3 Lessons Learned from SXSW

The South By Southwest Interactive Conference just wrapped up, and it was–as always–awesome.  Here are three conclusions I drew about the experience, and how to maximize the benefits of going to a conference.

1. It’s who you meet, not what you see.

Keith Ferrazzi had it right.  It’s the connections you make rather than the panels you attend or the celebs you gawk.  The random person you sit next to at a panel might be the one–or know the one–to help you take your project to the next level.  Be friendly and introduce yourself.  Sure, it might be a dud.  But then again, what’s a dud but a connection you don’t quite realize you have a need for?

2. There are dumb questions.  Don’t be the one asking them.

Your school teacher lied.  If you have the opportunity to ask a question of a person whose opinion or thinking matters to you, don’t blow it by asking a generic question like, “who are your influences?”  Generic questions get vague, generic answers.  Do your homework on the speaker and their topic, and frame your question accordingly.  The speaker will appreciate it and you’ll get better results… and no rolled eyes and dirty looks from fellow attendees.

3. Pacing yourself is healthy… and effective.

Big conferences–especially multi-day, multi-venue ones like SXSW–are marathons, not sprints.  In my first pass through the SXSW schedule, I identified 62 events I was interested in attending.  Many of these would be held at the same time, meaning I could not physically attend them all.  I wanted backup plans in case I decided to “vote with my feet” and not waste a time slot.  In the end, I only went to about 15% of the events I had scheduled.  But by far the most people I met–and the most interesting–was at an event I hadn’t originally planned to attend.  That wouldn’t have happened if I’d followed my schedule too rigorously.

N.B.: Mad props to Austin Kleon for autographing my copy of Steal Like An Artist.  His panel with Kirby Ferguson was one of my personal favorites.