5 dos and 4 don’ts for SXSWi … or any other conference or tradeshow

My collection of #SXSWi pieces of flair.

My collection of #SXSWi pieces of flair. Click the image to see more SXSWi pics on Facebook!

I was fortunate to represent Bulbstorm at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) this year. I spent my time collecting pieces of flair, tweeting, rocking the orange hoodie, checking in, gazing at name badges, and generally just being a social media douschebag. Oh, and I worked some.

I learned some stuff about conference-going too. So, here are 5 dos and 4 don’ts for SXSWi … or whatever conference you attend next.

Do play with the next big thing (#TWSS). SXSWi catapults shiny objects into public awareness. First, it was Twitter. Then, it was Foursquare and Gowalla. This year, it’s group messaging. On day 1, someone started a Beluga “pod” for Phoenix SXSWi-ers. By day 3, the pod was shrinking. Early adoption. Early abandonment. Hey, at least, Facebook is impressed with Beluga.

Don’t be a wall flower. SXSWi is spring break for geeks. So, go for it! I played in the Lego lounge. I sang karaoke in the Foursquare RV. I collected pins. I got my picture taken with a guy dressed up as a T-Rex. I tweeted way too much. Tally ho!

Do pitch a VC. Everyone has a tech startup, right? I don’t know how many times I overheard some variation of “We just launched in private beta yesterday.” If you have a more compelling story to tell than that, then find a VC and pitch him. I went all Sean Parker on a VC from San Francisco and felt like a million bucks for doing it.

Don’t look too far below the neckline. I like to know who’s walking toward me. Hey, maybe he runs Facebook promotions for a big CPG brand! That’s the point of name badges, right? Yes, but be careful. Badge-gazing is like dropping your eyes too far below the neckline at a meet market. Don’t be that guy. Or, just don’t get caught … as I was.

Do re-charge your iPhone. Bring a charger or sit at a sponsored charging station every day. One night, my phone died while coordinating with my CEO. Oops! Fortunately, there were 15,000 Twitter-ers within a half-mile of me. Thanks to Reid Peifer for helping me let the boss know not to wait up.

Don’t be afraid to couch-surf if necessary. It’s worth it to spend an extra night in Austin. Thanks to Merry Lake and Meghan Skiff for making room!

Do fly 900 miles to hang with people from your hometown. When my CEO was out doing the CEO thing, I flew solo. Fortunately, my Phoenix pod welcomed me in. Big ups to Sitewire-ians for clarifying the pronunciation of pecan, McMurry-ites for showing me to the free ice cream, and Integrum-ers for knowing all the Austin hot spots.

But don’t only hang with your hometown crew. Conferences are a great chance to meet Tweeps who you only know as @whatshisname. Plus, random conversations turn up pretty cool stuff. For example, Deborah Acosta is using a database of Miami Herald readers to help her journalists find sources.

Do plan ahead. I missed scheduled appearances by Rainn Wilson, TV on the Radio, and Jay from 40-Year-Old Virgin because I didn’t plan. SXSWi is too big and too spread out to play it by ear. Luckily, I learned the error of my ways before I started hitting sessions on Days 4 and 5. Oh, and my best celebrity sighting? Rick effing Fox. He was eating a turkey sandwich.

When you play it too loose at SXSWi, you end up walking too much, standing in too many lines, and wondering where the hell your Beluga pod is.

What are your conference and tradeshow dos and don’ts?


  1. Meghan Skiff says

    Great advice on both the badge gazing and vc pitching. And anytime on the accommodations. Glad you got to stay in Austin a bit longer to have geeky conversations with all of us. See you soon in PHX!

  2. Dude, if it weren’t for the hospitality of fine hostesses, Evan the Goat would never have joined Twitter. Are you following @evanthegoat ? So exciting!!! Baaaaah …

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