Tips for SXSW Interactive 2014

Otherwise Known as Tips for Life

Across the United States and around the world, digital creatives are counting down the days until March when the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival begins in Austin.

What is SXSW Interactive, you ask? Featuring five days of daytime programming sessions with more than 2000 total speakers, as well as a Gaming Expo, a Trade Show, various award ceremonies, the concurrent SXSW Film and SXSW Music festivities, plus tons and tons of career-enhancing networking opportunities, the event can often be a little bit overwhelming. For that reason, we offer a number of tips for registrants to help them make the most out of their investment in SXSW Interactive.

But you don’t have to come to Central Texas in March to gain benefit from these tips. Indeed, much of our advice for maximizing your stay at SXSW doubles as good advice for making the most of your limited time on this earthly plane. Read away and I think you will agree!

1. Have a plan.

We advise SXSW Interactive attendees to spend a hour or so studying the schedule before the event begins. What kind of sessions do you want to attend? Who do you want to meet in Austin while you are at the event? What exactly do you hope to accomplish by spending a few days at SXSW Interactive? The reasoning here is simply — without a plan at SXSW, its easy to get completely overwhelmed by the size of the event.

Such wisdom also holds true for the multi-decade networking event known as life. What kind of things do you want to learn? Where do you want to travel? What kinds of people do you want to meet? What do you want to accomplish during the all-too-brief time that you get for you physical existence? The good news is that even if you haven’t started thinking about these somewhat difficult questions yet, you can start your grand plan right now and you will still be fine.

2. Surrender to serendipity.

At SXSW Interactive, not having a plan can lead to a less than optimal experience. But the existence of a plan shouldn’t prevent you from taking advantage of the numerous serendipitous encounters that tend to make the event so special. If the innovative non-profit leader you have always wanted to meet sits down next to you at the lunch table, then by all means try to talk to her (and postpone attending the 3:30 session that was part of your well-crafted itinerary).

These serendipitous moments also add so much value to our lives outside of the bubble of five days in Austin in March. Perhaps the job of your dreams falls into your lap via a random meeting in the supermarket. Wonderful! Perhaps the significant other of your dream falls into your lap via a random meeting in the supermarket. Even better! But remember that it is better to deviate from your plan when serendipity strikes — as opposed to not having a plan and banking on the s-word.

3. Stretch your boundaries.

For better or for worse, people tend to gravitate to familiar surroundings. This means that at an event like SXSW. the social networking experts tend to stick to the social networking programming sessions. Which is something we highly discourage because registrants will tend to get the most overall value from attending sessions (and networking events) that are outside their area of expertise. To this end, one of the themes for SXSW Interactive 2014 is “explore.”

Life often works the same way. We find something that we like and we stick to it (excluding all new inputs). After all, staying in our comfort zone is a lot easier than the awkwardness of trying something new — and being completely unsure of what will result from the venture into unexplored territory. But you will never discover your full potential if you simply stick to what you have done in the past. Try something new and different! You may like it or you may hate it. But the mere act of boundary-stretching keeps the soul young and vibrant and healthy.

4. Don’t overload on the parties.

With more than 100 parties and social events over the course of five days, SXSW Interactive offers unparalleled networking opportunities. By all means, we encourage registrants to take part in all these after-dark activities. But, we also encourage restraint. Take in too many parties and you’ll burn out in 48 hours. Moreover, you will be too tired to take advantage of all the amazing daytime content that will educate you on tomorrow’s top tech trends.

One would be wise to also exercise similar restraint when navigating the hundreds of parties that come your way in the course of an adult life. Sure, social events provide a tremendous platform to relax, unwind, meet new friends, and re-kindle relationships with older acquaintances. But, be careful not to spend too much energy in this endeavor (else you will be too tired for work and too tired for the kind of self-reflection that a good life necessitates). As always, balance is the key.

5. Wear comfortable shoes!

At an event like SXSW, registrants tend to do lots and lots of walking. They walk from one venue to another. They walk the length of a massive Trade Show. They walk from one restaurant to another. They walk from party to party to party. It all tends to be great exercise — but it also tends to be brutal on your feet. If you aren’t sporting a pair of comfortable shoes, then blisters can restrict your mobility and diminish your fun.

The full enjoyment of life also seems quite dependent on metaphorically comfortable shoes. We have all got a lot of walking to do to make it to our final destination. And, if we don’t have strong foot-ware that will cushion the many rough patches on this long journey, then getting from here to where we are going becomes an even more difficult task. In your quest for Mordor, pack however many pairs (and styles) you need such that life’s ever-present blisters don’t obstruct your progress.

If you would like to read the full list of tips for Austin in March, then please visit the Maximizing Your SXSW Experience page.

Otherwise, see you in Central Texas in about six weeks! And if not at SXSW 2014, then we will catch you at another life-changing event, activity or encounter somewhere in the bright new future that we all are working towards achieving.

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