Saturday, March 10, 2012

5 Tips for Making Connections at SXSW

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference is here again!!!  The multi-day event has become the largest piece of the mammoth SXSW Festival that has been taking place every March in Austin for over two decades.  The event began as a music conference where unknown bands came to play and get discovered, but it now includes major bands (Bruce Springsteen is not looking to be discovered, but he is playing SXSW).  Additionally the film and interactive conferences have grown into their own events, with interactive attracting over 25,000 attendees this year.

A main reason people attend any conference is because of the other people.  Networking opportunities are always one of the factors that draw people to events.  But when a meeting becomes so large, it actually can be more difficult to make connections.  When you participate in a convention with 300 people it is much more intimate and you can easily make dozens of connections.  When there are 25,000 people in the audience you can find yourself alone in a sea of people.

Here are five tips to make better connections at SXSW or any huge conference:

1.  Have A Plan.  Knowing which panels you want to attend and the parties you will visit will make it easier to navigate the crowds.  Pick one or two choices for each time slot and map out the path to get from place to place.  Some events are located in other parts of the city, and may or may not be easy to get to with the rain and lines of people.

2.   Be social.   Do get burried in you Smart Phone.   Ask the people you meet, and those you sit next with in breakout sessions, about the panels they have attended and what other things they are planning to do later in the day.  While you have a plan, other people may have different ideas that could lead you to even better opportunities.

3.  Be Flexible.  Having a couple of options will allow you to make last minute decisions and be able to join those you have met.  Attending a panel or party with a new friend allows you to have conversations that can lead to better connections.

4.  Always join others for meals.  Keith Ferrazzi said it best in the title of his book "Never Eat Alone".  Invite people to join you for lunch, seek out others via Twitter or other social media to dine with, etc...  Breaking bread together is a great way to establish a friendship.

5.  Do Not Party Hop.  Many people try to go from party to party each night.  However, if you find a party with a good vibe and lots of people, just stay there.  You could waste a lot of time trying to find the next place to go only to discover a long line or a bad party on the other side.

Bonus.... if you have a good conversation, tell the other person you enjoyed talking with them and get their business card (or otherwise acquire their contact information).  Then be sure to follow up with them next week once you get home.  Meeting someone at a conference does not make them part of your network, you need to establish an ongoing conversation to really have any meaning in the connection.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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