When I tell people I’m headed to Austin for SXSW, I tend to hear the same responses. I either hear, “cool, let’s connect there” – which is less common – or I hear one of the following responses:
- We were thinking about launching our [insert thing] there but decided not to because there’s too much noise
- I hear SXSW has gotten too big and it’s not what it used to be
- I knew this guy or girl that went and didn’t get a lot of value
- I went back in [insert year], and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be
- Or some other excuse why SXSW isn’t worth the time or money
For me, SXSW is just like everything else in life. You get out what you put into it. You can either be one of the people above making excuses, or you can take the approach of most people attending this week and make opportunities. Sure, you can come to SXSW and party the entire time, but you’ll just wake up in strange places, have a killer headache, and have nothing to show for it but some digits and a bigger-than-expected expense report.
If on the other hand, you invest some time and energy into planning out the content you want to experience, and the people you want to connect with, you can get far more value out of the conference than the investment of time and money you put into it. Each time I plan to go to SXSW, I spend a lot of time planning out my days. The reality is, I hardly ever work my plan as intended. That’s because I’m out there, putting myself in situations where I can meet people and learn new things. Some of the best experiences at SXSW come from reaching out and meeting new people. I do still get a fair amount of value out of the sessions I attend, it’s just impossible to attend all the sessions I’d like – so I’m more selective each year.
As far as the making connections thing goes, I just landed this morning at SXSW for what I believe is my 6th time around. By the time I picked up my badge and checked into the hotel, I had already made connections with a dozen or so fellow marketers doing interesting and exciting things in digital. I picked up a few technology tips along the way. And I’ve made plans to connect with some former clients, prospects, and colleagues along the way. I’ve already gotten a return on my investment as far as I’m concerned, and I’m just getting started.
The energy and opportunity at SXSW are unmatched by any other conference. If you’re one of those people that find themselves listening to other people complain about SXSW not being worth it, I strongly encourage you to attend next year, put the effort in, and see for yourself if it’s worth it or not.
What else? What would you tell somebody that decided to stay home this year from SXSW? What advice would you share about your SXSW experience that might change their minds – or validate their decision to stay home?