20100329sxswi.pngFor years, I’ve seen a large chunk of my friends going to SXSW Interactive every year. I’ve also seen a handful of others claim it hasn’t been good for years (“It’s too big!”, etc.). A week (or so) removed from my first trip to SXSWi, I’m still reeling a bit. My enjoyment seems to indicate that SXSW has worked through its growing pains, primarily aided by technology.

With that, here are my tips for having a good time at SXSW.

  • Before leaving, make note of all of the talks that sound interesting. I recommend the utterly fantastic app by Weightshift, sitby.us. Not only does it let you create a schedule, but you can see what your Twitter friends have noted. Then (yes, it gets better), you can see where they are in the room after they sit down. This let me find my friends throughout the day.

  • Avoid panels and go for talks with one or two presenters. While I saw some good panels, I found they were typically less inspiring. My theory is that people feel less of a need to prepare for panels.

  • Go to talks that sound fun and interesting. Don’t worry about going to CMS talks if you work for a blog software company. Many of the talks are topical and you’re better off following the “Liberal Arts” approach of selecting sessions. My two favorite talks were given by Dan Ariely and Andy Baio. Neither seemed geared towards my job, until I got there and realized they were far more influential than the other talks I attended.

  • Get used to finding people via Foursquare (or your location-based service of choice) and Twitter. At night, I had no problem finding something fun to do with people I like.

  • Avoid the big parties. As many as 14,000 people went to SXSWi and I’d guess half of them tried to get into the Foursquare party. Smaller parties are great (I really enjoyed the Typekit party) and hanging with friends is even better. If you don’t know many people there, get a drink at the Ginger Man. You’ll likely meet someone cool and you’ll definitely have delicious beer.

  • Get away from the convention center. I stayed at a friend’s place, which meant finding a place to unwind during the day was tough, but it also meant I found a delicious breakfast tacos at Julio’s in Hyde Park. I also skipped the 2pm session most days and walked a bit to find lunch. This was a great way to clear my head and try Chicken Fried Avocado.

  • Don’t plan too much. It will save you time before and stress when you arrive.

That’s it! See you there next year.