Keep Calm & SXSW On: Your Cool Companion to Conquering the Chaos

Keep Calm & SXSW On: Your Cool Companion to Conquering the Chaos
Photo by Sunil Ray / Unsplash
Promise Legal is excited to announce our collaboration with SXSW, where we aim to present a standout legal content track unlike any other in the world.

If you've navigated your way to this blog, it's safe to presume you're somewhat familiar with SXSW or, at the very least, you're planning to attend and are currently in the process of piecing together this immersive experience. The goal with this guide is to ease any confusion and soothe those metaphorical pre-event jitters you might be experiencing. And for those of you on the hunt for bespoke content recommendations, I've taken the liberty of compiling a robust schedule for you. This includes a selection of engaging activations, relaxing lounges, and a handpicked list of sessions that have caught my interest, all designed to enrich your SXSW experience. You can view my meticulously crafted schedule right here, where I've detailed each event to help you navigate the vast landscape that SXSW has to offer.

Prepping for the Week

Embracing the spontaneous moments and diverse experiences that SXSW offers is key, but it's equally important to stay informed and prepared. In line with that, here are some more nuanced insights to further enhance your SXSW journey, ensuring you strike that perfect balance between the planned and the impromptu.

SXSW Essentials

  • Business Cards: Never miss a networking opportunity.
    • Bonus: Prep a QR code linking to your info in case you run out of cards.
  • A Spacious Backpack: Perfect for carrying swag, essentials, and personal items.
  • Charging Gear: A phone charger and charging block to keep your devices alive.
  • Sunscreen: Protect yourself during those sunny outdoor activities.
  • Music-Specific Ear-Plugs: Enjoy the concerts without damaging your hearing.
  • Notepad and Pen/Laptop/Tablet: Keep track of key insights and contacts.
  • Water Bottle: Stay hydrated, as water may not be as readily available as other beverages.
  • The SXSW App: Your guide to everything SXSW, from schedules to maps.

Working on a Schedule

There are two problems with working on a schedule for the week: it can be overwhelming to pick among the — literally — thousands of options, and you will be exhausted if you're not careful about your planning.

I recommend filling your schedule with activations, lounges, and exhibitions. You don't need to attend each one religiously, but they are a great option for in-between sessions or for taking a breather from all of the content. These events are for launching new products, demonstrating new capabilities, or handing out swag, food, and beverages to promote brand recognition and buzz. They tend to be lower-pace than the fire-hose of information and waterfall of entertainment.

Differentiating Between Options

SXSW provides many kinds of tags for navigating through the schedule. From topics, to session format, to locations, and more, there are many ways to whittle down the options into a focused trajectory for your experience. Nevertheless, it's a lot to sift through and can still feel confusing.

by location

My go-to strategy is two-fold. First, I try to keep my sessions in the same general area for the same blocks of time. Even though there is at least about half an hour between each session, hoofing it through traffic and crowds of people to get across town not only keeps you in a frenzy of activity, you will burn out before the end of the conference. I'm no expert in the layout of downtown, so I'm speaking in generalities here, but there are some general "regions" of activity:

  • 6th Street tends to have business and creative activations. 6th Street runs east and west of the 35 freeway and is a famous nightlife hub full of bars and clubs. In addition to activations, expect to find lots of live music, particularly in the evening and in the "Music" portion of the conference.
  • Rainey Street often is filled with television-related activations and exhibits (although it is not limited to TV). It's a north-south strip filled with pedicabs to get you to and from the area from other parts of the conference. Music is also big here, in general.
  • Red River Street is almost exclusively music all day long, as most locations are venues and clubs.
  • The Austin Convention Center (adjacent to the Hilton) is the hub for conference programming and is where you will likely pick up your badge.
  • Downtown is the somewhat square footprint south of the state capitol building down to the river (~11 blocks) and is a mix of all kinds of activities given its overlap with most of the other regions.

by expertise

Second, I try to have some self-awareness about my level of expertise on a topic. If you fill your schedule with "Beginner" level programming, you will find lots of inspiration but fewer practical steps. With "Advanced" programming, it assumes you are well-versed in the foundational material and looks to equip you to deepen your knowledge. "Intermediate" is in-between. If I have zero knowledge about a topic — typically, if I'm only passively interested in it — then I seek beginner programming. If a topic is in my practical wheelhouse, then I narrow it down to advanced sessions.

With beginner, intermediate, and advanced programming, I don't know of a way to sort by those tags. In order to use them, I first tag anything I'm remotely interested in, then go through my own selections, narrow down to one or two sessions per time slot, then further narrow down by audience knowledge level.

Food and Drinks

Exploring SXSW isn't just about the sessions and networking; it's also a chance to dive into a cornucopia of complimentary culinary offerings. Should you find yourself consistently opening your wallet for meals or snacks, it's time to recalibrate your strategy. Although retreating to local restaurants offers a serene escape and some personal space, the event is rife with opportunities to partake in free food and beverages. Possessing a badge certainly opens the door to a host of exclusive refreshments. Still, badge or not, a keen observer will find ample avenues to enjoy nourishing and refreshing options without spending a cent.

To secure your spot at high-demand sessions, it’s crucial to arrive early. Despite having a badge, remember that space can be limited and sessions may reach capacity quickly.

Deviate from the Plan

Serendipity is at the heart of SXSW. It's a place where unlikely connections are constantly occurring. Don't feel like you always need to make it to one session or another. In fact, one of the best experiences is stumbling on a new discovery, or finding an event you didn't expect. On that note, following various brands and influencers across social media is a great way to catch last-minute and surprise announcements.

In the whirlwind of excitement and opportunity that defines SXSW, it's easy to feel lost in the shuffle. By keeping the essentials close, strategically curating your event lineup, and making the most of every networking opportunity, you're set to uncover the full potential of your SXSW experience.

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