Here come the people. Lots and lots of people.
The annual trek of cool folks from the music industry, film industry and technology industries into Austin for the two week conference known as South By Southwest is about to begin. The conference has three parts: Music, Film and Interactive.
I have lived in Austin for 19 years, and have attended the conference several times. Regardless if you are coming to listen to bands, see indy movies or participate in the interactive / business sessions..... you are going to have a great time. It is a party like few others.
Here is my advice for those coming to Austin and how to get the most out of networking.
A few things to do:
1. Eat a lot of BBQ and Mexican Food. Few places in the world have food as great as Austin, Texas. The BBQ and Mexican Food are fantastic. If I was visiting Austin for a few days I would only eat at local restaurants (skip the chains, you have those at home). My favorite Mexican Food is Guero's on South Congress. BBQ recommendation would be to get a group of people and drive the 40 minutes and visit The Salt Lick (There is a Salt Lick in the airport, too). No car? Try Iron Works BBQ (right next to the Convention Center).
2. Hit both 6th Street, the Warehouse District, and the 2nd Street District. Austin has some great clubs, bars and restaurants. There are too many to choose from, but Malaga Tapas Bar (2nd Street) is a fun place. I know the owner, and he puts out some great Tapas!
3. Take a walk or run along Lady Bird Lake. Yes, we named our lake after the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson (Most people who attend SXSW were not even born when the Johnsons were in the White House!). The lake has wonderful hike and bike trails and it is a peaceful place to take a stroll along the water just a few feet from downtown.
4. Swim in Barton Springs Pool (In Zilker Park). This swimming hole from the 1920's is an Austin classic. Yes it is cold, but it is not something you can do in every city. Swimming not your thing? You can rent a canoe or kayak from Zilker Boats and paddle around the lake. It is a great thing!
5. The Austin Kite Festival. This favorite local event in Zilker Park was postponed due to rain and will now take place all day on Sunday, March 14th. Sure, you should be attending panel discussions, but if you need a break, .... Go Fly A Kite!
Tips for networking at a multi-day conference (like SXSW):
1. Attend my "Core Conversation" on Friday, March 12th at 5 PM. I will be speaking about how to get the most from networking at SXSW.
2. Have a plan. Know in advance whom you want to meet (directly or the type of people), which speakers you want to hear, and what tradeshow booths you want to visit.
3. Do not stalk the celebrities. Too often people are so excited to meet their favorite authors, thought leaders, or others that they forget to meet the people around them. Remember that you will most likely not become their buddy and get to hang out with them,.... but if you spend time connecting with other conference attendees you will make strong connections that could lead to future opportunities.
4. Put your technology away. Do not run to your iPhone, BlackBerry, or laptop at every break. When you are working on electronics you send the message that you are unapproachable because you are busy. Utilize the time on breaks to converse with others. If you are looking around and making eye contact you are much more likely to have a conversation with another person.
5. Do not automatically send a LinkedIn or Facebook request. So often people immediately send social networking link requests to people they just met. However, different people have different policies about whom they link with. If they believe in only connecting with those whom they have established relationships, you make it awkward if you send them a link too early (which they then ignore). Best is to ask people if they would welcome such a link at this time. Be respectful of the fact that they might use social networking differently than you do.
6. Have business cards. There seems to be a trend to not carry business cards. When someone asks for a card, it is a complement. They are letting you know that they would like to remember you later. If you say "just Google me" you are telling them to go do the work. Also, they may not remember your name later, so you are just ships that crossed in the night. Having a business card is a way of making things easier for the other person (they don't need to work their brain or write your name on their hand if they want to reach out later). When networking you always want to do things that make it easy for the other person. Not having cards is a selfish act, and being selfish is "so last year". (Don't rely on technologies like BUMP as your contact information solution... as not everyone uses the same tech tools, so it is not the answer!).
Have a great time at SXSW and a wonderful visit to my home city of Austin, Texas. Maybe we will meet in the halls of the Convention Center or at a party. I hope so. (I will have plenty of business cards, and unlimited amounts of advice on other things to do in Austin!).
Have A Great Day.