SXSW first-timer advice for 2019


South by Southwest (SXSW) is a fantastic event, but can be overwhelming.

I know this first-hand from 12 years attending. In that time I’ve spoken four times, helped multiple brands activate and engage at the conference, and a few years ago became a member of the SXSW Advisory Board.

I directly credit SXSW Interactive, the connections I’ve made there, and the things I’ve learned with impacting my career in significant ways.

But you have to put a lot in to get a lot out. And many do…

“Businesses shouldn’t go to SX for the sheer number of opportunities. They should go because no other festival or conference on the planet creates a mindset like SX. It’s this ready-for-disruption mentality that makes SXSW one of the most productive conference for businesses. You can create 1,000 scenarios for people to mingle and meet at CES or Dreamforce, but you can’t fabricate a mindset. People go to SXSW to be inspired. They go to learn about new ideas. They go to start movements and take risks, and—of course—snap stories (there were more than 105 million views of Snapchat Live Stories last year).
B2C companies show up for the baked-in amplification offered by the conference’s size and scope. But combined with that mindset, SX becomes a powerful place for B2B companies to forge relationships, incept ideas and build sales, too.”

–SXSW Interactive is still the most valuable business weekend of the year (Mashable)

Back in 2014 I curated this extensive First-timer SXSW advice from the Pros post. There are lots of good insights there from a host of friends with lots of different perspectives.

I’ve also updated my must-do’s for 2019 below…


    • SXSW GO is the official mobile app for the conference. You can browse the session, lounge and speaker lineup and create your personal schedule to sync with all of your devices. During the event there will be late-breaking sessions and schedule changes, the app is the very best way to keep track. Get it here: iOS, Android.
    • This is an interactive+film+music festival in Austin, TX. Dress casually. Don’t overthink it. Be you. No suit jackets!
    • Wear comfortable walking shoes. By the second day you’ll be glad you did.
    • If you’re going to pick up swag, bring a backpack. But I recommend to travel light. Just don’t forget that backup battery and/or charging cord.
    • Bring a jacket that can tolerate rain. Austin isn’t really built for downpours and many event venues are designed around patios or open air courtyards. Stay dry!
    • If there’s one session you care a lot about, schedule your day around getting into it. This is a critical piece of advice. Pick one or two a day and then work around them.
    • Seek out the smartest, weirdest, most disruptive topics and experiences you could not get back home. The curation of breakthrough content and thinkers at SXSW is amazing — take advantage.
    • Do not go to any sessions that are essentially case studies you could read about online. Instead, make a note for yourself to go read those when you get home.
    • Do not go to any sessions where you yourself could be on the panel. You’re already a subject matter expert. Go learn something new!
    • Do not to go any sessions with a movie, television or social media celebrity. The lines are often huge, the content isn’t great, and there’s probably a niche session down the hall where you’ll find more value.
    • If a session is a let-down, get up and walk out immediately. Look at the rooms next to your session, and there is most likely something amazing nearby with lots of open seats.
    • Go to every session in your schedule early, and expect to wait in line. Lines are long and rooms will fill up quickly.
    • Most keynotes are simulcast in empty rooms at every conference space and archived as streams online, so don’t stress about getting back to the convention center to see keynotes each day.
    • The majority of SXSW Interactive activities take place at the Austin Convention Center (often referred to as ACC) and adjacent hotel conference facilities throughout walkable downtown Austin.
    • SXSW has pre-booked the majority of Austin hotel rooms and allocates them to badge holders through the SXSW Housing Desk (open to badge holders post-registration process).
    • There are a number of hotels outside of downtown Austin that may have capacity, however, transportation to/from the ACC can be challenging during the conference. There are shuttles and a plethora of ride-share programs, but this commute time can impact your availability for sessions and networking. Therefore, downtown hotels booked through SXSW are highly recommended. Expect to pay Manhattan prices.
    • Airbnb also has hundreds of downtown Austin listings specific for the SXSW Conference.
    • Badges can be picked up at the Austin Convention Center in Ballroom B (at the corner of Cesar Chavez Street and Red River Street). Do this as soon as possible upon your arrival to Austin!
    • SXSW Badge Pickup is open during the times listed here, and will be busiest on Thursday, March 7 between 5pm – 9pm; Friday, March 8 between 9am – 1pm; and Saturday, March 9 between 9am – 11am. Other times will usually be less crowded.
    • Bring your SXSW confirmation (email or in the SXSW Go App).
    • Save time by uploading a headshot to your SXSocial account.
  • FOOD:
    • Austin is famous for its BBQ and tacos. Be sure to eat some! There is nothing sadder than eating a sad convention center ham and swiss sandwich when you’re in Austin, Texas.
    • Eat a big breakfast each day. Lunch breaks can be hit or miss, depending on the sessions you pick. A protein bar in your bag will help you power through that next session.
    • Eat a good dinner each night. Use OpenTable to make dinner reservations in advance and invite strangers you meet during the day to hang out and share what they heard during the day. You can’t hit every session, but this gives you an exponential window into what you missed.
    • Innovators and creative thinkers from around the world have traveled to Austin. Meet them! When you’re standing in lines, sitting in a session or hanging out in a lounge. Every corner of Austin is filled with smart people – say hello and introduce yourself!
    • Network like crazy. Don’t hang out with your crew from back home. Meet and befriend the creatives, innovators and disruptors sitting next to you in sessions, standing in line with you for the restroom, and sitting outside of the convention center. These chance encounters are just as valuable as the content. Don’t be shy!
    • Spend time with your coworkers when you get back processing, writing and sharing your takeaways and connections. And don’t forget to formally connecting with the amazing people you met via LinkedIn.
    • SXSW has grown so large that it’s not easy to attend casually and get the most out of the experience. That means the conference can get a bad rap as a boondoggle at a scale too large to be of value. But that’s entirely unfair. Rather, I contend that this is the global hub of innovation and creativity in our space — no wonder it has grown so large!?! There is a reason this event attracts speakers like President Obama, Elon Musk and NASA astronauts. If you put in the effort, its benefits are unrivaled by any other event.
    • So plan ahead. Get in line early! If a session stinks, get up and find something better! Network your butt off! Learn something.
    • And if you aren’t willing to put in the effort for an amazing experience, stay home. SXSW didn’t jump the shark. Lots of people have missed the point of putting in the work to get a lot out of it.


Want to hang out? Best way to hook up is text — 612-845-1020.

See you in Austin!