This is Part 2 of a three-part series on prepping for South by Southwest (interactive flavor). You can read Part 1 here.
Hopefully, you've already tackled some of the bigger to-dos on your list that we talked about in Part 1, like making your reservations and buying a damned cell phone and getting some kind of cards to hand out. (Your regular-usual biz cards will do in a pinch; the main thing is to have something to hand people so they can get in touch with you.)
This week, you'll want to start getting your ducks in a row. They will, of course, scatter to the four winds as soon as you touch ground, and this is part of the delight of SXSW. To make a spin on the old adage, you'll want to have strong plans held loosely to squeeze the most life from South-by. But because we aim to be helpful here at communicatrix-dot-com, a few suggestions...
That thing about signing up for My.SXSW? I wasn't kidding
Okay, if you're a big privacy freak, DON'T sign up for my.sxsw. I get that; I do. But if you're not a freak for privacy, or willing to waive a bit of it on a one-time basis, the site does offer conveniences, like connectivity with your fellow nerds and being able to add events to your calendar automagically. If you're not into that, opt out. Don't tell me which things you're attending.
Just make sure your photo is uploaded to your account so that you don't have to belabor what can already be a lengthy check-in process. Cool?
Firm up plans with people you absolutely must see
I know, I know, this is in direct opposition to what I've said above. But the time flies while you're there, and if you leave things to chance, chances are they won't happen. Other tremendously delightful things will happen, but those things you were counting on in sort of a Kismet way? No. Not those things.
You can order it any way you'd like, but my suggestion is this: give first priority to the people you know you want to see or meet and whom you know you will likely not meet in the course of the next 12 months if not in Austin. If there are groups of you, by all means, set up some group activities. You don't need to pick the venues for these breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, etc, you'll find places soon enough, and those kinds of plans you can keep flexible. (Although if you're looking at going somewhere out of walking range of downtown, to get you some bona fide TX BBQ, f'rinstance, you might want to arrange that.)
So maybe don't lock it up tight, but get it in the chute. The last thing you want is to make that big, long trip and leave without so much as a "Howdy-do!"
Set your (loose) panels schedule
After two visits to SXSW, I'm tempted to say ditch the panels entirely and just meet people. But really, you'll do fine if you treat them like you do the above plans for socializing: get your "musts" in the calendar, and make note of other "maybes."
By "in the calendar" I mean make use of the great WebDav-blah-bitty-blah-amazing technology that is iCal and GCal. If you're a Mac-head, it's dead simple, you just subscribe to the SXSW calendar (click "add this to my calendar" from any particular panel or event in your my.SXSW.com.
Read up on the people you do want to meet
I don't mean to cram for SXSW like it's an exam. But if there are some panels you're interested in going to because you want to meet one of the panelists, maybe do a quick bit of research on the other panelists. At the very least, you'll have better questions to ask during the Q&A, and if you do end up talking to the person, you'll be much more comfortable. (This falls under the general rubric of "be prepared!" that I talked about in my newsletter issue devoted to SXSW and networking. It's of special interest to fellow introverts, I think, because it reduces some of the drag that socializing has on us in general.)
Prune/plump your Twitter
This was the single greatest piece of advice my friend, Heathervescent, gave me before my last SXSW (there was no Twitter at my first one). It's less of an issue now that there are iPhone apps to filter your feed and reduce noise, but if you have focus issues like I did, you might want to dump some of the chattier non-attendees at the same time as you add other people who you'll want to be following. After taking a few deep, calming breaths, I re-added my friends Chris Brogan and Laura Fitton (@chrisbrogan and @pistachio, respectively) because they're the kind of prolific, plugged-in types who will be all over the happs (which is why I had to reluctantly give up on following them before). You may want to add them now, too, or just subscribe/click over to their stream for the next week or so.
You can also go through the list of speakers and people from your my.sxsw (are you getting why I like it?) who are going to be there and add them, as well. Twitter was made for SXSW. (I mean, hey, it basically made its bones there two years ag0.)
At some point, people will settle on a hashtag for SXSW tweets (#sxsw or #sxsw09) and you'll want to note that. In the meantime, you may want to go to Twitter search, create a search for "SXSW" and subscribe to that RSS feed. Or, if you use a Twitter management tool like TweetDeck, set up a search within that.
The point is to get your feet wet with that now, before things get too crazy. Which they will. It's inevitable.
It's part of the fun of it all...
Photo of Colleen Wainwright and 2009 SXSW speaker David Eckoff by Becky McCray or Chris Brogan (I think) via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons. No, we did not coordinate outfits beforehand. Yes, we look related. SXSW is nutty like that!