First Timers: Tips For Surviving South by Southwest Interactive 2011

SXSW 2011: Gary VaynerchukIn just one week from now, thousands of geeks, nerds, entrepreneurs, investors and marketers will be converging on Austin, Texas in one of the biggest celebrations of technology, innovation, social media and networking. For over 25 years, the South by Southwest conference has been one of the shining parts of the year that has helped launch companies, musicians and films and in 2011, it looks to only grow from there. Each of the past several years that I’ve been has seen attendance double with more sessions, panels and even interesting keynotes (who could forget the infamous Mark Zuckerberg interview or the failed Ev Williams keynote?). So for many people that will be there, it’s going to be their first time and what I’ve encountered on Twitter are people asking for tips and tricks for getting by – they feel it could be pretty overwhelming. And they’re right. So here’s some helpful things that you’ll need to consider when going to SXSW this year:

Pack but don’t overpack. In the end, you’ll have to carry it all.

SXSW general store

Get to know what you’re getting into. Take heed at the weather on each day and where your hotel or house is going to be. While the entire conference will be held at the Austin Convention Center and also at the Hilton Hotel, you’re going to be doing some walking here and there and it’s not going to be easy – you’re going to be tired after the second day of moving from place to place. But be careful about what you’re also going to pack and lug around all day (and quite possibly all night).

Here are a couple of things that you’ll want to remember and might think are essential:

  • Chargers – you can’t forget these…you might want to think about those specific cords that can be attached to your laptop because, let’s face it, in a tech conference, there’s not going to be enough outlets for you to use to charge all your things. Be considerate to others and if you can consolidate your charges, then do so. But also be smart about finding outlets – if they’re in blogger lounges, session rooms or even in the keynotes, make sure you seek them out if you absolutely need to.
  • Business cards – this is probably the most important of them all. You’re going to meet a lot of people and want to exchange information. Don’t just hope that you’ll be able to use the Bump app on your iPhone, Android or other smartphone to get their information. Hashable is good, but you’re not necessarily going to know where you met them so it’s probably quicker to simply jot some important details down on their card.
  • Comfortable shoes –  you’re going to be doing a lot of walking…a lot. From one session to another and ultimately to the parties. So it’s best to get your feet ready for all this exercise.
  • Wi-Fi card – don’t rely on wireless Internet at SXSW. With so many people there tweeting, uploading, sharing, downloading and communicating using the Internet, during the SXSW conference, the Internet basically takes a holiday. Ironic, isn’t it? It will get better, but just in case, you might want to jump on another network or try some other option – it will probably still be slow, but at least you have something, right?
  • Camera/Video Camcorder – just experiencing SXSW mentally isn’t enough. You’re going to want to record the moment you meet with a famous celebrity, Internet thought leader, record a keynote, session, photograph some notes or just remember something cool. And you’re only going to be able to do that with a camera or video camcorder. Of course if you have an iPhone or really cool smartphone, then that’ll work too. Yes, the same goes for a Flip cam, Kodak Zi8 and a Sony Bloggie.
  • Something to write on – Don’t think that you’re going to be able to type all your notes on your phone and get away with it. No way. Be sure to bring a laptop or a tablet device with you to jot down key facts and notes if you’re planning on attending sessions. And if you’re not, you’re going to want to find something to occupy your time while everyone else is at the convention center.

So how do I survive?


As I said in my tips last year, the key thing here to remember is to always make sure you know why you’re at SXSW. What was the purpose for you being there. If you’re there to party and have fun, then you’re not going to walk away with anything except for a hurtin’ liver. There’s a purpose for everyone being at SXSW – if it’s networking to find a job or to make good business development contacts or even to learn about the latest and greatest in social media and marketing or even to find out what other people are doing in terms of strategic planning and the growing power of the web, there’s got to be a reason for you to go.

Tip #1: Don’t make plans for things that you probably won’t be going to. Yes, that’s right. You can make all the plans about events you’re going to and sessions you want to attend, but let’s face it, chances are that you’re going to find yourself double booked and are going to need to make some sacrifices. What works best for you and your original purpose for being at SXSW should be the deciding vote and if that means leaving a session that you’re so highly interested in to attend an event that a contact you’ve been dying to meet is at, then so be it. Always make sure you’re “wheeling and dealing” and doing what you need to get things accomplished and justify why you were there.

Tip #2: Make sure that you get the lay of the land. I said this earlier, but it’s important to note because the Austin Convention Center is a pretty mixed up place, the fourth floor isn’t accessible from the third floor elevators and the second floor you’ll need to access from the third and so on…it’s a pretty complicated scenario and you’re going to need to quickly adjust and remember how to get from one place to another. Make sure you also keep track of where these parties are too.

Tip #3: Drink lots of fluid and water. If you’re going to go out and drink, make sure that you stay hydrated on something other than alcohol. And while it’s free flowing and it’s basically turned into a bartender’s paradise, you’re going to want to control what you drink and just have a good time. When in doubt, drink in moderation.

Tip #4: Don’t feel pressured to go to all the official parties at SXSW. Sure those are partnered with the conference and are bound to have the most people, but make sure that you survey the party list and if you find one with long lines, then don’t wait, just move on to the next one. By the time you get through that line, one of two things could potentially happen: (1) it will be incredibly crowded and no one will have any fun, and/or (2) it will be over and everyone is going to the next party anyways.

Tip #5: Have the latest apps downloaded and ready to test out while you’re at SXSW. These apps include Twitter, Foursquare/GoWalla, Instagram/PicPlz, Beluga/TextPlus/GroupMe and a reliable way to communicate with your friends and co-workers – don’t rely on using the phone.

That’s about it for now.

Those five tips are going to be pretty useful for helping to get you to survive through the ordeal that is SXSW. If you want more tips and ideas, make sure that you check out my friend, Dave Delaney’s 20 tips for SXSW here.

3 responses to “First Timers: Tips For Surviving South by Southwest Interactive 2011”

  1. Dave Delaney Avatar

    Thanks for including my 20 Tips Ken. You rock!
    Your post is filled with great tips. Nice work.

    I couldn’t help but notice the photo of the Horror movie panel from last year. Were you there for that? I was in the room too. I’m an old school horror fan. I even went to Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors in 1991. Here’s proof:


    Have a blast at SXSW this year. I hope to see you agan soon!

    1. Ken Yeung Avatar

      Hey Dave – thanks for the comment.

      RE: horror movie panel from SXSW 2010, I was there – this was the one where Quentin Tarantino was supposed to have been on the dais, but didn’t show up. I was doing photography for SXSW that year.

  2. Kathryn Yu Avatar
    Kathryn Yu

    If bringing a personal still camera or video camera, review the official photo & video policies before you try to record a panel or keynote.

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