How to Do SXSW...

SXSW started as a music festival but it has completely transformed over the years.  Now the two-week festival has become the incontestable showcase for the hottest trends in tech across industries.

If I had to candidly describe South By in one word it would be - overwhelming. I mean this in the most endearing way of course. Like the holidays are with when you go home to spend it with family.  Hectic, but it pays dividends as an experience.  

And as Interactive Week kicks off so do the meetups, parties, happy hours, and dinners that are almost never-ending.  This is in part the charm of the festival and what makes it unlike anything else in the world.  The city of Austin literally transforms right before your eyes into festival you can spot from space (an exhibit showed me one year).  

For us digital health enthusiasts, we have to be extremely strategic in how/when/where we spend our time to get the most out of SXSW.  This is in part because the distractions can be many and extremely interesting, yet their purpose may be aligned to one of the may other tracks happening at the same time.  So in order for you to leave (hopefully after Music Week) feeling that you got the most you could out of the festival programming and networking opportunities, I thought to share some helpful suggestions for South By first timers and South By faithful that have led me to have an amazing experience in the past.  

Suggestion: Business First

Tip: Plan, plan, plan  

  • Connections: This is an adult Disneyland for the tech-minded and business professionals alike.  It is easy for that business contact you wanted to meet with to find the West World pop-up and think to go in there instead of meet you across town.  So make sure you reach out to those you've decided are a priority to meet up with BEFORE (if you are reading this - that means now) you travel out.  Ask them to do something "Austin" like grab a coffee and a walk on South Congress or Lady Bird Lake trail.  
  • Companies: Know who you would like to meet, find which events (official or unofficial) they are sponsoring/attending, and plan your day around it.  If you are with a team - divide and conquer.  
  • Competitors: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles..." - Sun Tzu.  Make sure you plan on checking out what your competitors are doing at the festival.  This is a great opportunity to get insight into their products, team, and marketing.  If nothing else this will help you better understand what to next year for South By
  • Alliance Opportunities: I can't emphasize this one enough.  This is your chance to think outside of the box when you connect with fellow digital health professionals.  A ton of partnerships starts with a simple introduction at a program or event.  Maybe you can offer them a referral to a customer, mayyybe they can offer you one.  Perhaps you'll find a way to work together to get that one customer that could make the whole festival effort worth it.

Suggestion: Learn Something New

Tip: Scratch that curiosity itch

  • Programs: There is no shortage of amazing topics and persons discussing intellectually stimulating content at SXSW.  Find that gap in your schedule that isn't the strongest and go into a panel session on a subject you want to learn about.  Don't stray too far though.  If you get caught in multiple off-topic subjects you'll likely have missed that 'one' person should have met or the opportunity to learn something you could have taken back to the team.  
  • Explore: Take the opportunity to check out some of the amazing exhibit halls and pop-ups when you need a mental break.  Be careful not to spend long in there though.  I've found it to be like a vortex for interesting things that I have no professional connection to whatsoever.  And if you do sign up for that promotional sweepstakes prepare to have no less than one million emails between now and SXSW 2019
  • Twitter: Look for the official panel or sponsor hashtags when you are in sessions.  See what others are learning by searching for it, but also take note of who is there and what they do.  [Let this be your reminder to update your Twitter bio]  SXSW is a great place to take part in stimulating conversation - you just have to know the right places to find it.  
  • Take Notes: Don't fall victim to the inevitable tired head that one may experience after information overload from multiple panels and running on fumes.  Take a few notes on panels you attend so you can remember the most interesting points you took away.  This will allow you to recall that one panel you went to three days back when you run into the speaker at another Health track event or meetup.  

Suggestion: Take It All In

Tip: Have Fun

  • Walking: Be assured you will be walking miles a day and you will likely be standing the majority of it too if you aren't in a panel.  This is a harsh truth of South By and one that if you are mindful of prior you can be prepared for. 
  • RideShare: Yes, we have Uber and Lyft back in town this year.  Demand for these will be out of this roof so make sure your destinations are as close as you can to one another.  Also, carry cash on you so you can take a bike taxi - they are super nice and offer fair prices to zip you across town.  Last but not least, I would implore you to download RideAustin our local non-profit 501(c)3 rideshare alternative.  On top of your rides being tax deductible as charity donations, they also provide fair wages to their drivers and donate their proceeds to other non-profits like Keep Austin Pets Alive and Habitat for Humanity.  
  • Food: There's a reason we are famous for it - try it all.  A few rules to keep in mind... 
    • In Austin, there is a taco for every meal - even dessert. 
    • BBQ is king. There is a reason why everyone raves about it here.  Just whatever you do, don't order a simple sandwich.  Get the ribs and brisket!
    • Don't have the pizza on 6th street/Rainey.  I've been this guy, don't be this guy. Too many good options out there to stoop to this level even if it is late.  Go to 24 Hr Diner after hours.
    • Try the food trucks.  There are some amazing ones out there if you hunt them down. Boteco and Paper Boy are two of my favorite.  
    • Cash - You'll zip through every line if you are the one who can pay in bills
    • Use this as your reason to explore the city.  Don't just eat in downtown. Most of the fun spots that will really be an experience are outside of the convention center bubble.
    • Breweries have some of the best bites in town

Make sure you have a South By experience that leaves you motivated and excited about the possibilities when you leave.  There is a reason this festival has gotten has become so popular and it is for you to balance the fun with the things that will make you better for having attended.  

Let us know your tips for having a successful SXSW experience are! 

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