Some SXSW Advice

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Just returned home from another year at SXSW.  After finally settling down and reading the notes and random observations I took from the panels,I figured I would dispense some insight.

For those of you who have not yet been to SXSW (South By Southwest), it really is something you should make an attempt going to.  Some of tech worlds brightest people attend the event, and the environment makes it conducive to approach them and gain some knowledge.  Although it seems expensive to travel there, pay for lodging, and the actual conference, there are experiences that happen at SXSW that you cannot put a price tag on.  One of the main things you will notice right away at SXSW, is how organized they are, and how many happy faces volunteer to help you navigate around the convention center.  I applaud the organizers of SXSW for their obvious efforts in making SXSW one of the best events I have been to.

One thing that I find mind boggling, is that most bloggers chose to hang out with each other instead of getting out of the blogging rooms, and meeting the actual companies that are attending.  There were some amazing startups wandering around the halls that they could have interviewed and learned about, and helped support with a review.  Instead, most of these “a list” bloggers or “wanna be a list bloggers” chose to just hang out and stroke each other.  I am not exaggerating.  After going into the blog room once, I realized it did me no good to isolate myself from the rest of the convention and stay in the room.  All my writing could be done after the events, or at the hotel before I went to bed.  It was quite evident that the same people who I saw in the press lounge, were the same people i saw over and over again as I was heading to panels.  Why bother coming to the events, if you are going to segregate yourselves?  Trust me, you are not well known enough to worry about walking around the halls.

Throwing a party at SXSW is kind of silly.  Since there are up to dozens of parties to choose from, most attendees just get the free drink tickets, down a couple of pints, and head to the next party where they can get more free booze.  Doubt anyone even remembers who sponsored the parties they went to on the first night. Having a party is as effective for branding as chewing bubble gum during an algebra equation (thanks Mary Schmich for that quote).

If you are going to have a booth in the trade show, you really should send your extroverts to work the booth.  Having people who really don’t seem to want to be there is just depressive, and will not get me interested in your product.  Google seems to get this right, sending a bunch of young energetic employees who have constant smiles on their faces.  Just made their whole booth seem interesting.  If you are going to give away schwag, at least make an attempt to be unique.  Everyone gives away pens, everyone gives away pins.  I saw more homeless people walking around downtown Austin with Trade Show schwag then people at the events!  I must say the “titty bingo” stickers certainly made for interesting conversations.  Think of something to give away at these events that people will remember and want to use.  Unfortunately I must use Google again, but Google gave away yo-yo’s, which my son is already playing with and seeing Google everytime he plays with it.  Great way to build up brand loyalty at a young age.  I am actually drinking out of the Small Business Development Program from Austin Drinking Bottle they gave out.  Another effective marketing hand out.  Try to also give away schwag that has some relevance to what you do.

The hotel lobby is one of the best spots to meet new people.  Instead of hanging out in your hotel room, try going downstairs and striking up a conversation with someone else sitting there with a badge.  This year I met some awesome people doing this, and found a constant number of people in the hallway in between the amazing panels to say hello to.  Most people attending these tech events are kind of shy, so if you are the aggressor, and can help bring them out of their shells, you will be shocked at how cool the other attendees at SXSW are.

Not sure why many panelists insist of saying the same things at each event they attend.  Personally, if you have the chance to see Jared Spool or Sandeep Sood speak, always try to attend their panels.  They are comical, enlightening, and always sound unique from other speeches they have given.  I walk away each time I see these guys speak, a bit smarter.  I even found Jared Spool at the airport and made him do a magic trick for me.

Another thing you will notice at these tech events, is that everyone there leaches onto the person they think will help them.  Attendees must realize that they are more talented then many of those they seek help from, and if they just focus on their product, they can make themselves internet famous as well.  I couldn’t believe I got hissed at and boo’d from the crowd when I said Go Dolphins to Gary Vaynerchuck.  Since he is a Jets fan, the entire audience are now Jets fans?  Sometimes, people must think for themselves, and not change their values or likings because they think it will help them be friends with others.

I think next year I will try to get onto an Outsourcing or Freelancing panel, as I felt there was a need to address some issues that weren’t covered, and would be found interesting.

Hope this helps!  SXSW defintely helped me, and I look forward to attending the event year after year!