I’ve been going to SXSW for at least 10 years. (Maybe more, but before that everything is hazy.)
This year I’m honored to be included on the “How To Rawk SXSW” panel, but in case you won’t be able to make it, here are a few thoughts that I’ve been stewing on:

1) Nice to Meet You! (Or re-meet you. See #2)
Lose the shyness! If you are at SXSW, then you are probably someone I would love to meet. (Even if it is for a brief, hugging moment.) If there isn’t time to talk about your latest projects or favorite iphone app. Follow up with an email next week and reminder of our meeting. As long as you aren’t selling something or claiming my love-child, I’d love to hear what you are passionate about.

2) Forgive The Fragile Meat Brain.
Whoops! Did we already meet? Forgive me! SXSW is a lot of stimulation for people who interact with screens all day.
If we were to cross paths at a quiet coffee shop, my brain would remember our connection pretty quickly. But with so many new faces, I find I get overwhelmed with who I already know, who I know of, and what faces go with what screen names. (note: It is such a weird feeling to recognizing someone, and then not remember if it is a real friend, or someone who I follow on Flickr/twitter/etc.)

3) We Be Peers.
It is sometimes intimidating to wander the snarky IRL world of the web elite. But ALL of these people are your peers. If you are respectful of their time, I can’t imagine anyone here wouldn’t want to hear from someone who appreciates their work. I have NEVER been anything but thrilled when someone said hello or asked for a hug. (note: PLEASE ask me for a hug!!) But I have received many emails from people who said, “I wish I would have approached you and said hello.” Make it your goal to not send any emails like that.

4) Participate!
SXSW remains awesome because it is full of so many doers. Play with Lego, speak at Fray cafe, find a collaborator, answer an interview question*.
I would say “photo, blog, or twitter” the event, but I don’t think it is a good use of your time. In fact, I would recommend updating minimally while you are there. Engage & absorb. Then, later, reflect & share.

5) Be Risky.
Fight the urge to go to the panels on topics that you know the most about. Ask others WHO they are most interested to hear. A great speaker can talk about anything and rattle your brain folds.

6) Panel Focus.
Don’t plan on seeing a portion of 2 different panels going on at the same time. This used to be possible, but the conference is way too spread-out now. Also, If you are going to a high-profile speaker, get there early.

7) Don’t ask questions to show how smart you are.
The truth is, most everyone at SXSW is deserving of speaking on a panel. If you think you should have been on a panel, don’t use the Q & A time to prove it.

8 ) Don’t worry about how smart you are.
Pretty much every year I consider skipping the event because I feel intimidated. So it is important to get my Ego in check and remember that no matter how smart someone is or how many followers a person has, everyone at SXSW is paddling in the same direction. Towards solutions. Towards a better tomorrow. Towards Love. (And if they aren’t…fuck ’em.)

I have a few more suggestions regarding hangovers, but I’ll hold off on those for now.
SEE YOU IN AUSTIN!!
Love,
-john (halcyon)
my.sxsw profile
laughing squid’s SXSW resource list
Derek’s great SXSW advice

*During SXSW, I’m going to be filming for my new show on NBC.com, “Fears. Regrets. Desires.” (frd.nbc.com) I would love to record your answer to these 3 questions sometime in a hallway or in line for a party:

1) REGRET: Ever click on a link and wish you didn’t?
2) FEAR: Ever afraid that you share too much online?
3) DESIRE: What one thing (meme, video, site, person, tech) do you wish you could banish from the web?

Think about your answers and see you in a few days!

Comments
  • Kat

    Thanks so much. I really hate the “dos and donts” meme that goes around my peers just before a big con. HOwever if I was to somehow want to actually write one, these tips would be quite often the basis for mine.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Kat

  • Jenni Prokopy

    what an awesome primer for us newbies (ok, i’m not totally new, went last year too). i will seek you out and say hello! i wish everyone who attends would read this. thanks mucho –

  • Heidi Sisk

    Thank you for this! I only wish I had read it back when I did go to SXSW a couple years ago. You and I had a little back and forth over Flickr about it, and this totally rings true of my mentality going into SXSWi for the first time. I hope that the stars align correctly and I get the opportunity to go back soon; this time around I will definitely follow your suggestions. I think the biggest thing to let go of is that everyone there is actually peers. There’s no web elite, really…just a bunch of people with ideas they want to share – Just Like You! That was one of my biggest problems, I think.

    I’ll still remember thinking just how little Kottke is, after nearly tripping over him for the third time. That was towards the end of the conference, though – but it stuck in my head. They’re just like us!

    Thank’s for sharing this.

  • @gcrush

    what a great post john! I love it! You always have a wealth of knowledge and LOVE to share! hope you and andicat have the best time ever! I already saw a picture of you and gala together!!!! oH i would have loved to be the bohemian in the middle of that picture!

    all my love!

    g

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