Ben Goertz

Let’s Get Ready for SXSWi 2016

SXSWi 2015 just ended last night and I want to capture my initial reactions to the festival and offer advice for next year. A lot of people tried to warn me that my first time to SX would be overwhelming, but outside Mardi Gras it’s the most frantic experiences I’ve seen.

Fear of Missing Out

You will miss most of the festival. Accept it now. The schedule is so overwhelming it might as well be a textbook example of The Paradox of Choice. Do whatever it takes to limit your options and focus on what you care about most.

Lower the Bar for Success

Aim for one win a day. Pick the one session you really want to see and then spend the rest of the your unscheduled time exploring around and talking to interesting people. My favorite experiences were unplanned:

The People Around You Are the Main Attraction

Your phone can wait. Talk to the people you’re in line with. It’s likely you share many of the same interests — hence the reason you’re standing in the same line. In many cases the people I met along the way were more interesting than the panel discussions or the sessions themselves. Stay in touch throughout the week and enjoy cultivating relationships with your new friends.

Focus on Experiences

Almost all the big sessions are available online to watch later, so find things that you have to experience in person. Find tactical, physical things to try and avoid panels like the plague. Almost every panel I went to had corporate exec’s shilling for their companies products. I would suggest only going to panels where you know at least one of the participants.

Asymmetric Chaos Strategy

When you see the horde moving in one direction, that probably means you can find some great seats in the opposite direction. Because popular sessions can fill up early, try to find undervalued opportunities. Break free of groupthink to avoid hour-plus lines.

Stay in One Area

It’s almost impossible to criss-cross downtown fast enough to make it from the Hyatt for the next session at the Convention Center. Once you find the main session you want to see for the day use that as an anchor — go to sessions in the same area — it’s likely you’ll find interesting related sessions.

Open Bars

You find out who you (or others) really are at an open bar.

I’m not a big party guy, but I’d say once you go to a couple parties you’ve really seen them all. Free booze, pounding music, maybe some free small portions of food, and crushing crowds. I heard some people just come for the parties, but I’d suggest trying to play the long game and save up your energy as best you can for the long week. I feel like I barely survived and we definitely cut most of the nights short.

Find a Way to Come for Free

Obviously the ideal would be to come as a speaker. Otherwise find a way to get your company to pay for it. The festival is bazaar of commercialism. The hustle is at full tilt. Be prepared to be pitched at a lot. Nothing wrong with having projects to talk about, but I’m not sure its worth paying full price unless you also have something to hustle.