Prep for SXSW Like a Pro

So you’ve secured a badge to SXSW… now what? Planning a trip to the festival that covers interactive media, film, and music can be exciting and quite overwhelming. Here are a few tips and tricks to help ensure your time is well spent in Austin, Texas.

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Manage Your Schedule:

This is one of the most important facets of SXSW. There are hundreds of sessions, keynotes, film screenings, music performances, and events to navigate in such a short amount of time. Putting together a schedule of what you want to see at what time can suddenly take you back to your college days and scheduling your first semester of classes.

  • Prioritize what is important to you. Find events that fall under your badge type to get you started. For example, if you’re a social media enthusiast, try looking for sessions lead by Facebook, Instagram, brands you follow, etc. Favorite some of these events on or create a separate spreadsheet so you can keep track of event dates, times, and venues. Always keep track of venues so you know exactly where you’re going in case of a time crunch. You will also notice when looking at the event or session that it is categorized by badge type. If you’re looking at a Music Badge event and have an Interactive Badge, know that people with a Music Badge get in first, then Interactive will take any left over seats.

  • Find some events you want to personally attend. You’re most likely attending for business purposes, but if one of your mentors is giving a keynote, try your best to be in attendance. SXSW is incredibly unique in the fact that you can literally attend a session about how to grow your Instagram account, then see Mark Cuban give a speech on small business a couple hours later. (If you plan to attend a featured speaker's session, arrive EARLY -- like a couple hours in advance if you’re set on seeing him/her. Chances are when it’s a huge name, thousands of people plan on attending, too.)

  • Give yourself time to breathe. While there are SO many events and sessions to choose from, give yourself time to take in the main event. One of the coolest things about SXSW is the amount of stuff ALWAYS happening. While on your way to the next event on your schedule, you may miss a tent showcasing the newest technology for your industry or an awesome band you’ve never heard of. You’ll also want time to check in on your email, fulfill any client/work obligations you may have outside of SXSW, etc.

  • NETWORK! Take advantage of being at an event where you are literally surrounded by thousands of people in your industry. Chances are, you’ll have something in common with the person next to you in line at the food truck or in the lobby before a session. Be bold and strike up conversation. While people have their own agenda at SXSW, almost everyone is up for networking. If nothing else, it’s always nice to meet someone to discuss the topics at hand of the next event you’re attending. Always have your business card handy.

  • Download the SXSW GO app. This is your mobile guide to SXSW and how you find out about venue changes, read about upcoming sessions, etc. This year, the app includes Event Status. You’ll be able to see if an event is already full, if you need to hurry because it’s filling up, or if there are plenty of seats. There’s nothing worse than running to an event and getting in line only to find out it’s already at capacity. This is a great update that I’m excited to use in 2018.

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Clothes You'll Need:

If you’re unfamiliar with Texas weather, it can change in a heartbeat. One day might be sunny and in the 80s and the next can be rainy, brutally cold, or both.

  • Extra socks. Austin is notorious for having torrential downpours in the middle of a warm day in March. Don’t get stuck navigating through the day in wet socks.

  • Pancho. For the same reason above, don’t get stuck in a storm with no way to keep dry.

  • Jacket. Bring a light jacket in case of dips in temperature, especially if you plan on being outdoors at night.

  • Layers. To prepare for temperature changes, it’s best to layer so you can adjust to warm or cold weather.

  • Comfortable shoes. There is a TON of walking involved at SXSW. Dress for comfort on days your schedule is busy. No doubt that you will want to be presentable (you never know who you’ll meet) but remember that these can be LONG days.

Rainy day in Downtown Austin during SXSW

Rainy day in Downtown Austin during SXSW

Essentials to Bring:

Keep in mind how much you’ll be using your phone, cameras, tablet, etc. to document your days at SXSW. Also note weather changes, long hours, etc. when packing.

  • Extended battery. While you’ll find outlets in some of the venues or lobbies, just know that hundreds of other people will need a quick charge as well. I recommend charging your electronics overnight and bringing a charged extended battery for the day. You can also bring cords to charge your device if you find a plug available, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  • Physical copy of your schedule. You may wonder what the heck I’m talking about, but when hundreds or thousands of people are in one area using local Wi-Fi, data networks, and cell towers, speed can slow down tremendously. I found it helpful to have a printed copy of my schedule, so I could see where I wanted to be without using cell service or my device’s battery.

  • Notepad. Just in case a device fails you and you must resort to old school note taking.

  • Water bottle. When running around Austin, you’ll definitely want to stay hydrated.

  • Advil. Long nights, early mornings, and busy days in between can give anyone a headache. Add in a few margaritas and you’re almost guaranteed a headache. Bring a pain reliever to stay ahead of the game.

  • Sunscreen. If you plan on being outside at music tents or running from venue to venue, it’s always good to be prepared, especially if your skin tends to burn easily.

  • Snacks. If you plan on staying busy through the lunch hour, keep a few munchies in your bag in case you get hungry.

  • Cash. Lines to food trucks, for drinks, and everything in between can be long. Have cash so you can pay and get out quickly. It’s also handy for leaving tips at free events.

Random Tips:

  • Always say yes to tacos. In Austin, tacos are plentiful. Whether they come from a food truck or from a vendor at an event, you’ll want to try a taco at some point. They’re a food group in this city and for a reason.

  • Drink Topo Chico. It’s a carbonated water and Austinites swear it’s a hangover cure. Give a try.

  • Taste Texas barbecue. If you’re a barbecue fan, you gotta give Austin’s a try. It’s famous for a reason.

  • Visit The Driskill. The Driskill is a gorgeous, historic hotel located conveniently on Brazos Street between 6th and 7th Street. The Driskill Bar is constantly voted The Best Bar in Austin. Their 1886 Cafe & Bakery is known for their Texas-sized Cinnamon Rolls, Honey Glazed Fried Chicken, and a great place to stop and get coffee.

  • Give yourself plenty of time to commute. Traffic in Austin with no events can be a bear. Add in SXSW and it’s pure mayhem. Thankfully, Lyft and Uber are back in the city but you’ll still want to pad your schedule with some drive time.

  • Have fun. This is a unique event where you can learn SO much for your career and have a blast doing it.

  • Follow unofficial SXSW accounts on Twitter. If you follow some unofficial peeps on Twitter, you may find out about under the radar shows by big acts. In years past, Drake, Beastie Boys, Garth Brooks, and others have all played unannounced. An account that I follow is @SXSWMF.

Topo Chico & Cinnamon Rolls at 1886 Cafe & Bakery at The Driskill Hotel - Barbecue from Stiles Switch BBQ

Topo Chico & Cinnamon Rolls at 1886 Cafe & Bakery at The Driskill Hotel - Barbecue from Stiles Switch BBQ

Have additional pointers I left out? Feel free to share them with us! I look forward to seeing y’all in Austin!

Ashley LandersComment