Comment counts: How to survive SXSW. Warning! This post contains Kanye GIFs

As a bit of a SXSW Interactive veteran, Olly Rzysko of Primark, felt a responsibility to share information with festival newbies on how to make the most of the week. Cue Kanye West…

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I have been attending SXSW Interactive for four years now. Every year the experience improves and I learn more about navigating it in order to come back to the UK feeling motivated and more informed. I wish someone had helped me on my first visit as it was an intimidating and daunting experience, where I, like many, had travelled solo due to cost constraints.

I now feel the responsibility to share some info with other newcomers with the capable assistance of Kanye. We work in a world where success relies hugely on collaboration and this is my little contribution. This is nothing crazy or life changing but I hope it helps a few newbies.

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Keep it comfy

Austin is casual, this ain’t no fashion show. You’re going to be on your feet all day, sometimes walking 30-40 minutes between venues. Invest in some real comfy trainers for those crazy days. It gets hot most years and you may end up leaving the hotel at 9am and not coming back until gone midnight. Packing is everything.These are also a VERY good idea.

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Stay powered up

Funnily enough, SXSW Interactive involved a lot of WiFi and battery draining demos, not to mention note taking. Pack some spare batteries for your phone. If you can buy two, leave one charging in the hotel while you take one out with you. You can pick these up at a little place called Primark. This one is only £8 / $10 and you can also pick up a multi connecting USB for around £2.50 / $3.00. Shameless plug over.

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RSVP, RSVP & RSVP

My biggest mistake on year one. I didn’t RSVP to things such as parties and events, in America you HAVE to do this to make sure you are on the list. Nobody likes an embarrassing wait to get into an event. Using http://rsvpster.com/ is really smart along with a few other sites such as http://do512.com/ andwww.eventbrite.com

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If you didn’t #, it didn’t happen

Hashtags drive the conversation and Twitter is the most important channel for gaining some insight. During the talks and events you should tweet along, track the hashtag and follow the conversation. This is great for note taking too. Screengrab the best tweets and add into your notes. I take all my notes using Evernote, which is quite handy as it keeps everything central and you can move from device to device as your battery life dies on each one.

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Save the map

SXSW is a drain on your data and this makes navigating the hundreds of venues difficult. A little trick: save your area on Google Maps. Here’s a little guide on how to do that to save your data, your battery life and your mind. You’re gonna need this map from dusk til dawn. Alternatively, kick it old school and take a paper one from the hotel.

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Plan ahead (but not too much)

You can plan ahead by getting the app and starring all the talks and sessions you want to attend. You won’t make all of them, just be honest with yourself, not least for the fact you could be looking at a very long line when you arrive for that one key talk about the “Gamification of Hamster Wheels Using Augmented Reality in 9 Easy Steps”. So don’t get caught out; if it’s important to see a talk (i.e. Barack Obama), arrive early, get in the room and wait for your panel. Remember not to fall for click baiting talk titles like “The Best Social Media Strategy Ever” too, as some of these can often be a 15 minute sales pitch from an agency.

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It’s OK to have a bad day

It happens to the best of us but if you are there for a week, you will hit a brick wall where you go to three panels in a row that are awful and get a mental block. My advice is go for a walk and take a few hours off so you can clear your head. This event isn’t competition about who can go to the most events. FOMO is very 2015.

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It’s not all about the convention centre

Get out of central downtown Austin to see what the city is really like. The people in Austin are really friendly and welcoming considering 35,000 of us descend on them and take over every bar, public space and transport system for two weeks. So, try shopping and eating with the local businesses and not with the big chains. I recommend visiting:

  • South Congress, which is a really nice space and strip of stores and eateries south of the main city
  • Rainey Street although central is quite hidden away. This is where the party is at most nights
  • Talk to some locals and get their advice on where is good

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It DOES rain

They don’t tell you this. Pack a jacket, umbrella, mac whatever. Don’t be fooled by the weather reports.

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And finally, enjoy yourself

You’ve worked hard to get there, you’ve worked hard all week. Make sure you get to parties, talk to new people and make some new friends.

I’ll be at SXSW from March 10 through 16, as will Fashion & Mash editor, Rachel Arthur, who is hosting a #FashMash kick off mixer in collaboration with Decoded Fashion. If you’re interesting (and not trying too hard to sell something), we look forward to seeing you there.

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Olly Rzysko is head of digital communications at retail Primark. 

Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com