SXSW Tips for First Time Attendees

Having attended SXSW in 2013, I was asked for some tips by a couple of people making the trip this year.  Some of the advice is aimed at filmmakers / multi-platform creators whose work is in the program, whereas the rest could apply to anyone attending, but I thought I’d put it out there so anyone can make the most of it.

Planning / Self-Promotion

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This section is primarily aimed at filmmakers, or anyone who wants to get networking / business opportunities out of attending.

- Go to http://schedule.sxsw.com/ and make a tentative calendar of all the stuff you want to go to.  Interactive sessions had huge lines compared to the film ones, so be prepared to get there really early to get a place for the ones you want, and have backup plans. It seems a lot of companies send their marketing people for work trips and get them interactive badges. Film conference sessions were less crowded for the most part, except for the ones with big name speakers.  If there’s something you really want to see, consider skipping the session before, rather than running from one to the next to find out that people have been lining up outside for the past hour.

- Once you sign in to the SXSW website you can fill out a profile and message people to contact them.  You can search by where they are attending from, or for keywords (company names etc).  It’s a good way to plan some of your meetings in advance.

- Go to http://mentor.sxsw.com/ and read all of the mentor bios, then set up mentor sessions with the people you want to meet.  I think you can pre-register for up to 2 sessions per badge, but if you have additional people you want to see, go to the venue in the morning and see if there are any cancellations or gaps.  The volunteers will often let you do more if there are spaces.

- You can look at who is speaking at all of the sessions at this link (http://schedule.sxsw.com/?lsort=speaker&day=ALL) to find out who will be there, especially people who haven’t registered a profile on the website, or aren’t mentoring – if you want to Google for their contact details and set up meetings.

- Hang out in the filmmaker lounge to meet and network with other filmmakers.

- Take small giveaways relating to your film/app that you can hand out to people you meet (and help them remember you).  We took Wastelander Panda badges, but even something like postcards of the film poster with your screening times printed on them are great.

- Take business cards! Last year you could order free cards as a delegate through moo.com.  They were branded with their name and SXSW, but a lot of people had them, and you could customise them with images from your film and your own text (e.g. contact details or screening times) to hand out – which saves paying for printing!  I think you had to log in to the SXSW website and select the offer to get them – then you can either pay for postage or pick them up for free once you get to Austin.

- There are a lot of spaces (glad-wrapped posts) for taping posters, especially around the Convention Center. If you want to get attention, print up some A3 (or larger) posters.  There are a LOT, so if it doesn’t go against the vibe of your film (or even if it does) I’d recommend something that stands out (e.g. black on fluoro). Again, don’t forget your screening/session times. Tip: have enough to potentially do it a second time if people cover yours up with theirs.

Food / Drinks / Entertainment 

- There is a Mexican place (Micheladas) across the street from the Convention Center that does frozen margaritas and you get free corn chips and salsa if you order drinks.  They also do Mexican meals.  They have a courtyard and a rooftop and it’s a nice way to escape the madness for a little bit.

- You NEED to eat the following things:
* Barbecue. We ate at IronWorks near the Convention Center, which has a display of people who have eaten there, including both Obama and Bush, but there are plenty of options and everyone has their favourites. Moose Knuckle pub is also good for a quick introduction to BBQ (in a soft taco) between conference sessions, rather than the longer experience at an actual BBQ restaurant.
* Beef Brisket (fits into the above category)
* Queso (essentially a cheese dip, but sooooo good). Different everywhere you go, but all versions are great.

- If you walk down 6th Street and look through the windows of bars, you’ll find the one with long tables covered in sawdust with puck-like things on the tables.  Go in and play this game – even if you don’t know the rules, it’s a great way to meet people who do. (Networking!)

- Go to the opening night and closing night parties and anything with free food and drink.  Go to the tents giving out free drinks. Walk around the Convention Center or 6th Street and make the most of all the free food being handed out by sponsors.  You can avoid paying for most of your meals if you want/need to.

- Eat at the food trucks.

Practical Tips

- Arrive a day early if you can to catch up on sleep, register, figure out where wall the venues, get a sim card and plan further (now that you know how everything relates).

- Go to Wholefoods.  It’s the first ever Wholefoods store that existed, and is a pretty amazing supermarket experience if you’ve never seen one before.

- If you’re from overseas and want/need a local sim card, the ONLY place we could find to get them (after going to 3 other phone stores) was AT&T, directly across the road from Wholefoods.  Make sure you take an unlocked phone.  This was also the place where we made our first few friends (amongst all of the international attendees who also needed sim cards).

- Popular film screenings (especially with big name actors/directors) have huge lineups – get there early.

- Wear comfortable shoes and don’t carry too much stuff around all day.  If you’re staying outside the main downtown area, don’t expect to go back to your hotel between leaving in the morning and whenever you get home at night.

- Downtown and all of the official venues are really easy to get between, either walking, on the free shuttles or in the Chevrolet taxis (through the Catch a Chevy promotion).

- Cross the river to South Congress for shopping in the more quirky stores (plus an entire store of cowboy boots).

- Get lots of free t-shirts to give to people back home. Everyone gives away random stuff in the street.

- There is free wifi in most of the SXSW venues, Wholefoods and a lot of cafes.

- Have a drink on the balcony at TGI Fridays (in the Radisson) at sunset to see all of the bats fly out from under the bridge.

- And finally, for Australian / NZ / Pacific Attendees, join this Facebook group if you haven’t already. It’s the perfect place to have all your questions answered. https://www.facebook.com/groups/SXSW.2014.Pacific.Attendees/?fref=ts

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