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Your Survival Guide for SXSW 2012

This post is part of PR Soup’s “Guest Blogger Series” featuring insights from Austin-area entrepreneurs and business leaders in areas complementary to PR (including marketing, sales, graphic design, web development and more).

Whether it’s your first time heading to South by Southwest (“South By” as it’s often referred to) or your 5th, it’s key to have a game plan in place before tackling the monstrous conference.

First, prepare yourself to run into a wide variety of South By attendees… With music, film and interactive tech enthusiasts swarming the streets, there’s no telling who you’ll spot in early March in downtown Austin.  Last year over 19,000 people attended the Interactive portion alone according to CNN, an increase of 40% from 2010. Who knows what the numbers will be like this year!

So, before you lose yourself in the crowds and get too excited over the freebies and celebrity sightings, check out a few tips from a veteran (as both an out-of-towner and now resident) that will help you not just survive but enjoy this year’s SXSW.

How to Survive SXSWi 2012

  •  Apps apps and more apps
    Go to http://sxsw.com/SXSW-GO to get the most out your experience. (This is only one of the many apps available for download.) And spend some time in advance picking the panels, discussions, talks you want to see.
  •  Fuel Up!
    Your mom was right. Eat a good breakfast if you want to make  it through the 16+ hour days! I suggest protein!
  •  Dinner plans?
    If you’d like to eat out somewhere ‘nice’ one (or more) of the evenings you’re in Austin, we suggest you do some research on Yelp,  Urbanspoon or Open Table and make reservations well in advance.
  •  Snickety Snacks
    Again, without food you will crash. You’ll want to stash healthy snacks like fruit, nuts and granola bars in your bag to munch on in between panel sessions or while you’re waiting in line for after-parties. There are snack bars on site, but the lines are often long. (Although, standing in lines is one way to meet new people, so be open!)  Be prepared.
  •  Bag it up!
    Some people hate having to lug a bag around but for  this festival it’s important you  have someplace to stash snacks (see above),  swag, and an extra pair of shoes or a  jacket for nighttime. Sometimes it gets a little chilly here when the sun goes down!
  • Shoes Make the Man
    I have made the mistake in my former South by life of wearing trendy shoes.  I’d rather not bore you with the details of what a stupid idea that was. Stylish but comfy – that’s the ticket.
  • It’s all in the Layering
    Austin weather can change on a dime so again, stow a light jacket, and bring your sunglasses and an umbrella. As they say in Texas, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
  • DO NOT FORGET YOUR BADGE
    You won’t get anywhere without it. Check to be sure you’ve got it before you set out for the day. (Yea. Been there, done that.)
  • Lighten Up!
    If you have an iPad or tablet bring that over a laptop. Even a traditional notebook will do. (Dare I  say ‘pen and paper’?) Don’t forget your chargers. Most venues have power outlets galore and you WILL run out of battery.
  • Break time!
    You will be so surprised who you run into in the hallways or streets. Not all networking happens in panel discussions and keynotes. Take advantage of the breaks and introduce yourself to someone standing nearby.
  • Keep it Loose
    Even the best plans will go awry during SXSW. There are so many surprise events, parties and meetups my  advice is to just go with the flow. Sticking to a regimented schedule won’t work like it does at other conferences. Be prepared to change your schedule on the fly. Pace yourself and don’t try to cram too much into one day. You can always catch up later by following Twitter, blogs and Lanyrd.
  • Mister can you spare a dime?
    Always stash a little pocket money. You may occasionally want to catch a cab or a pedicab. Be prepared to travel on the fly!
  • Relax Already!
    SXSW Interactive offers a number of lounges inside the convention center and there are plenty of comfy chairs and areas to rest at the other hotel venues. If you’re lucky enough to have a hotel room, take a nap. Honestly!

SXSW Interactive is an awesome, high energy experience. Be a good girl/boy scout and ‘be prepared’. There will be lots of opportunities to meet people and soak up information but just remember to be yourself, check out smaller parties and panels when you can and spend some time enjoying the delicious food (and food trailers) Austin has to offer.

Andrea Genevieve Michnik is an adjunct professor at St. Edward’s University. She also works as a Social Media Marketing consultant and the social media chair for the Austin Association for Women in Communication. Find her on Twitter @AndreaGenevieve or one of her many blogs.

PR Soup thanks Andrea for this fabulous advice! We also want to put in a shameless plug for our SXSWi panel talk on March 12th: Social Flubs – Can Bad Publicity Be Good?

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