What you need to know if you’re attending SXSW Interactive

The country’s biggest digital media conference, SXSW Interactive, kicks off  this week in Austin. What started as a small, niche offshoot of the more popular music conference has grown exponentially over the past 10 years and, thankfully, so has the presence of journalism at the confab.

I wrote about navigating this monster of a conference last year and, in the spirit of recycle, reuse, I thought I would dust off the highlights and offer them again. This will be my third SXSWi, and I’m fortunate to be speaking again, this year on a panel with some very smart people. We will discuss “The Hyperlocal Hoax: What happened to the holy grail” on Monday, March 12 at 9:30 a.m. (I will also be doing a book-signing of my recent book, Entrepreneurial Journalism, on Monday at 11:15 a.m. at the Bookstore on the fourth floor of the convention center.)

Shameless self-promotions aside, here are some suggestions for getting the most out of SXSW Interactive:

DO: Take advantage of the fact that there will be a ton of great content for journalists interested in interactive. There’s an entire track focused on journalism and online content so you could fill up your schedule with nothing else.

In an attempt to capture some of the intimate feel of the earlier iterations of SXSWi, the conference will feature “campuses,” meaning similar programming will be scheduled in one location to gather those “birds of a feather.” All the journalism sessions will be held at the Sheraton again this year and this will be a great opportunity for like-minded digital journalists to network. There are also a few parties scheduled for journalists, including the second annual Awesomest Journalism Party.

DON’T: Limit yourself to just the journalism content. Expand your horizons and drink from the firehose of SXSWi by attending sessions that have nothing to do with journalism, too. Some of my favorite sessions the past couples years were focused on seemingly obscure topics. The wealth of different perspectives on interactive at this conference means you will enrich your experience if you force yourself out of your comfort zone.

DO: Get some fresh air. The forecast calls for temps in the mid to upper 70s so if you’re coming from a northern climate, you’ll do yourself a favor by getting some Vitamin D. The Lady Bird Lake Trail near the convention center is a great place for a walk or jog. You can also walk the grounds of the state capitol or University of Texas.

DON’T: Be a wallflower. The people attending this conference are interesting and willing to chat, so introduce yourself and start conversations. You’re a journalist, after all. This is what you do. The first person I introduced myself to the first year I attended SXSW worked for Google. The second person worked for Facebook. I also met people from Israel and Australia and found myself at breakfast the first day with Jeff Pulver and his crew.

DO: Attend the parties, whether that’s your thing or not. Austin is one of the best cities in the U.S. for nightlife. Plus, this is where some of the best “networking” happens and where you’ll meet even more interesting people (thanks to that great social lubricant: alcohol.) And unlike most of the journalism conferences we all attend, the parties are a part of the official schedule. This is Spring Break for Geeks, after all.

DON’T: Stress out over the fact that there are too many good sessions to attend and you can’t possibly be in all of them at the same time. The opening slot on Friday has at least six sessions I wish I could hit, but there’s only one of me. If you’re not 100% sure on a session, pick one that is near one of your second choices. The sessions area spread out all over Austin so if the one you pick is lame and you want to duck out (totally acceptable at SXSWi), you’ll want Plan B to be nearby or you’ll spend too much time walking back and forth between venues.

If you are not attending the conference, you can follow along on Twitter. Or you might want to take a Twitter holiday if the flood of conference tweets coming your way will be annoying. Either way, look for some good summaries of the best new ideas to come out of SXSW in another week or so.

See you in Austin.

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One Response to “What you need to know if you’re attending SXSW Interactive”

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