While I'm still a relative newcomer to this conference stuff, I learned a lot during my first South by Southwest festival in '06, and a lot more than that since then.
Stuff like...come alone! And with an open mind, the better to let old stuff drizzle out and new stuff pour in. Make plans, but be prepared to toss them out the window. Set goals, but don't be surprised if your ultimate takeaway is breathtakingly, stupendously, maddeningly different.
There are also some technical things to consider, like not showing up tired. Learning to listen to your body's "no" over your head's (or heart's) yes. We may be energetic beings with bodies, but the bodies are no less real for that, and will punish you mightily if you choose to ignore them too long.
So took a page from my own book and carved out quiet time here & there. Like giving myself the unspeakable (for me) luxury of coming in the day before even the "soft start" of the festival on Friday. One extra night of ramping up and sleeping in, plus one delicious morning of quiet, leisurely breakfasting with an old SXSW friend from Germany. (Bonus extra: super-short line for getting my attendee badge.)
Also, compared to all but the dead, I took it relatively easy with the parties. I am not built for loud and crowded places; my vocal cords were shredded after that first night of shouting over amplified music blasting two feet from my ears. Three more nights of same didn't help. And while we're at it, it's a bit on the noisy side in the old conference center.
Also-also, I slept in and opted out more. I probably averaged two panels per day, which is far, far less than I did two years ago, when I guess I equated sitting in panels and keynotes with getting my money's worth. As my friend, Eric, pointed out, all the panels are available as podcasts after the fact, but never again will you get so many nerds happening in one place at one time. Well, not until next year, anyway.
What did I do with my time? I hung. In the halls of the conference center. In this hotbed of A-list bloggery (I know, I know) dubbed the BlogHaus. In bars, a deux or trois or maybe neuf. Over breakfast and lunch. At my first BarCamp. At a movie. On the 'dillo. At the Whole Foods. On Twitter (yes, it can be a little scary hanging out there, too.)
Basically, I let my gut be my guide. And when it got overly nervous, I talked it down and walked through whatever imaginary fire it was edging away from. All in all, a pretty good five-day stretch for a hopeless introvert.
I did, however, eat crap. Worse, I drank beer: about as far as you can get from an SCD-legal beverage. I enjoyed BBQ (excellent pulled pork at Stubb's, no matter what the cranks say), and I enjoyed it with two acquaintances freshly made just minutes before. (Thank you, lovely Rebecca! thank you, charming Steve! You guys were so gracious, I forgot what a fifth wheel I probably was that night.) I enjoyed fucking Rolos, for chrissakes, almost every day. Not sure what's up with that, or the repeated trips to the lobby Starbucks one night for dark chocolate, shortbread cookies and a lemon bar. Even before I got sick, I wasn't much of a bar-cookie type.
We'll have to see if I get to skate on the gut infractions. There have been some nervous-making stabbing pains in the past 36 hours, never a good sign. I'm hoping it's me being overtired, and that a weekend of sleep (and a few weeks of fanatical adherence) will get me back on track.
If not, well, I'll deal with that, too. Life is too short for a whole lot of worry. Keep it loose. Keep it weird.
Does that take away from the fantabulousness of me walking up to someone I've never met, someone I thought directed one of my 20 all-time favorite films, sticking out a hand, and telling him to quit following me around?
No. No, it does not.
Here's me, dorky as ever. But maybe, thanks to SXSW, just a little bit braver...
UPDATE 03/15/08: I also posted about SXSWi more from a general networking perspective on The Marketing Mix blog. Included there are some links to other summaries of this year's SXSWi, and a great comment from Kathy Sierra, who was a (terrific!) speaker at this year's event.
Image of my blog card deconstructed © 2008 Hugh MacLeod.