As a baby veteran of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival with 3 attendances under my belt, I feel it my duty to share with you just how important it is that you add this experience to your bucket list. Some of the smartest people in the world congregate in Austin, Texas once a year to share ideas on film, music, technology, education, conservation and innovation. My brain is on high alert for a week and it’s been one of the most thrilling and exhilarating weeks of my life each time.
Imagine being surrounded by some of the best ideas of the year, the best BBQ on the planet, your favorite musicians, some of today’s best actors doing some rather niche films, a trade show floor full of products you’re actually excited about, and you’ve got a fraction of the awesome that is SXSW. So how do you get to the Mecca of creativity and progressive thought? What do you need to know before you go, and how do you prepare?
1. Get A Pass
You can buy passes which will allow you to attend one area of the festival (Music, Film, Interactive) or you can buy inclusive badges, like Gold for Film and Interactive, or Platinum to encompass all three. If you’re press, you can apply to cover the festival, again, either in one specific area or in multiple. You can even pitch an idea for a talk – for 2015, though. Panel ideas for the next festival come in shortly after the end of the current one. As with most things with SXSW, the sooner you register, the better off you’ll be, especially when it comes to lodging.
2. Find Lodging
This one can be tricky, or expensive. You’ll get the best rate for an Austin hotel if you book through the SXSW site after you register, but you don’t have to stay on the “campus,” which is the surrounding area of the Austin Convention Center. If you stay in a hotel on campus, you’ll pretty much eliminate the need to rent a car, unless of course you plan to explore outside of Austin. However, if you’re looking to festival on a budget, you might consider staying off campus and driving in each day. Most of the parking lots cost anywhere between $8 if you get there early in the morning, and $20 if you get there after 10am. If you can handle the 45-minute drive from San Antonio every morning, you’ll save yourself a bundle in hotel and car rental fees. So decide which is more important to you – time or money.
3. Plan Your Schedule
SXSW has one of the most interactive and intuitive apps on the planet. The user experience (UX) is unmatched by any festival I have ever attended and actually allows for attendees to find each other by checking into events early and leaving comments as the event progresses. It makes networking incredibly easy and even enjoyable. You can plan ahead by looking through the schedule of events, which is recommended to find your outline for the day, but leave room for the unexpected. Have a plan you’re not afraid to deviate from. You’ll have the “must see” conferences, films or concerts, but also remember the power of the people you’re surrounded by and just how fun the SXSW parties are. It’s the people and the opportunities they bring that make this conference what it is. Don’t lose site of that possibility to connect with other world-changing, idea-generating powerhouses. Also, don’t miss the Block Party on the trade show floor. Free booze and food as you peruse all of the tech candy on display.
4. Play, Listen, Laugh, Learn, Drink, Share, Trade, Check In
You’re there! Don’t be afraid of pulling out your laptop or going old school with a pen and note pad. Ask questions at the mic and say hello to your heroes. They expect that at SXSW; we’re all there to have a beer and talk ideas. Use the app. Seriously. It’s not just a suggestion. It can help you organize your day, meet the people you want to meet and see the films, concerts and talks you want to see. Check in everywhere you go with the app so you can connect with people easier. Really talk to people and share what brought you there. What are you working on, what do you do, what’s the best talk you’ve heard? Open up and let SXSW really do its thang. Eat a lot of BBQ. Ironworks is right down the street and it’s delicious. Or if you’re up for a walk and a wait, Franklin’s BBQ is, wait for it… Legendary. SXSW also hands out free food and booze like it’s 1999. Be responsible, but enjoy your socks off. Make sure to go to the closing galas, as well. They’re hosted by respected and funny talents in their field, they have more great food and drinks, and the award winners are some of the most inspirational everyday folks you could ever hope to hear from.
5. Tell Everyone
You’re home. A general depression and malaise will set in now that it’s over. You’ll have to wait another year – unless you meet us all in Vegas for SXSW V2V, which is a start up focused, interactive event with panels, networking and people you want to know. Blog, tweet, and share your experience. The effects of SXSW are best felt when you can bring that enthusiasm back with you and infect others with a sense of opportunity and creativity. You’re the one who’ll be writing a blog like this in the future. You’re the one who’ll light someone else’s SXSW flame. And that’s the point – to connect people. Sharing ideas and experiences that make being a human today even better. Tell everyone.