- Go lobby. While there are some incredible sessions, there are also duds like any conference. The real learning and connecting doesn’t happen in the sessions. It happens in lobbies, in hallways, in nearby cafes. Yes, you paid to attend, however, you will get far more out of the non-session moments than the formal panels.
- Bring chargers. Dawn points out the dearth of power sources but so far I haven’t found power to be a problem. Just sit down in any hallway, and you’ll find outlets. But next year, think about bringing solar chargers, alkaline battery chargers, and any other options to make your charging more efficient.
- Manage your contact options. I’m using Twitter, Foursquare, and texting as my main methods of contacting and connecting, with email as a last ditch effort. One communications device or application will not be enough.
- Talk to strangers. No matter how shy you think you are, the person next to you may be even more shy. So be the one to break the ice, and just say hello. Start up conversations with the person in line behind you, with the person walking down the hall near you. Smile and make a comment about the long, long walks between sessions or the beautiful sunshine outside that everyone is missing. I met a guy from Belgium as I walked back to my hotel yesterday and got some wonderful insight into how others perceive our country and our conferences.
- Move to the center. Of the row, that is. Stop sitting on the end. If you are going to bother going to a session, don’t prepare to exit the room by sitting at the outside seats. Move in and let the rest of us have a chair. The only reason to sit on the end is if you have a bladder problem.
- Take photos. And upload them. There is something brilliant and beautiful about the photostreams on Flickr and Whrrl and the like emanating from SXSW. Tag the people you know. Share your experiences in pictures. Photos are great for those who are not here and for those of us who are here but missed that person, that scene, that moment. And of course, do an image vanity search when the week is over to make sure nobody caught that clothing failure when you were dancing and singing backup at TechKaraoke.
- Invite others. If you are going to lunch, invite others to join you, even if you don’t really know them. Invite them to invite others so you meet new people. Don’t go solo if you don’t have to, but if you go solo (and aren’t doing it to have some alone time), ask to join a group. Be generous and inclusive.
- Be the connector. I’m spending 99 percent of my time making sure that each person I’m with at the time meets all the other folks I know who come up to me to say hello. Why? Because there are connections to be made, and if you have a lot of contacts, be generous. And if I fail to introduce you to someone when you’re with me, introduce yourself because I probably have blanked on someone else’s name. Or yours.
- Wear comfy shoes. I was in my Merrills yesterday. I’m in sneakers today. To hell with fashion. You will walk for miles — literally — in the week, much of it indoors but a lot outdoors as well. Erica wore non-comfy shoes. Her feet hurt. Get your sneakers, Erica.
- Drink water. And plenty of it. I spike my water with Emergen-C, Airborne and 12 Salts, a natural remedy to boost wellbeing without the yucky crash of energy drinks. Don’t drink energy drinks. They dehydrate you. And if you end up having to go the the restroom a lot because you’re drinking a lot of water, use it as a moment to have some much-needed silence. Thank goodness for bathroom stalls far from the maddening crowds.
What are your off-the-wall tips for surviving and thriving at SXSW?
For the GigaOM network’s complete SXSW coverage, check out this round-up.