In a way, getting ready for the annual South by Southwest extravaganza mirrors the experience of SXSW itself: myriad possibilities, a bubbly feeling of excitement, lots to do and a creeping feeling of panic.
So the first thing one needs to do in the Planning for SXSW process is this: BREATHE.
I've been twice now, in 2008 and 2006, and I'm here to say there's no way you can do it all, nor is there any reason you'd really want to. Some of the most fun things about SXSW are the random events that fall in your lap. The best way to prepare, therefore, is to plan a schedule with plenty of room for unscheduled events.
There are some things that will make your stay infinitely more comfortable, however, and these are worth planning a bit more meticulously, or at least, considering before you toss them aside. (I'm assuming you've already gotten your plane tickets, accommodations and SXSW conference pass, but if you haven't, definitely do that before you do anything else.)
Get a personal, SXSW-only card
People do bring and use their regular business cards, especially freelancers, solopreneurs and entrepreneurial types whose name and Internet contact info is front-and-center on it. But there are compelling reasons to get a second card made up, and printing has never been cheaper and easier. If you work for Mr. Big Corporo-Megolopoly, or even Ms. Tiny Start-Up-Where-Your-Name-Ain't-on-the-Door, you may want to get a separate card printed up with your name, your contact info and your web presence (or whatever private thingy you want to promote) on it. Some resources:
- Flickr stream of "sxsw" + "cards" Not all bizcards, but some fun ideas in there. I especially like Jason Santa Maria's card from 2007 and Joshua Strebel's card from 2008 (which won 2nd place in the SXSW Card Collective Contest, which I defy anyone to say fast after even one beer).
- SXSW Business Card Collective Website that aggregates all the coolio cards people bring to and find at SXSW.
- UPrinting.com These guys are L.A.-local but I like them for quick turn and decent printing at the price.
- VistaPrint.com Free business cards for the price of shipping. Not great, but free.
Order any hardware, software or other-ware you might want to have handy
These are the things you think about getting a week before and that then drive you batshit crazy as you run around trying to find them and figure out how to use them and break them in before you hop on a plane to head out. You may not need all of them, but most of them are things I've either missed because I haven't had them.
- Working mobile device Critical. If you're going to replace your aging mobile, now is the time, not three days before, which is what I did the first year. You'll also want to make sure you have a good-sized text package for your time in Austin (I went to "unlimited" for one month), so consider that at sign-up.
- Powerstrip and/or cubetap Outlets are at a premium in the Convention Center and, surprise!, in your hotel room. I mooched off The BF's the first year and depended on the kindness of strangers the second year. Not again.
- Extra juice My iPhone is never far from a charger in my usual life, but during SXSW, all bets are off. I kind of hate to buy an extra gadget, but I'd hate no power even more, so I'm researching battery backup options for the 3G now. (If you have a strong preference, please let me know in the comments.)
- A camera that you know how to use Sounds dumb, but it's really fun and useful to have. And I borrowed my sister's last year, which was great of her, but I didn't RTFM first and...well, let's just say there were a few moments of frustration
- Good walking shoes I bring two pair, in case rain ganks up one. What can I say? I hate wet feet.
Bookmark pages, make a calendar, hook up with your peeps
Social media keeps making it easier and easier to plot out your stay.
- Make a folder for your browser toolbar Store any URLs you're going to want access to re: SXSW here. You can delete the whole shebang when the gig is over, or move it into your general bookmarks. (You can also use Evernote, delicious or whatever else you want to hold your bookmarks and info in. I'm also creating a Things project, but I like redundancy, because I'm kind of a re-dunce.
- Start a text file or paper list of stuff to do I mean, my lists are great, but you need your own, right? Method of choice, here.
- Log onto SXSW and set up your profile They've got a greatly improved "My SXSW" site this year with some social networking components. Can't tell yet whether people will use that or just old-school (ha!) Twitter-plus-hashtag system to connect, but it's at least a lot prettier and easier to upload your badge photo and info, which you should do, now.
- Bookmark the Panel Picker Available for SXSWi here. You can start looking it over to get a feel for what's there and which panels you absolutely want to attend. For example, there are a few people whom I'll grab any opportunity to see because they're so compelling, and a few friends I'd like to support. After two trips to SXSW, though, I can definitely say that the main reason to go is the people, not the panels, so don't spend too much time plotting out every little thing.
- If you're not already, get familiar with Twitter It was the social networking platform of choice last year (and basically was born the year before). If you're new, don't overwhelm yourself; just pick a username, set up an account, and try to follow along for a few days. When you're ready, you may want to consider using a tool like TweetDeck to follow Twitter from, as it lets you organize your Twitter universe (which can get messy, fast) and Set up a search for #sxsw09 in Twitter You're
Some great to-do/checklist-type SXSW posts
- Dave Seah has a terrific, orderly, pre-flight to-do list of things to make sure you do, get and/or bring to make life easier
- If you're into the social media marketing thing, you might enjoy this series of a billion ramp-up-to-SXSW interviews Aaron Stout is conducting. (Was "45 in 45 days" but like I said, SXSW has a way of getting big on you in a hurry.)
Questions? Comments? Concerns?
Fellow previous-SXSWers, what did I miss? (For four weeks out, we'll get to the other stuff as we get closer.) Newbies, what kinds of questions do you have? I wish I'd known more about what to expect my first year, so I really don't mind entertaining even ridiculous questions. In fact, if they're truly ridiculous, they'll be truly entertaining, so let 'er rip!
Of possible interest:
- my March 2008 newsletter devoted to better/easier/non-suckier networking at SXSW (or anywhere)
- my Flickr stream from SXSW08
- everyone's Flickr photos tagged SXSWi08
Image of my 2008 SXSWi blog card, deconstructed © 2008 Hugh MacLeod at the SXSWi BlogHaus.
UPDATE 2/25: The author suffered severe brain cramp as she wrote this; the date was really 3 weeks out. That bodes well, doesn't it?!