I’ve attended SXSW Interactive both as a presenter and ordinary attendee several times, and I thought I would share a few tips for making the most of your experience.

  1. Be in the moment: Don’t go to a session and then check out and read email, surf the web, or do work. SXSW is precious. Make the most of your time by being totally immersed in what is going on. 
  2. Power is scarce: It’s hard to find outlets to plugin and recharge all your gadgets. You can usually find outlets around the perimeter of the room. It helps to bring a travel outlet strip, so that if all outlets are taken, you can plug in your power strip, and make more outlets. It’s also good to recharge over lunch, so when you head for a restaurant, don’t forget to look for outlets there.
  3. Conserve power: If you are taking notes on your computer or blogging the sessions, you may want to turn off wifi on your laptop to save power (and to keep your focus on the session, so you don’t start random web surfing.) I usually use my smartphone to follow twitter and email so I’m still connected.
  4. Follow the #SXSWi tag on twitter: You want to follow #SXSWi so that if another session is excellent and your session kind of sucks, then you can make the switch quickly. (or conversely find out if a room is already packed and can’t fit any more.)
  5. Follow the twitter tag for whatever session you are in: There will be a back channel of conversation about the session you are in that is almost as valuable as the primary speakers. SXSW is full of experts, both presenting and in the crowd, and you want to tap into all of that wisdom. This doesn’t violate tip #1, because you are not being distracted by something different, but rather tapping into more of what you are already there for.
  6. Better talks are usually in bigger rooms: If you are trying to decide between two talks, and one is in a bigger room, go with the one in the bigger. Higher quality and well known presenters get bigger rooms, and usually deliver better talks. If there is a highly focused niche topic in a small room, by all means go to it, if you value that particular topic. But if it is choice between several general topics, go with the bigger room.
  7. Talk to the people around you: SXSWi is a social place. The people around you are likely to be very experienced, smart, interesting people. Start up conversations, and make dinner plans with strangers, and keep going until 2am. The wisdom of the crowd is not just an abstract thing at SXSW – it is manifest in the people all around you. Talk to them.