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How to Survive, Thrive & Make Boston Proud at SXSW

Posted by Devin Cole  March 7, 2012 02:25 PM

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Melissa at SXSW.JPG

The author in her SXSW element!

Photo by Adam Towner

If you've never been to the famed SXSW Interactive conference before, here's what to expect: Spring Fling weekend for the startup set. It's an experiment in wholeheartedly embracing both sides of the "work hard, play hard" equation by innovators from all around the world, all of whom have converged in Austin, Texas for a 5-day marathon of meetings, intellectually stimulating sessions, comfort food, drinks, parties, more drinks, more food, and generally getting their geek on (at more parties). As you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot of sleep that happens at SXSW.

Does that get you psyched up? Good. Now here's how to survive and thrive, showing the rest of the country why they should pay attention to Boston as serious players:

Have a plan & set goals for your SXSW experience

Before heading to Austin, figure out the top three sessions you need to make during the week and the top three people (or brands) you want to connect with while you're there. (It makes the whole experience SO much more manageable, translating to roughly one mission each day.) Then, while heading between those sessions and looking out for those people, make the most of each random encounter. If you're not adding anything to a given conversation, or taking anything from it, politely move on. Most importantly, repeat after me: it's about quality, not quantity.

Local angle: Watch's "Road to SXSW" featuring Boston-based social media superstars (like Jeff Cutler and CC Chapman) dish on their top tips for n00bs. (Also, check out this amazing, inspiring post by Dallas fashion blogger Elissa Stern for the Texas Style Council blog.)

Don't sweat the parties

Everyone obsesses over the parties at SXSW. Did I get invited to enough parties, or the right ones? Should I party hop? How do I get invited to invite-only events? Can I still get tickets to sold-out events? Relax. It’s not high school. SXSW is about connection kismet, and you will no doubt have no shortage of awesome things to do with no shortage of awesome new people, and in a surprisingly short amount of time. As the locals say, "Wherever you are, that's where you're supposed to be." Don’t party- or session-hop just for the sake of trying to do it all, or for fear of missing out. Pick one place, stay there (at least until the group you're with decides to move on), or go have a break/coffee/nightcap/snack/longer conversation with one or two cool people you've just met. Make your own party!

Local angle: You can still RSVP for the Bostinno “SxStreetwise” party, and if you need to employ the buddy system before kicking off the training wheels, check out this directory of Bay Staters headed to SXSW.

Plan to recharge & download

Battery drain isn't just something that affects your gadgets, cameras, and laptop. YOU need to recharge, multiple times a day, every day during SXSW. Make sure to plan for down time at least twice throughout each day (which usually start around 6 or 7 am and will last until 2 or 3 in the morning), otherwise you'll burn out on Day 2. Take naps. Change your clothes. STAY HYDRATED, and that means water, not just coffee, JOLT soda, Kombucha tea, or whatever else you think will keep you alert. While you’re sitting still, or in your hotel room, is a good time to download photos/videos from your camera/phone, and to download your mind: do a good, old-fashioned brain dump. Take that handful of new business cards and add those people on LinkedIn (you’ll have too many to remember at the end of the week – I’ve gone home from SXSW with a literal shoebox full) and don’t just use the default invite message. Remind each one of where you met, add some context, and give a concrete way or reason to follow up after SXSW is over. Follow them on Twitter.

Local angle: Use Boston-based startup Vsnap to send quick, free 60-second video updates back to the team at home. It’s way more efficient than typing up recaps by email, easier to check in regularly, and shows everyone how you’re “taking one for the team” when, probably by Day 3, you look like a bedraggled version of yourself.

Dear gawd, be comfortable. And bring an umbrella!

Sure, you want to look your best and make a good first impression, but you'll also be sitting, and walking, and standing, A LOT. Shuttles will be full. Cabs will be nonexistent. You'll hoof it across Austin and back, especially with the panels spread throughout the city this year. Your dogs will be barking before early afternoon if you don't wear comfy shoes. Plus, the forecast shows a good chance of rain, at least through Saturday, so pack for the weather.

Always. Have. Cash.

Pedicabs are your best friends in Austin, for getting around and for meeting random, awesome people. Many of the pedicabs are free or sponsored by visiting companies during SXSW (and the rest are usually pay-what-you-can), but they don't take plastic. Cash might be totally analog, but it's a must.

Local angle: This video, “SXSW Like a Local” is a must-watch.

Be on time: CENTRAL TIME.

Austin is one hour behind Boston normally, and on Sunday we’ll all set the clocks back for Daylight Savings Time. Figure out how to switch the clocks on your devices and calendars on your way to SXSW, and plan for the changeup so you don't miss anything. Nothing like having to explain why you missed the ONE session your boss wanted you to be at, justifying your $600+ pass, because your clock was incorrect!

Local angle: Last, but certainly not least, follow these #BWP Connectors (and Honorary Connectors) who are all headed to Austin this week:

Melissa Massello, (me!)
@Stealfinder @Swap

Morgan First,
@Morgan1st @SecondGlass

Tyler Balliet,
@tylerb @SecondGlass

Trish Fontanilla,
@trishofthetrade @vsnap

Jarrett Goetz, Four Elements Media/StartupBus

Christine Liu, America’s Test Kitchen/Startup Bus

Melissa Massello is a Skee-ball, DIY & bargain shopping addict, a die-hard, lifelong Boston girl, and a BWP Connector living in Somerville. She's also the founder of Shoestring Magazine and the co-founder of The Swapaholics, which was acquired by (based in the South End) in 2010, where she now serves as GM, Events.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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