Road to Austin: Getting set for SXSW Interactive 2014

Next to The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) or Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), South by Southwest (SXSW) is the ultimate destination for lovers of the increasingly converged world of tech, web and entertainment. Checking another bucket item off the list, I’ll be heading to Austin in a few short weeks to check out the latest in social media, interactive tech and gaming developments and innovations at SXSW Interactive.

The Interactive festival precedes the Music and Film elements of the event which is set to attract major stars like Coldplay, Foster the People, Sarah Silverman, Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron and a series of unknown superstars soon to hit our screens and airwaves soon. Every year, SXSW is the key trend-setter that offers a view to the new indie darlings and innovative entertainers that will make it big in the next year.

In the leadup to the festival, social media has been playing a key role in connecting the ANZ and Pacific communities. Registered attendees have been connecting and networking via Facebook communities, custom SXSW social apps and in real-world networking sessions in major metro cities. In the “real world”, I headed to the Vanguard in Sydney’s Newtown just a few weeks ago to connect and meet with local SXSW-ers for some handy preparation tips for the big trip.

For those heading along, some handy practical tips below from some of the Aussie SXSW veterans at the Vanguard session collated below:

(I can already tell this is going to be alot of fun!)

SXSW ESSENTIALS

  • Be prepared to enter an interactive, musical and creative mecca! Everyone is super friendly. You have the opps to meet amazing people. Take advantage of it!
  • Organise business cards before you leave – You’ll meet amazing people, and the card exchange is an important US business custom. I’ve organised MOO cards, which can be custom designed – Great quality!
  • For tipping, get a stack of dollar bills – Super handy for everyday tips!
  • Pack for the day and wear comfy shoes. You’ll likely be running to sessions and events from start to late evening, so pack everything you’ll need for sessions and parties alike
  • Transport will be a challenge as the city is PACKED. Try to organise a ticket for the Shuttle Bus, or suss out the public transport options if you’re a bit further out. If you end up getting a cab, negotiate cab fares before jumping in as rumors tell us a number of drivers tend to “take advantage” of SXSW season!
  • Austin is generally shorts and t-shirt weather. It will vary though – be sure to pack warm. Pack an umbrella or a raincoat.

SXSW SESSION PLANNING

  • Be simple. Have just 2-3 goals for the festival in terms of what you want to see/learn and stick to it.
  • Commit to 1 or 2 shows a day, the rest tends to evolve!
  • Min 45 wait for sessions. Have option B and C.
  • Sessions will have hashtags specified – Find these in your festival guide that comes with your badge, and if you can’t make it into a session, use it to track the conversation!
  • Sessions are specified easy, intermediate and advanced – Select according to your skill level
  • Startup alley is stacks of fun, 15 mins session are really useful!

SXSW GADGET PREP

  • SXSW is impossible without a smartphone – Grab a pre-paid SIM and ensure you’re carrying an extra phone battery pack to keep you connected. If you don’t have a battery pack, buy one!
  • The SXSW app is a vital download – Includes maps, scheduled and “SXSW Social” – The ultimate tool for pre-event networking prep
  • All restaurants and hotel lobbies have free Wifi – Take advantage of this when you can, as data speed will be faster and you’ll save on your allocation
  • Pack international adaptors and potentially a powerboard (if you’re charging multiple devices!)

SXSW PARTIES

  • You’ll get carded. Take your license. Leave your passport at your hotel (as you’ll lose it otherwise!)
  • Take it easy and don’t party too hard too early – In the US, bars free pour which can result in hideous hangovers! Pack Berrocca 😉
  • There will be LOADS of corp sponsored parties with food and drink available – Don’t overplan your visit, but RSVP to the big parties and give yourself an hour to 1.5 hours pre-party to queue. You’ll get used to the wait 😉
  • Jump onto EventBrite and RSVPster (fee applicable) to RSVP for all the parties – You’ll need to flash your badge to get in, but will need to be registered.
  • Unofficial music events are the best – try to see and find!

For those heading to SXSWi, follow @ausxsw for updates on local community events and meetups. For all the commentary from Aussie attendees, follow the community-developed attendee list via @VMLAustralia‘s Tim Collier.

Are you heading to Austin for SXSWi? If not, what are you interested in hearing about from the front-line? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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