By Lauren Jisoo Kim (Events Coordinator, Women 2.0)
This year, I had the opportunity of flying south with the masses for the annual tech pilgrimage to SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. As a recent graduate and new hire at Women 2.0, I had never gone to SXSW before, but thought I had a general idea of what to expect based on past attendance of a couple of music festivals and tech conferences.
I was half right half wrong: Yes, it is akin to what I imagine a professional Burning Man would be like; Hell no, I was not prepared.
Here are my tips for the next trip to SXSW Interactive:
Before SXSW Interactive
Tip #1 – Set up a SX Social Account and start using it a week before you land in Austin.
Part of the allure of SXSW for startups is the ubiquitous presence of big brands literally everywhere you go (bathrooms, seriously?). The challenge is scoring face time with one of them. Start adding everyone from a company you’d like to work with as a favorite’d person on your south by social app a week before the event, then message them to set up a meeting while you’re in Austin.
I didn’t do this till Friday night, but I messaged about 100 people from 20 different big brands and got about a 5-10% reply rate. The odds aren’t high, but they’re greater than your chances of running into that key person from that company you’d love to work with, but just can’t get a hold of. Fast forward a week after SXSW and I’m still receiving the occasional reply from that first night’s blast.
#2 – Share Itineraries with Your Friends.
Some people swear by RSVP sites like RSVPster, but the truth is, no one really wants to go to even the hottest party by themselves. Use GroupMe, Google Docs, whatever the desired interface for you and your pals – just do it! Not only will there be a higher likelihood of seeing pals along the way, but they will also educate you of parties you didn’t know about and maybe even have an inside connection to get you a spot on some coveted VIP list.
#3 – Host an event.
Hitting up parties hosted by others is one way of meeting people. What’s even better? Have them come to you. You’ll have to start planning logistics way early (aka now), but it’s worth it for the number of high-value connections you make at your own events.
#4 – Familiarize yourself with the layout of Austin.
At the very least, look up the distance between the furthest two consecutive events you plan on attending. Think of it this way, 30 minutes walk to that super hot Cindy Gallop, Future of Porn, session? Better leave your previous destination at least an hour earlier so you can get an early spot in line, because there will be a line.
#5 – Pack walking shoes! No, actual walking shoes.
I ditched my Nike walking shoes and opted instead for black, leather platform boots thinking it would be a good compromise of form and function – big mistake. My feet were sore by the mid-day the first day. Don’t get me wrong, your feet will hurt no matter what, but you’ll be glad you brought some comfy kicks when you see all the women in heels start tottering around noon. If you must compromise function for form, I recommend erring more on the side of sneaker wedges rather than platform boots.
#6 – Expect rain of biblical proportions. Seriously.
Call your hotel ahead of time to make sure they give out umbrellas. If not, pack one ASAP. Dress for fair to warm weather with the exception of a at least one extreme thunderstorm. If any non-California born and bred readers have suggestions of how to do this, let me know.
While You’re There
#7 – Catch up with old friends.
Yes, you’re at SXSW to meet key new contacts, but where else can you find 50% of the people you’ve been trying to have coffee dates with for the past year all within walking distance. Hang with your besties if you must, but better yet catch up with those you keep having to cancel on for whatever reason.
#8 – If you’re throwing an event, check out the venue ASAP.
Communicate early and often with your co-hosts and sponsors to confirm logistics.
#9 – Go on a pedi-cab tour of Austin.
While fully exploring Austin without getting in on SXSW madness is impossible and unwise, find a moment to yourself to take in the beautiful city. For me, this was during a brief 4 hour stretch I had to myself where I took a pedi-cab to get from downtown to a venue south of the river. For $20, I got the wind in my hair and saved about 20 minutes of walking. Win win.
#10 – Relax, have fun, and make friends.
This being my first proper “business trip”, I expected that every event I went to should be treated as a networking opportunity. Very shortly after going to a party at The Driskill the first night and hounding every stranger nearby (a tactic formed in my newly college-graduated, guerilla job-seeking days not too long ago), I received some sound advice to tone it down a bit. Indeed, I learned networking isn’t about a cut and dry exchange of services, it’s about creating an opportunity for a potentially long-lasting and mutually-beneficial relationship. Create a good first impression by building a positive memory. Note: this can include being backstage at the Roots with your boss, and listening to Ra Ra Riot at a private mansion party with future collaborators, be creative!
#11 – Follow up, follow up, follow up.
While you were having fun, you might have forgotten you were working all along. Try your best to follow up at SXSW, but if not, definitely do it when you get back. That desk-tall pile of business cards isn’t going anywhere without you following up with each one. Get to it! Oh, and remember that nice little memory you built while you were “Relaxing, having fun, and making friends” (see directly above)? Now is a perfect time to bring it up with your new friend.
About the guest blogger: Lauren Jisoo Kim is an Events Coordinator at Women 2.0. She holds a BA in Development Studies with concentrations in East Asia and Anthropology from UC Berkeley. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and women’s issues. In her spare time, she attends hackathons. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurenJisoo.