SXSW for a first-timer: seek out your newfound Twitter friend crushes

Alex Grieves, a senior strategist at Maxus, visits SXSW in Austin, Texas, for the first time this year, and says that it is definitely not going to pan out how she thought it would "and that's a good thing".

Alex Grieves: the senior strategist, Maxus
Alex Grieves: the senior strategist, Maxus

Alex Grieves, senior strategist, Maxus

It’s one thing to plan for SXSW, entirely another to experience it.

That initial walk down South Congress, feeling the energy here for the first time, makes you realise how, despite your best efforts, SXSW is not going to pan out anything like you’ve carefully architected on your SXSW GO app, iCal and notes – and that’s a very good thing.

I learn quickly to surrender to serendipity, go with the flow and let Austin take me on an adventure.

In an effort to try and see and do as much as absolutely possible, SXSW programme-related anxiety is in a category of its own.

With so much choice and so little time, it’s really about getting to the sessions that expand your frame of reference, touch on something that entirely out of your day-to-day life and/or include speakers whom you might not get to see again.

And there’s an art to this. You will most likely go to another industry panel again, but the opportunities to engage deeply with concepts, ideas and people completely outside your day job are fewer and farther between. Choose accordingly.

With a seemingly never ending list of sessions, it would be pretty easy to get into a rinse-and-repeat pattern of keynotes or panels. But with so much buzz and activity happening outside of the convention centre, it seems equally important to get up, get out and meet up.

So I’m trading in a few talks for workshops, meet-and-greets and breakfast hangouts, to see where conversations lead me. Equally important is seeking out your newfound Twitter friend crushes. If this isn’t the time for some IRL connection, I don’t know when is. They don’t call it SXSocial for nothing.

With the flurry of activity, the noise from live shows pouring out onto South Congress and the masses of attendees, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush. But it’s important to be Zen about SXSW too and give yourself time to reflect on what you’ve learned.

There are so many new ideas being thrown at you every hour of every day, so I’ll try to take breaks, do a mind map of where the day’s taken me so far, and draw out key learnings and themes.

It’s good discipline to keep on track of what you’ve learnt, and a great excuse for a bottle of Shiner. And the food, I mustn’t forget about the food. Mingling over tacos or brisket is half the fun of being here.

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