Making the Most of #SXSW: How to Prep Like a Boss!

by Jeannie Walters

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This will be my tenth journey to Austin for the South By Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSW) in March. It’s a crazy few days of social media, digital marketing, internet rock stars and barbecue.


Whether you’ve been many times like me or are just heading there for the first time, here are a few things I’ve learned about how to make the most of it.

1. Plan ahead.

The amount of content presented is overwhelming. If there are sessions or speakers you absolutely want to see, make sure you know when and where well in advance. Plan your route (cabs, pedicabs and shuttles are often hard to come by) and get there early. The sessions fill up way too quickly now, meaning several people get to stand in line and hope someone abandons their seat to get in.

2. Let the spontaneous guide you.

While this may seem like the exact opposite advice of planning ahead, it’s an important other side of the coin. Weird things happen in Austin. Cabs don’t show, the party is too crowded, the session speaker stinks. Go with the flow. If the session you were excited about stinks, get up and find something better. Sometimes hanging by the food trucks is where you meet the best people.

3. Be a people person.

SXSW is crowded. There is no escaping it! The best thing to do is meet people. I have met fascinating people this way. And some not so fascinating, but either way, chatting with someone is so much better than just standing there getting frustrated. Which leads to my next point…

4. Don’t be a jerk.

Maybe you ARE important, I don’t know. Maybe you are the most famous blogger I’ve never heard of. But you can’t really move without bumping into someone who thinks they’re more important.

Trying to stake your claim by being a jerk is never a good move, but at SXSW it seems magnified. Talk to everyone as if they are important, because they are. Don’t try to outshine who your talking with, but help them shine.

5. Have fun.

SXSW is really is a great place to have fun. Austin is full of amazing tacos, barbecue, beer and music. Enjoy it! Don’t wait in line for a lame party when you could duck into a bar down the street and enjoy a local musician. Find ways to enjoy the city without driving yourself to madness.

[Tweet “#SXSW is crowded. There is no escaping it! The best thing to do is meet people. -@jeanniecw”]

I always get something unexpected from SXSW.

It’s not always business. Sometimes it’s reinforcing a relationship I’ve only had virtually by connecting in real life. Maybe it’s an inspiring story from a speaker. Sometimes it’s learning from another entrepreneur at a very loud party. It’s never quite what I expect, but I keep coming back for more.

What about you? Have you attended SXSW? Will you be going this year? Let me know in the comments below. Or better yet, connect with me on Twitter! We’ll have some tacos.

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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