I should have done this sooner. If there’s one lesson ringing in my head as I’ve immersed myself in the awesome experience that is South by Southwest, it’s that. Although I was a poor grad student, I should have done this sooner.
I’m back in town and have a few more blog posts bubbling about things that interested me at SXSW. But for now, since I like lists here’s my running list of things I learned at my first SXSWi …
Noobs call it “South by Southwest” or “ESS-EX-ESS-DOUBLEU.” The wily veterans call it “Southby.” I was tagged the entire time. Must spend all year practicing.
Drink. A lot. (of water) … and don’t forget to snack. Energy is vitality here.
At the same time, go the extra granola bar. Easy way to strike up conversations and network between sessions. You have to eat, but having an extra to share is good karma and will make you friends.
It pays to know a veteran. The illustrious Jen Reeves gave me great advice beforehand so I was a little more prepared, but she knows the tricks. Bring a powerstrip to charge the laptop and make some friends by not being an outlet hog. Talk to EVERYONE. She even knew where all the free food was.
Make the plan minimal. I planned a lot of panel surfing, but I found myself sticking to it less and less. Find your 4-5 core sessions and plan for those. After that, be the ball and let it come to you. Ask what sessions others are hitting
For journalists, try to stay away from panels on your discipline. Honest, most of the journalism panels su-huuuucked save for a couple. The sessions that blew my mind were in the areas of gaming, marketing, PR, social media, and augmented reality. I found threads in the keywords based on stories and storytelling, but they weren’t about journalism. And it makes a lot of sense; I’m not at AEJMC, I’m at Southby (a-ha!). I want to think about new avenues for doing journalism, not think about the same old stuff. I’m here to get my mind blown.
There are a lot of stickers here. A lot of them. This isn’t sustainable.
Talk to anyone who will talk to you. I met people doing all kinds of stuff that isn’t in my area, but that’s OK. At worst you practice networking. At best, you’re making it possible for serendipity to take over.
Know when to arrive. If it’s in a small room, get there 10 minutes early. If it’s in a big room, make it 15.
Don’t forget to blog. I had bigger plans for blogging, but it was overwhelming to find time. I finally found a rhythm with the schedule toward the end. I’ll have a better idea what is realistic next year.
Big-time everyone not at SXSWi. Make sure to mention in every conversation via e-mail and Twitter with people not there that you’re at SXSWi in Austin. Just kidding, don’t do that. That would make you a jerk. Seriously, though, totally do this.
Play! Seriously, try new stuff. Some of the most fun I had was playing with apps that were being promoted there. I did a walking tour of Austin on Gowalla and won a Hot Wheel car (and a little love on iReport). OK, so the Hot Wheel car isn’t great, but one of the nice things is that you can TRY new stuff because it’s available and companies are careful to make sure the experience is good. I got a lot of ideas for journalism courses just from doing a walking tour. Where else can you try so many things like this with a journalist’s eye?
Plan meetups. I did a horrible job at this. I met really good people and waited to catch them again to do some sort of coffee or lunch gathering. But there are thousands of people there, and the chance of running into them isn’t as good as it could be. Set up plans in advance. And maybe even organize a meetup beforehand. I think we need a journalism educator meetup for sure, unless one happened and I didn’t know about it (which is totally possible).
Look for student connections. While I was sitting in on sessions, looking through the schedule, and networking I had one of our students, Andrew Daniels, in the back of my mind. He’s a graduating senior and the current editor of the student newspaper, and I think he would thrive in places like this. There were a few people who would have liked to have gotten to know him too, I think. So I’m wondering if there’s a way to identify students who would benefit from this experience and then figure out ways to get them to SXSW (fundraiser, grant, etc.). This festival isn’t for everyone, but the ones who are interested in interactive media and have that natural curiosity that is impossible to teach would have a good time here.
Tacos! They’re excellent and abundant in Austin. Seriously. Tacos.