That Time of Year Again…

Last year I attended SXSW for the first time. I had said that I would try to recap the conference, but never really did that. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that. I haven’t really attended any other major conferences, so I don’t have much to compare it with, but the experience was fantastic.

So fantastic, in fact, that thanks to the generosity of my employer and a little good luck, I am going to be attending again this year. There were a few lessons I learned while attending last years conference that I’m going to keep in mind this year, to hopefully glean even more value from SXSW.

Plan Loosely

Last year, I made the attempt to plot out, hour by hour, every panel that I was going to attend. The truth is, of all the panels I attended, maybe 50% were those that I had planned on. The rest of the time, whether due to how I was feeling at that particular instant, recommendations of people I met, or interests kindled by earlier conversations, I attended panels that in some cases, didn’t seem like they would have interested me earlier. The result, was that I attended many panels that did a great job of pushing my knowledge in some areas that I really hadn’t explored before.

I do think there is some benefit in going through the panel listings and identifying some that really are must-attends. There were a few from last year, Secrets of Javascript Libraries comes to mind, that I had considered absolute musts to attend, and was sure to keep those time slots set aside. This year though, other than identifying this year’s must attends, I’m going to keep the rest of those time slots subject to change.

Be Ready to Network

One of the most amazing, and inspiring things about SXSW (and I would imagine other conferences as well), is being surrounded by so many people with similar interests, who are also passionate about the web. It should come as little surprise, that these people with a passion for the web are almost all hoping to strike up conversation with interesting people throughout their time there. With very few exceptions, this was true of everyone I met, regardless of any kind of pre-conceived ‘internet fame’.

I met some fantastic people with some great ideas, several of which I have kept in contact with throughout the year. Some of these people are attending again this year, and I am looking forward to meeting with them again. I am also looking forward to meeting a whole new flood of people, and hearing about their opinions and ideas for the web.

The value of these conversations and networking cannot be overstated, and in many cases, this networking can become even more valuable than the panels themselves. The added benefit is that networking, combined with continued conversations with these people throughout the year helps to maintain that ‘SXSW high’ that otherwise runs out all too soon.

Soak It All In

Five days seems like a long time for a conference, but it goes by quicker than you’d think. Once it’s done, you have to wait another year for March to roll around, and you never know whether expenses and circumstances will allow you to attend the following year. So, I’ll make every effort to soak up each day that I’m there…the panels, the conversations, and yes, the parties.

I believe I’m still young enough that I can attend panels all day, stay out at the parties and social activities till late at night, and still have plenty of energy to get up for the next morning’s first sessions. Seeing as how there’s plenty of Starbucks stands set up in the hallways, I can also rely on my good friend caffeine to help out a bit. I can’t imagine experiencing SXSW in any other way than cramming my days full of as many inspiring conversations and informative panels as possible.

Getting In Touch

If anybody else is going to be down in Austin for SXSW this year, feel free to look me up. I’ll be getting down there the morning of the 13th (Friday) and heading back the morning of the 17th (Tuesday). The best way to get ahold of me while I’m down there will be via Twitter, so feel free to ping me if you want to meet up. The conversations are half the fun, and I’m looking forward to meeting more people this year.

# sxsw