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With SXSW starting today, and with many friends attending for the first time this year, I thought it'd be interesting to compile my top 10 tips I learned the hard way over the years.

Keep in mind I'm looking at this from the perspective of a hacker/maker/developer/digital marketing, so YMMV.

  1. Plan ahead. But not too much. With 800+ sessions this year, it's easy to get overwhelmed. But get over your FOMO, and enjoy the serendipity. You will miss many good sessions, and that's OK. The best talk will be that one you didn't plan, and just entered because your first option was full.

  2. Speaking of crowded sessions - always have a plan B. Your first option will likely be full, so having a second/third option is helpful.

  3. Don't go to panels. Ever. There's hardly enough time for one person to convey a good idea in under 60 minutes. 4 or 5 becomes a festival of shallow sound bites.

  4. Seek geeky and obscure talks. The less buzzwords on the description, the better. Extra points if the talk is by someone who is actually making things - rather than people talking about those who made it. I saw some unbelievably good sessions in the past which had less 20 participants.

  5. Bring an extra battery. Your phone will die midday, even if you have an iPhone 6 Plus. Pack some extra juice.

  6. Plan your commute time between sessions. Some venues are 2 miles away from Austin Convention Center, and shuttles may take 15-30 min door-to-door. Try Lyft/Uber, or pedicabs. Or you can be ultra-hipster and apply for a loaner Boosted Board. I already secured mine.

  7. Driving is usually a bad idea. Parking is expensive, and you may want to have a beer or two (or six or ten). Get an Uber/Lyft, or use the official shuttles, but be prepared to spend one hour each way. And remind yourself next time to book your ticket the exact minute they go on sale, and enjoy walking distance hotel.

  8. Have a good breakfast. You won't eat much during the day, and you're probably still recovering from last night.

  9. RSVPs are usually useless. Most of the parties don't require RSVP, and use it just to collect email addresses. And the ones that do are not the ones you see on blogs. [EDIT: this used to be true, but it's starting to change. Many parties are now respecting RSVPs, and even many of the talks in the official program are now requiring prior reservation, so play safe and do your homework.]

  10. Remember: SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint. It's 5 full days, so take time to enjoy yourself. And next year you can try all over again.

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Gui Ambros

Maker, developer, ad:tech executive. Incurable optimist. Head of Operations & Technology @ WPP/Wunderman. I was there when the web was born. @GuiAmbros


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