Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Heading to SXSWi – parties, networking and hallway chats

Posted by shannonclark on March 6, 2008

I fly out very, very early tomorrow morning (flight at 6am, leaving house before 4am). Like many of my travels, I have made the arrangements for this trip at the very last minute – I haven’t yet, in fact, registered, I’ll do that onsite when I get there tomorrow.

But then I’m not going to Austin for the SXSWi sessions – sure, I may stop by a few friend’s panels (or may not) and assuming I do get a pass I’ll spend some time in the exhibit halls and at the official parties.

However the reason I am going back to SXSWi is not for the formal conference. Rather I am returning for the chance to spend an intense 4+ days and nights with my peers across the geek/tech world. Friends have described SXSWi as “geek spring break” and there is certainly an element of that. If you want to spend the next four plus days seriously abusing your liver, that is certainly an easy (and popular) option.

For me, however, I am most looking forward to long conversations in hallways, conversations which start with one or two friends and quickly blossom into small groups. Last year powered in part by effective twittering groups of us roved from party to party or, at times, created our own parties when that evenings more official gatherings had ended, were full, or deemed not worth trying to get into. Most evenings (and many afternoons) this year I have parties to attend which friends of mine are organizing and hosting, but I expect to spend some part of most evenins in small group conversation.

My focus all weekend will be on discussing how new forms of advertising could work on the web – how the advertising that I want to deliver via my new company, Nearness Function, should work to offer the best value for individual users and for the developers at our partner companies. I’ll likely also be talking with a few investors over the course of the weekend, with many potential clients, and hopefully with a few potential advertising partners – there certainly will be some people at SXSWi who are at digital agencies.

SXSWi is an intense, jam packed conference. Covering all things interactive and running alongside a film conference and just before one of the biggest and most important music conferences and festivals in the US. In short for this weekend and next week Austin is where much of the creative “class” in the US (and indeed from outside the US) will be found. Friends are flying in from Scotland, Miami and most part of the US and Canada.

This year the weather reports are not entirely pleasant – quite cool and a chance of rain on a few days. So I’ll be packing accordingly, lots of layers and my first purchase after checking into my hotel is likely going to be an umbrella (all my other umbrellas have been destroyed by San Francisco wind gusts this year).

There are countless communities and guides to SXSW, I won’t try to duplicate their advice here but a few reminders – as much as for myself as for you the reader.

  1. Have fun. Should go without saying but though a big, long conference is work, don’t forget this should also be fun.
  2. Introduce people to each other and don’t be shy about approaching people you don’t know – or people you don’t see often enough. If you get in the habit of introducing people – even people you just recently met, it encourages others to do the same.
  3. Try not to eat any meal alone. If you find yourself in danger of doing so, ask some strangers to join you – one plus of a big conference, very likely there are others who likewise don’t yet have dinner or lunch plans (or for that matter breakfast – though you’ll find at SXSW many people sleep in).
  4. At the same time if you aren’t an extrovert, give yourself some time alone, some time to regroup and mentally review the activities of the past day. If you are a runner go for a run (though you might do this with fellow attendees as well). I hope that my hotel has a pool and my current plan is to try to get in a short swim each morning – exercise plus a chance to mentally regroup. I also found that at times I might be leaving one party and meeting people at another – instead of taking the fastest path there (a cab) at times walking, even if it is a mile+ away would give me a great chance to refresh and relax.
  5. Perhaps it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Get enough to drink (water) and try to eat as healthily as possible. Yes, I plan on eating a lot of BBQ. However I will try to vary my diet, be sure to get some fruits & veggies along with my smoked meats, and I’ll be sure to drink a lot of water. This is especially important if, unlike me, you plan on drinking a great deal of the free/cheap booze that flows freely.
  6. Have something to give people to be remembered by – but in turn when you get something from someone whom you want to stay in touch with try to quickly get back to them digitally. At any convention it is far too easy to end up with a large pile of stuff and have little memory of who you need to send what to. My plan is to carve out a part of each day (probably in the mornings) to process my notes and contacts from the past day and at least send people my contact info. Jotting a quick note on the back of someone’s card (and/or in a small notebook you carry with you – I’ll be using my Creative Commons Moleskin) can also be a good starting point.
  7. Travel as lightly as possible. I am lucky, the hotel room I’ll be sharing is across from the conference center. As such I plan on dropping off my bags there frequently, as much as possible I hope to carry with me as little as possible (sometimes just pocket planner, notebook, iPhone, may even leave the laptop behind)

And above all keep in mind my first point.

Hope to see many of you in Austin tomorrow!

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