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Stuff I Learned at SXSW Interactive as a Newbie

If you are a regular reader of my blog, or a subscriber, you may have noticed that it's been a good while since my last post, probably a week or so.  I have a reason for this, I promise.  This was my first year to attend SXSW Interactive, which is FIVE solid days long.  The fact that it's right here in Austin made the decision to attend much easier.  I coined my own term for the event: Geek orgy.  Get it?  Like a Greek....never mind.


Here are a few things that I learned that I intend to implement next time around.  (Yes, I will definitely be back next year.)  I hope you find them helpful.


1. Get a mobile charger for your phone. I use an iPhone, and with the relentless usage of Tweetie, Foursquare, and texting, the battery couldn't withstand my onslaught.  Thankfully, there were lounges available with chargers for pretty much any type of phone around the Convention Center.


2. Use a backpack or one of those wheeled carts, even if it looks a little dorky. I attempted to carry my cinder block Macbook Pro on the first day, and I scrapped that idea in favor of the iPhone for the duration.  Had I thought of it earlier, I would have stuck the laptop in a backpack, which would have made my life easier, in addition to enabling me to blog during the actual event.


3. Wear comfortable shoes. This one probably goes without saying, but I can't bring myself to wear running shoes with jeans when I am networking.  That being said, I intend to acquire some comfortable yet halfway stylish shoes before next March.  I have 11+ months to plan.  :)  The Austin Convention Center is massive (as in, three city blocks square), and the event encompassed the entire building, along with parts of two adjacent hotels.  The parties are held at various locations nearby within a few blocks.


4. Upload your picture ahead of time to the SXSW site. I didn't even think about doing this, but I should have.  Instead, my badge displayed me speaking and sort of smirking in mid-sentence because it was taken at the registration.  I would recommend using your Twitter profile picture, which hopefully is an actual picture of your face.  On an ancillary note, I should have used my office address, rather than my home address, since I had to explain that I'm in Austin because people don't know the suburbs around here, and it showed my home address town on the badge.


5. Don't be shy at all. I certainly wouldn't advocate being an obnoxious blowhard, but I would recommend just practicing the fine art of saying, "Hi".  I had a list of a handful of people I really was hoping to meet, and I met several (although not all) of them.  I didn't have any hidden agenda - I just enjoy people, and I like meeting people that I admire and respect.  Additionally, I found it easier to keep in mind that the other 15,000 attendees are mainly there to network!


6. There's a reason that guys like Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, and Gary Vaynerchuk are famous in the business/blogging/new media world. They are interesting and gracious.  Period.  I had a chance to meet Chris on the first day, and early.  He is ridiculously nice in person, and I met two other luminaries just by standing there with him for a couple of minutes.  I heard all three of them speak, and none were disappointing.  Darren even agreed to be on our BlogTalkRadio show soon (http://facebook.com/socialmediaedge).   Since it airs live at 4am Australia time, we have to record it in advance.  Chris spoke with Julien Smith about establishing trust (they did co-author "Trust Agents", after all), and it was both funny and genuine.  The energy in the room during Gary's talk was palpable.  I left there feeling like I used to feel when I walked out of a "Rocky" movie - invincible and inspired.  The dude knows how to work a room.


7. Plan ahead a little more, but remain flexible and go with the flow. If I had been paying more attention before the event started, I would have caught a couple of speakers that I would have loved to hear.  However, if I had scheduled every minute of every day, I might have missed meeting some of the coolest people I came across.


8. Learn where some of the "cool kids" hang out. I did.  And no, I won't tell you, at least not here.  If you're super-interested, get in touch with me and I'll tell you where I would imagine you will most enjoy your time in terms of solid networking where you can actually hear yourself think.  If I make it too public, I risk ruining it next time.


9. Overall, they need to do a better job of vetting presenters/panelists. Although I managed to catch some awesome sessions (most notably the ones I mentioned above, along with a discussion led by Chris Heuer and John Biehler), I also witnessed some supremely boring and sales pitch-y garbage, too.  I have a suggestion if you are planning to sell stuff during your presentation: Don't mislead the audience.  Just call it "Widget I Want to Sell You" or "Walkthrough of My Software".  I had to vote with my feet and leave more than one of the sessions I chose to attend.  I am sincerely considering throwing my name in the ring for a session for SXSW 2011.  Wanna join me on a panel?


Austin remains a terrific town. I'm happy to have called this area home since 1988. It was fun to see the jealous reactions of many of the people I encountered when they learned that I get to live here year-round.


Hope to see you here next year!

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