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SXSW Series: Top Ten Things I Learned at South By Southwest


So I am on the plane flying away from Austin and SXSWi and headed to Tampa to join up with my family. I learned some interesting lessons during my first trip to South by Southwest and I hope you find them useful.

(On Thursday I will write a more in depth article about one of my particular observations, so watch for that.)

*** I must give much much credit for this post to my BFF ElizabethPW. Many of the ‘backchannel” conversations we had while walking around Austin, during our morning coffee time or afternoon downtime are reflected in my list below. ***

Top Ten Things I Learned at South by Southwest:

1. All the cool kids call it “South By”. I still call it either SXSW – and I love hearing Nicky Hajal @tumbledesign actually prononunce that – or “South By Southwest”.

2. I really need to learn how to pack like Jonathan Fields. I brought too many clothes and way too many shoes. Next year: Two pairs of my favorite jeans,  a few shirts, a hoodie and two pairs of shoes.

3. You don’t need to by a pass. Chris Guillebeau shared this tip with me in January and because Chris really knows his stuff, I followed his lead. And if SXSWi keeps it’s current setup (the subject of Thursday’s post), you can get a ton of value and only experience minor inconveniences without a pass.  Conversations can happen everywhere, connections can happen everywhere and a sxswi badge does not enhance either of those experiences.

4. Set up the how/when/where of connecting with important people BEFORE you arrive in Austin. I missed seeing some people I really value just because I didn’t coordinate beforehand. Once the bedlam of South by Southwest begins, tracking people down becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

5. Be very solid about who you are before you arrive in Austin.  The air around SXSWi can get very thin and very heady. Are you the kind of person who is going to run from party to party or chase after Gary V.’s flash wine tastings or not. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are missing something if you aren’t at this place or connecting with these high profile people. It can be tempting to starting doing things or behaving in a way that isn’t reflective of who you truly are.

6. Know your limits. Because I am primarily an introvert, I have to know what I can and can’t do if I want to protect my energy. Even extroverts can get overwhelmed by the crazy schedule of events. Being aware of what you need to keep your energy and be your best, most authentic self is critical in such an intense environment.

7. Introduce yourself. I can’t tell you the number of parties/events I attended where people did not do this. They stuck with their crowd and didn’t open their energy to including new people. It doesn’t take much to smile and make contact.

8. Be kind. There are two heroes of my sxswi experience that I will thank privately because they, like me, are introverts. They are so well connected and were incredibly kind to introduce me to people, finagle invitations for me to closed parties and check in with me from time to time. I tried to be kind to others with the limited time/contacts I had. Being kind costs nothing and means so much to the recipient.

9. Most of the public parties are not designed for connecting and conversing with people you don’t already know. This makes me sad because that is the one thing I heard people craving over and over again. BUT if you know these mega-parties are loud and often dark, you can set your expectations accordingly.

10. Sometimes when you meet the people you know online, they are way WAY better than you even imagined. And sometimes, they totally suck. I experienced both. It was a great reminder that people can put forth whatever personality they want to online. The only way to determine it’s truth is to meet them in real life.

Bonus: Have a roommate or core person who really gets you at this event with you. It is overwhelming at best and being able to decompress and debrief in a completely transparent way is critical.

Those are the biggest takeaways I am bringing home from South By Southwest. If you have questions about it, ask away. I can’t promise I know the answer, but I will do my level best. 🙂

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