10 things I learned as a first-timer at SXSW Interactive
For the first time in my professional career, I traveled to Austin, TX to be with my people. Creative, tech-y, outside-of-the-box thinkers, makers and world shakers. Everyone who I talked to before I headed northwest (to South by Southwest :D) told me to expect different things. Interestingly enough, almost all of the things I was told were true. I learned some great things that will forever change me, and enhance the way I work, but I also had to learn how to navigate the conference culture. This is what I learned in just a few days.
1 — You will become immersed in the culture before the week is over.
On occasion, I kept hearing myself refer to the conference as “SouthBy.” At first, when I heard the locals do it, I was totally the side eye emoji face, but after a while, it stuck to me and I was starting to sound like an Austinite. A few people mistook me for an Austin native a few times. (I proudly told them that I held it down in H-Town). After a few days, you pick up the conference lingo. You acculturate. You become SXSW.
2 — You will wait in epic lines.
Forever lines. Lines that wrap around buildings and hallways and escalators. Lines for badges. Lines for music. Lines for food. Lines, lines lines. There are so many lines for everything. Although unrealistic, I never want to be in a line again. Someone actually created a startup for that purpose to serve SXSW. They were cute little wizards. Great idea for the place.
3 — You will wait in epic lines and sometimes the panel you waited for will be so shitty you’ll question your life choices.
You’ll get mad because you waited in line, and the panel was described far better than it was executed. You’ll start to question your judgement because you quadruple booked your panels to have backups and somehow you hand-picked the worst one of the bunch. You’ll also keep thinking to yourself “My co-worker _____ could do a really good panel on…”
3a — You’ll be super pissed when you see that someone actually uses clip art in the panel you waited in an epic line for.
…and you’ll quietly walk out of that panel…as you should.
3b — You’ll also have to swallow your anger when someone tells you that storytelling is now “words on top of pictures.”
*Side. Eye. Emoji.*
3c — You’ll be thankful for the SXsocial app when you have to make new plans.
There were a few times where I conferred with the SXsocial app. It was a lifesaver for the conference. If I left something I originally planned for, I could look for something new in the area, and I could generally change my plans pretty easily without derailing my entire day.
4 — You will wait in epic lines for good panels and restore your faith in humanity
Brené Brown? Restored faith. Science of viralty panel? Restored faith. Research behind emojis? Can’t believe someone studies it, but restored faith.
5 — You’ll want to explore Austin because everything will catch your attention.
If there’s a Ferris Wheel in the middle of downtown, you must ride it. If there’s a magic show in the middle of the night on 6th, you must watch it. If you see your friend walking down the street you must embrace them and join forces to have a fun night. Everything will catch your eye, and anything can happen.
6 — You will meet people you never expected to meet. You will chat with a lot of strangers, and get to know a lot of people. You will like some of them, and you will never have to see others ever again.
I consider myself an introvert. I internalize my thoughts and feelings before I spit them out. I’m anxious when I have to meet groups of new people, and exhausted after I’ve spent time in a big group. It surprised me most that my curiosity about new people often overshadowed all of that. I was able to talk to just about anyone I looked at. I now have a few new friends from across the country on Snapchat and Twitter, and I connected with some others in my field. I’m most proud of that.
7 — By day 2, you’ll learn to go with the flow, and have a lot of back-up plans.
I referenced this earlier, but I learned quickly that I needed to have at least 4 back-up plans and a back-up plan to those plans. There are so many people who want to do the same things you do. So if you weren’t early to a session, chances are it was full, and you needed to roll with plans B, C, D and E.
8 — If you tweet (and hashtag), they will come.
Everyone is tweeting. It’s hashtags galore. So if you tweet, companies of choice will find you. My favorite experience with this was Airbnb. My place didn’t have wifi in the actual apartment. When I tweeted about it, Airbnb, asked me some questions, and a friendly Airbnb-er named Chris hand-delivered a hotspot to the place I was staying — all because of a tweet. I know Airbnb is under a little fire, but that really won me over. Their social listening skills were really good, and their efforts meant that I was able to hop online to finish some work from the office and catch up on a few shows and articles before heading to bed that night.
9 — By day 4, you’ll feel very ready to go home.
I was. There was a point where I was a little bit burned out. It became creative overload for me. I was sick of walking, of talking, of being sick and apparently allergic to Austin (I couldn’t stop sneezing). I wanted to eat something other than pizza or bites from a food truck. I wanted to see my husband and sleep in my own bed.
10 — You’ll be thankful for all of what you learned (and what you didn’t).
It’s true. There’s so much that made me feel alive — that made me feel like I was in the right place, in the right position, doing the right work to fulfill myself. There’s so much I still don’t know, though and I’m glad not to know it. I would have no where to grow, and nothing more to learn. That’s a strange place to live and I’m glad I still have more to learn.
Overall, my trip was out of my comfort zone. There were so many times where I felt like I was dislodged from my comfortable place, but I’m glad I had the opportunity, and I’m glad that my boss saw the value in this for our team. This was something I needed to do, and something I want to do again. I’ll just know how to do it better next time.
These are things I learned about the culture of the conference, but I learned a lot more about social media, content development and publishing, what makes a good presenter, and tons of other topics. If there’s anything else I learned it’s that in-person, authentic connections are what make the world go ‘round. So if you’re willing to learn together, you can always email me, and we can chat about the good stuff I learned over lunch, coffee, or drinks if that’s your style. My inner introvert doesn’t mind.