SXSW: Was it Worth it? And, My Tips for First Timers

Upon returning from the SXSW festival, the question everyone is asking me is, “Was it worth it?” My initial response is “Yes”  and I will explain why, but keep in mind that my answer is skewed by the fact that my badge and accommodations were free.

So, I attended the SXSW Interactive portion of the SXSW festival. Otherwise known as ‘Nerdapalooza,’ the term is fitting in terms of its attendees and sessions. Though, many complain that the sessions are not as technical as they used to be, I enjoyed seeing some of the rockstars of the internet and marketing world such as Gary Vayernchuk, Peter Shankman and Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams. I also had a chance to meet Mashable founder Pete Chashmore, a very quiet, soft spoken guy who (apparently by the picture above) is very tall.

So, I experienced these rockstars at least once and watched them tell us that we need to get off of our asses, work our ‘”faces off,” be genuine, helpful, transparent, etc. In all honesty though, the two sessions I enjoyed most were with author Dan Roam,  (Back of the Napkin) and CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Roam spoke on the importance of using images to tell a story and Gupta spoke with his brother Suneel about their Kahani Movement in which they are documenting the stories of Indian immigrants to the U.S. in the 60s and 70s. I found both these sessions to be thought provoking and moving and well worth my time.

Along with these two particular sessions, I enjoyed all the conversations I had with fellow attendees. Whether it was on the plane, having a snack or waiting for a panel to start, all the attendees I met were friendly, interesting and good contacts to have.

My SXSW Tips

Okay, so I enjoyed my first trip to SXSW and based on my positive experiences above I think it was worth it. I will go again but I will keep the following in mind for next time:

Everything really IS within walking distance

Everyone tells you this and you take it with a grain of salt and book the closest hotel. But, the truth is, everything is very close to the conference.  If you can save $100 by staying a few blocks away then by all means…

Bring summer clothes

I was traveling from New England so I went from chilly to mid 80s. It’s hot so bring your sandals, short sleeve shirts and enjoy the sun!

Get to popular sessions early

I say this because the first two sessions I tried to go to, the doors were shut in my face. That’s right, beyond capacity and I was denied.

You can party hardy but be prepared to wait in line

There are many big parties in town hosted by big name sponsors but, in some cases you may have to wait in line to get in. VIP passes are an option but getting them may involve having the right connections.

Checkout some of the film happenings

My friend and I went up to the Paramount theater during some of the film premieres and had the chance to see actors like Ed Norton, John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Patrick Wilson in person. All good fun!

How did I get a free badge and accommodations?

Ah yes, well my badge was free but it did cost my time. I was a SXSW liaison meaning that I was a correspondent between panelists and SXSW organizers. I did this from January till the conference and it was all via email.
My accommodations were free because my good friend Amy lives 10 minutes outside of Austin. I did stay at the Hilton Austin Saturday night since there was a lot going on and my friend Amy and I wanted to be able to just crash. The cost was $285 for the night which we split.


Also, while at SXSW I attended a session with author Tim Sanders, who wrote Love Is the Killer App. After his session I went up and introduced myself. Since then, he and I have connected and we’ve been working on a national campaign together. A lot of people complain about SXSW having too many attendees, but hey, it’s what you make of it.

Sarah Wallace is a research analyst, blogger and podcaster. To learn more about her, click on the tabs above.



8 Responses

  1. Kudos for giving me a heads-up to the IPL (interactive panel liaison) back in November, Sarah. Thought I had come to the game too late but sure enough they had one last opening and I jumped in. It was great to provide ‘virtual’ correspondence to panelists when needed and got me engaged with the event months earlier than I would have. Similar to you I was able to bunk with a good friend so was able to attend on a low budget. Let me know when I can buy you that drink. Maybe at the tweetup this Wednesday.


  2. Dave,

    I am just glad that I was able to help you out and spread the IPL love. No beer needed, just knowing that I helped you is enough!
    – Sarah

  3. Thanks for the travel and cost-saving advice! Going to SXSW is on my “one of these days” list and having the inside scoop on how to make the most of the investment moves it a bit closer to reality.

  4. Hope it helps! And, how nice of you to take time to read my blog post, I really appreciate it : )

  5. Great write-up, Sarah. The lines to the parties were nuts. Another tip, if you have a new site and enter it in their yearly website contest, you get a deal on tickets for up to 5 people. That’s what I did.

  6. Claudia, thank you for the nice words about my blog post and for the tip about the ticket discounts!

  7. Is it worth it if your only 18 I hear you can’t get in alot of places if your under 21

  8. You post interesting articles here. Your page deserves much more traffic.
    It can go viral if you give it initial boost, i know very useful service that can help
    you, just search in google: svetsern traffic tips

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