On many people’s wish list of experiences is going to SXSW in Austin, Texas, USA.
If you haven’t been before it can seem really overwhelming, confusing to know how to get the most out of it, and how do you balance learning with networking and hustling.
When you do some pre-planning of activities and sessions, reaching out to connections and registering for events before you get to Austin, then it makes the festival much easier to take in and go with the flow.
In 2020 this is my fifth SXSW, where I’ve travelled with delegations and groups as well as independently, so you become more confident and clear about expectations, knowing you need to allow for moments of serendipity and opportunity.
With a number of people asking what SX is really like and for hints and tips, as there are many traps for new players, plus lots already written on SXSW, this blog focuses on what to do before, during and after this year’s festival to get maximum enjoyment and return on your investment.
So you’ve registered, booked accommodation (hopefully close to the Conference Centre and main venues as it can get really busy for Ubers, Ride Austin and Lyft) and you are eagerly awaiting mid-March for your journey to Austin for a festival that by all accounts is mind blowing.
First thing is that SX is a mix of conference, festival, all kinds of events that you ever been to before, expo, tech, film, comedy, music, parties and then some.
You’ll need to have your LinkedIn profile looking good, up to date headshot (use the same one for your SXSW badge), cover image, titles and ‘about’ summary. Check that all your information in your SX profile is up to date and matches LinkedIn, look through the schedule and download the SXSW Go app. These should sync (online and app) and you might need your code to connect them up then favorite the sessions that interest you, plus reach out to speakers and key names via LinkedIn.
Find out who will be there from your city, state/territory and country, connect to those networks via social media and there are a number of SXSW Facebook groups to join including those covering parties and unofficial events. This year Steven Marshall, Premier of South Australia is going to SXSW, as well as Hon David Ridgway MLC, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and Sandy Verschoor, Lord Mayor of Adelaide.
Consider who you might like to connect with from Austin such as the City of Austin, Chamber of Commerce, Governor’s office, University of Texas, entrepreneurial ecosystem and startup scene via Capital Factory (apply to be a VIP), plus with Adelaide to Austin sister city relationships then many doors will be opened up to you if you just ask.
Connect to Austrade (Australian and USA based offices) as well as GDay USA colleagues to get involved in Australia House events plus register for SXSW parties and schedules without worrying about cross over… think register for lots, give yourself choice and get to what makes sense on the day/night.
Each year I get my virtual assistant team to search and find relevant SXSW events and parties outside the official program so I don’t miss out on anything J Here are a couple of links for you to register:
Post on your socials that you are going to SXSW and be aware that you can get lots of traction on Twitter, as well as Facebook and groups, LinkedIn and Instagram by asking who else might be going along. Follow the official SXSW accounts on all social media channels as this is where much information, offers and announcements are shared plus you might spot some celebrities.
What to pack?
Weather in Austin can be variable plus the dress code is ‘cool casual’ so jeans, t’s, jackets and shoes that look good and are comfortable as you’ll be getting your steps up. Maybe a dress, skirt, shirt – essentially one outfit that is a bit more formal in case you get a VIP invite.
Aside from what you would usually pack for a trip, include an umbrella, water bottle, jacket that is rain proof, small handbag that you can wear across your body and back pack, portable charger and adapters, sun screen, sunglasses, vitamins and Berocca, Hydralyte and Panadol, ear plugs and noise cancelling headset as well as business cards.
Make sure you have travel insurance, copies of your travel documents, and a passport with at least 6 months+ from the time you depart until expiry, plus let your bank know which countries you’ll be visiting.
When booking your international flights you should be made aware of applying for a VISA via the official USA government website. Buy a SIM card when you get to the USA and the cheapest plus easiest way to get from the airport in Austin to downtown is via bus for $1.25 a single ride or $2.50 for a day pass.
Lining up is all part of the SXSW experience and I’m arriving on Thursday 12 March 2020 so recommend heading straight to the Austin Convention Centre so collect my SXSW badge. You must hang onto your badge at all times, so maybe take a safety pin to ensure it is secured to what you are wearing. Check into your accommodation and head out to one of the unofficial events that you registered for on Thursday night to get your first taste of Austin hospitality and networking.
The schedule starts at 10.30 am on Friday 13 March 2020 and Welcome to SXSW with Hugh Forrest which is always a helpful session to attend then onto the 11.00 am sessions that you’ve favorited in your schedule and app.
From a practical point of view, it is easiest to try and stick to the same track and/or venue for at least half a day, or full day, to minimise you having to race back and forth between locations. Choose a mix of sessions to go to, not all in the same track or type of session and allow for time to explore the expo as this approach will allow your brain to spark and mind to run wild on possibilities. You’ll be able to pick up lots of swag too (so you need room in your suitcase) and try out many new discovery technologies (which I love to see!), such as Immersive Futures Lab. Look at the titles of sessions but also the speakers and the companies or countries they represent so you don’t miss out on key people or organisations.
Be aware that if you want to get into featured sessions, particularly if there are big name speakers, then you’ll need to get to the room/venue around 30 minutes or more ahead of time and it is likely that there will be line ups. There are lots of volunteers at SXSW in official shirts who can help you find your way and you’ll notice that your badge is scanned for every session.
Time to investigate houses is important with favorites being Australia House, Canada House, EU at Austin, Funded House, German Haus, House of Scandinavia, Japan House, UK House/British Music Embassy, There are many lounges scattered across the various venues, like Dell, LinkedIn, Audible and Amazon, which often provide refreshments, sometimes quiet space to relax, chat and charge your devices, as well as experiences like VR and popups.
Many of the houses (tech, company and country based) have food and drinks so you’ll rarely need to buy food unless you don’t like tex mex, BBQ and/or have specific dietary requirements. In previous years the SXSW Registrant Lounge which is a tent in Brush Square Park opposite the convention centre offers breakfast and also happy hour at the end of the day. Every night you’ll probably go to multiple parties at ‘houses’, bars and clubs and you’ll probably line up for these too. Read more about Everything You Need to Know to Eat Well at SXSW 2020 and drinks heaps of water as there are lots of free drinks on offer.
So you’ll probably leave SXSW and Austin, trying to squeeze out the last interesting session before going to the airport along with many others from the festival so give yourself enough time to get to there and check in without rushing. You’ll have a lot to digest from who you’ve met, what you’ve heard and seen – I don’t know about you but I find flying helps with getting a perspective on things and developing new ideas.
Develop an action plan for your work, colleagues, clients and people in your network that includes following up your new SXSW friends.
An important note about follow up, as you can’t do this too soon or too late either, so think around 10-14 days as people might have stuff they need to take care of that had to wait whilst they are at SXSW or may be travelling following the festival. Following your SX experience you’ll know that some time off, rest and catch up is important so consider when you would like to be followed up and/or reconnected and go with that.
Overall, enjoy your SXSW experience as there is nothing else like it on the planet!
Written by Wendy Perry, MD at Workforce BluePrint and Entrepreneurship Facilitator at Switch Start Scale.