Survival Tips For South by Southwest 2010

We’re less than one week away from the 2010 edition of South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, TX and I thought I’d put together a bit of a travel & survival guide on how to really do this year’s conference. Last year I wrote a blog post with some insights and since this is my second year going, I thought I’d bring up some old tips and include some new ones:

Don’t forget to bring clean underwear!

Okay, that’s not the next point I want to make. But, there are some things that you probably don’t want to forget. Keep in mind (as Aaron Brazell wrote in his post) that you should “pack lightly”. You’re going to be spending the entire day on the move from session to session to events & parties. Don’t bring what you don’t need. But there might be some essential things that you shouldn’t forget:

  • Chargers – don’t just bring one unless you have a universal multi-product adapter. Bring your phone, computer, and camera chargers with you throughout the day so you won’t miss a thing.
  • Surge Protectors – No conference is prepared for the onslaught of technology. You’re not going to find enough electrical outlets near where you want to be. Safe bet is to bring a surge protector and share the outlet with some new-found friends. Good ice breaker, yes?
  • Camera batteries – bring plenty of ’em – this goes for those of you who will be bringing a Flip camera or some other type of video equipment. Don’t forget to charge them up every night. Lots of stuff going on so you better not miss a thing!
  • Business cards – I’d say that 9 out of 10 people that go to SXSW each year is trying to get something out of it…whether that’s meeting people or learning from the panels. Regardless, you’re going to meet a lot of people there so you won’t remember all of them. Bring A LOT of business cards. And when I say “a lot”, I’m not talking about a handful. You know that the business cards usually come in boxes of 250, right? Well you might want to bring half of them, especially if your goal is business development.
  • Comfortable shoes – for one, you’re going to be at a conference for five days and you’re going to be walking around all the time. You might find a few minutes to rest somewhere, probably at the blogger lounge, but you might want to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. My advice is don’t try and look really good by having those Armani shoes. Stick with sneakers – you are at a tech conference, after all.
  • Wi-Fi Card – While I suggested this last year, I think that it’s still a good idea, but keep in mind that you might not get a signal. Most definitely you’ll be unable to get on the conference wi-fi because of the thousands of people trying to do livestreams, twitter, interviews, photos, etc all at the same time. But if you have an EVDO or wi-fi card, you might stand a better chance.
  • Jacket – last year was a bit cold and a jacket was warranted, but in looking at the weather thus far, it seems it’ll be sunny with a high in the 60s and the lows in the 40s. An umbrella might also be needed just in case.
  • Money – You’re at a conference so things aren’t going to be free. Sure, you get into parties and events for free, but you might need to save up some of those dollars to help pay for drinks and, most importantly, your cab ride back to the hotel.

So how do I survive?

First of all, make sure that you know exactly why you’re going. If you’re going to make business connections, then don’t hide in your hotel room. If it’s for marketing and business development, then make sure that you’re always carrying around the tools you’ll need to make an impact. People at SXSW are friendly and open to making new acquaintances. Remember to brush up on your 30 second elevator speech because that’s pretty much all the time you have. And if you see any of the influencers you’ve been trying to reach for a while and follow on Twitter, Facebook, on their blog or any other medium, then just approach them. I’ve found that I’ve made many new connections by just walking up to them and saying “Hi” and striking up a conversation. Now it may work differently for you, but you might want to look at possibly talking to people like they were casual friends rather than pitching them. Yes, it technically is a business conference but it’s not billed as the “spring break for geeks” for nothing.

Make sure that you go to my.sxsw.com before you get to Austin to see what panels are happening. Map out your route of attack but don’t expect to stick with that game plan. The one guaranteed thing that will happen at SXSW is that your plans will all go out the window. You’ll find that you’ll go to some panels and make some new connections, but things can come up unexpectedly and you should remain fluid on what you do. If you think something else will help you accomplish the goal you set out for at SXSW, then make sure that you follow through.

Drink lots of fluids (particularly water) and make sure that you have an opportunity to eat because the way SXSW operates, you won’t have time everyday to take care of getting  sustenance – there’s always something happening.

Lastly, make sure that you’re following the Twitterstream, blogs and location-based services for all the latest things happening at SXSW. This includes using services like FourSquare, GoWalla and Brightkite – because that’s the way to know just who is where and what parties are the ones to be at. And not one to talk about the parties because you can definitely learn a lot at SXSW to take back to your company, but you should always find the ones you really want to go to – but don’t feel like you must go to the ones with the long lines. There are better ones at SXSW with no lines and you’ll be thankful since you’ll be able to hear and talk to others. Oh, and make sure you’re aware of flash mobs that might happen each night – never miss one moment of the action.

If you’re going to be at SXSW, make sure that you let me know…I’ll be there and would love to meet you!