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Another in the “How to be taken seriously” series. This time: Surviving SXSW and not coming out worse on the other side.
Having “been there, done that” multiple times when it comes to SXSW, I thought I’d pass along some helpful advice for you from someone who’s survived the war, and emerged more or less unscathed on the other side. These are tried and true, time-tested tips. I can’t encourage you enough to use them – Especially #1. Especially #1.
1) For the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t drink. SXSW is funny. Take thousands of stressed out people, fly them somewhere. Keep them up late into the night, ply them with free alcohol, then expect them to be at their best the next morning. I’m not saying don’t go to the parties. The parties are fun. Just get a glass of club soda with a slice of lime at the beginning of the event, and nurse it. Not only will you be much happier the next morning, but you’ll get to actually remember what you did at the party, who you talked to, and what you said. Perhaps more importantly, you won’t be “that guy.” I’ve been “that guy” once. Three years later, there’s still not water hot enough to wash off the shame. Plus, if you’re smart, you’ll keep a flip-cam with you to catch some spectacular blackmail opportunities against the people who didn’t heed this rule. BONUS: Before the conference even starts, make a date with your best friends for the day after you get home, go out, have a few Margaritas, and enjoy being back.
2) Networking starts LONG before you get there. The second you register, use the beauty of social media to let the world know, and find new people who are going as well. Ask them if there’s a hashtag, then use it. You want to have at least ten new people you plan to meet over the course of the conference before you go to the conference. The rest of the people you meet will be nice bonuses. The end game for you is to come out with new contacts. I’d dare say that information you learn at the panels and such is second to really good contacts.
3) Don’t be a Business Card Ninja. A Business Card Ninja walks into a panel, throws 100 cards at the first 100 people he meets, and vanishes. He doesn’t talk about how he can help you, nor does he offer any insight into why it’s beneficial to know him. You know what happens to his card? After I pull it out of my chest (since that’s where it landed when he threw it at me) I throw it away. Meet people at these conferences and make it about HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM, not how they can help YOU. Help them, and they’ll help you by default.
4) Bring: Vitamin C, Tylenol, and a ton of water. Excedrin and Imodium wouldn’t hurt, either. Before you get to the conference or the hotel, stop at a deli at least a mile away (Ask your cab driver to make a quick detour, or GPS it.) Buy a gallon of water for each day you’re at the event. Then make sure to drink it. Drinking water is the easiest way to avoid getting sick at the conference, and having it turn into a full-blown case of the Flu when you get home. Conference centers are dry by default. Being in Texas doesn’t help. Drink water like you were Les Stroud in the Kalahari. And don’t wait until you’re thirsty. That means you’re already dehydrated. Note the color of your urine. Yellow? You’re dehydrated. Know your normal pulse? If it’s higher, you’re dehydrated. Also, don’t stock up on juice (empty calories, take a vitamin pill) or sodas (calories, plus the inevitable crash.) Just drink water. And for all those “company dinners,” eat on the lighter side. Steakhouses are the best – They always have incredibly small steaks off the menu – just ask for them.
5) Don’t forget about working out – Don’t give up your routine just because you’re on the road. The healthier you are walking into that first meeting, the more your brain works, the better you remember, the sharper you are in general. Get in that early workout – And you never know who you’re going to meet in the gym, too! Chances are, the most successful people are the ones in the gym in the morning. They didn’t get successful by sleeping in, you know. I’ve made some of the best connections ever at the hotel gym at 6am.
6) Get there first. You know how crowds always form around the speakers as soon as they’re done speaking? They’re not listening to you. They’re smiling, and looking at the line behind you. So – Do the opposite – Find them ten minutes BEFORE their speech starts. Talk to them, tell them how excited you are to hear them speak – Then, when you say goodbye, give them a business card on which you’ve written “I’M THE ONE WHO SPOKE TO YOU BEFORE YOUR SPEECH.” Trust me – Your card will stand out when the speaker gets back home and looks at the hundreds of cards he or she collected.
7) Map out restaurants, hotels, gyms, (even hospitals) beforehand. Use Google Maps to map out anything you might need. Print it out and keep it with you. Hey, you never know – Imagine those people at the Jacob Javitz center on 9/11. Print it out and put it in your bag. Never have to use it? Awesome. But if something happens and you do? Even more awesome. Five minutes of prep time can be the difference between life and death – or hey, even just a reservation at a good restaurant, or apologizing for bringing people to an Olive Garden.
8) Lastly: Have fun. SXSW is a great conference, and Austin is a great city. If you can, try and take a half-day to explore it. Anything three miles from the convention center. The world is wonderful – Slurp up as much of it as you can!
Let me hear your best tips below – I’ll send you something travel-worthy for the best one.