Do’s and Don’ts for the SXSWi First-Timer

Wow. It was all that I thought it would be and more. Still buzzed from my first time experencing SXSW Interactive, I walked away with a few do’s and don’ts that I’d like to keep in mind before going back next year.

Do: Pack intelligently.

Ok so I have to start with the packing thing because this was a huge source of stress for me. I’m a girl. A girly girl. A girly girl that wears pencil skirts and 5 inch pumps to work everyday. Before SXSW, I didn’t really know what “casual” meant and the vague “Austin is a laid back town” “very casual” guidance that I received gave me major packing anxiety. My typical wardrobe was not going to lend itself in a practical way to SXSW. So, for the ladies who want a visual guide for your packing, check out pictures from SXSW 2010 here.

…and don’t be afraid to rock southwest style with some great cowboy boots. They’ve since become a staple in my Pittsburgh wardrobe.

Don’t: Let yourself get overwhelmed.

This is actually ridiculous advice, but everyone will tell you this. They tell you this because just about everyone gets overwhelmed when they first get to the convention center and start to take it all in. The trick is to be conscious of this, and when you start to experience the panic of trying to figure out where to go and how to fit it all in, take a step back, take a deep breath, have a drink, create a loose gameplan, and go with the flow.

Do: Come up with a strategy based on your end goal.

What do you really want to get out of your SXSW experience? For me, the goal was to meet interesting people that I could learn from. So, I focused my days by finding places where I could sit and talk with people and make new friends. Figure out where the types of people that you want to meet will be, and go there.

Do: Network your butt off everywhere.

Be ready to start talking as soon as you land in Austin. Actually, be ready to start talking the second you get on the plane en route to Austin. On the plane, I met a native Austinite that gave me great intelligence on the best vegetarian fare. In baggage claim/on the Supershuttle, I met a fella that gave me first-timer advice because this was his second year. I met people in the elevator and lobby of my hotel, in the shuttles, and in improptu shared cabs. I recapped with one of my new friends in the airport prior to departure, and then met an interesting entrepreneur on the plane heading to Dallas for our connection on the way back home. The bottom line: strike up a conversation wherever and whenever you can, because you are guaranteed to learn the most from the fascinating and intelligent people that you will meet.

Do: Network with non-SXSW attendees.

On Saturday, my friend/colleague/SXSW roommate, Merry Lake Merrell and I started to feel session overload. So we went to the bar. We sat down across from a fabulous couple and immediately started chatting. We had tons in common. They were Gen Y, ambitious, intelligent, and following non-traditional career paths. We had an enlightening conversation on what was important in our respective pursuits. This couple made the experience so much richer for us, and they weren’t even part of the planned festivities.

Do: Meet the people that you are connected to online, strengthen the relationship offline, and continue the relationship online.

The Brazen Careerist meetup was one of my favorite experiences at SXSW. I was finally able to meet in person the folks that I’ve interacted with, or was at least connected to, via Brazen Careerist or Twitter throughout the past year. That’s where I met Robert Sofia and Mike Diliberto. I recognized Mike immediately from his video post on SX Gen Y and I recognized Robert from Brazen Careerist/Twitter. We were connected online, but we had no memorable interactions. Meeting Mike and Robert was the most impactful and inspirational experience of the trip. We had the most fascinating and enlightening conversation about what social media means to our in person interactions, and if/how we should be managing our business relationships online.

These guys are so smart. Seriously. We had so many conversations throughout the rest of the weekend that truly changed my perspective and shaped my thoughts on how organizations are communicating as a result of the rise of social media. The sad thing? We were already connected online…and we had completley missed the opportunity to interact prior to the Brazen Careerist meetup. The lesson? Be more engaging with your network online, and proactively work to take those relationships and expand them offline.

Thanks for all of the incredible lessons and conversations. See you all next year!



  1. […] of my classmates showed up in a flowy dress adorned with a gigantic bow in the back. Like I said, I’m a girly girl. I’ve always been this […]

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