Havas’ brain trust presents a ready-for-public-consumption version of a proper guide to SXSW.
1. Hit up the single or dual sessions. Think of sessions just like meetings – the fewer the people, the better. When one or two brave souls volunteer to put their reputations on the line to drop knowledge on a group of their ridiculously smart peers, you know they’ll be one of two things: passionate and/or prepared. And probably – probably - not hungover.
2. Don’t bother with the keynote. The wait time to snag a seat for a SXSW keynote? One hour. The wait for watching that keynote and then slowly sauntering back into a packed convention center? One hour. The time you can save by watching keynotes online, days later? Do the math.
In all seriousness, spending all that time in these headliner sessions means you’ll miss a ton of great content at smaller, more meaningful talks. Skip the keynotes and just catch the online videos or @ your friends for the highlights on Twitter. You’ll need something to watch once you’ve finished House of Cards anyway.
3. Lines are inevitable. Embrace them. If you avoid the keynotes (see #2), it is still impossible to avoid lines at SXSW. They’re as much a part of the experience as Twitter and tacos. So when you find yourself stuck in line, don’t roll your eyes and stomp away in a huff — instead, use the downtime as an opportunity to buddy up with those around you. Think about it: Out of thousands of panels and parties, you and your fellow line-waiters have chosen this one. You must have something in common. The proof is in the pudding: Havas’ Stacy Fuller met her co-presenter while waiting in line.
4. Plan. And plan for chance. We get it: You came to SXSW to learn and meet as many people as possible. Although it is tempting, try and avoid scheduling every 15-minute increment of your days here. Instead, pick a few must-see speakers and events — and also allow yourself the flexibility to wander into a session at the last minute, or linger a while longer when you find yourself in an interesting conversation. You never know what will happen when you make time for chance encounters.
5. Tackle sessions outside your day-to-day. Selecting sessions can be overwhelming. It’s easy to narrow down the enormous list based on your expertise — but don’t. While it is important to hear the viewpoint of your peers, remember that one of the greatest benefits of attending SXSW is the access to such a wide variety of speakers, thoughts, and mash-ups of capability. Try to attend at least a few sessions on topics in which you have a personal (not professional) interest, and topics on which you are not already a supercharged expert. Those sessions can be the best learning experiences — and who knows, they might inspire you to think anew about how you do the work you do.
6. Take in Austin. There’s a reason Austin is the fastest-growing city in America. The festival can get intense and you’ll likely need to take some time away from the chaos to recharge and refuel. Grab a sandwich at Walton’s Fancy and Stable, venture to Rudy’s for BBQ, go for a wander through Uncommon Objects, or have a swim at Barton Springs. You’ll recharge and understand the charm of the city that stays weird.
7. Connect with the speakers. Speakers— they’re just like us. They’re curious about the world and probably enjoy exchanging ideas with those around them. Go ahead and tweet that question for him, or Instagram her provocative visualization. At the very least, you’ll probably generate a quick response. In most cases, you might even spark a broader conversation with people from around the world.
8. Look for inspiration, not trends. A few years ago, SXSW became known as the conference where platforms launched, new behaviors were established, and basically everything that consumers would be doing, thinking and buying in the next year were on display for every "futurist" to observe. We just don’t see that happening as much at SXSW anymore. If you spend your time frantically looking for emerging trends you might just miss the handful of ideas or topics that truly inspire. Instead of manufacturing trends, use the conference to discover new pockets of interest that might shape the way you think for the rest of the year, and beyond.
9. Look around the conference — activations matter. SXSW is crowded. There are thousands of brands competing for your attention. Any activation disruptive enough to break through the clutter provides a great opportunity to see best-in-class work in action. The second we see an activation garner a significant amount of chatter, we’re there with iPhones in hand to capture lessons we can take back home.
10. Breakfast tacos … Do in fact cure a hangover. Here are some places worth that extra tequila shot:
Fresa’s, 915 N Lamar Blvd
Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop, 2305 East 7th Street
Veracruz All Natural, 1704 East Cesar Chavez
Tamale House East, 1707 East 6th Street
Alexandra Wood is global digital product director, Havas Worldwide, and Stacy Fuller is head of social innovation, Cake Group.