The Carrot Blog

I recently had the opportunity to attend the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, TX. I went as both a Carrot representative and a fresh-faced 20-something attending her first conference. I had way too much fun (I'm still exhausted) and learned a lot about conferences. Of course, most of my learning did not happen at the panels or lectures, but from the people I met and the misadventures I got into. Now, I'm obviously no expert and my suggestions may seem like common sense, but these are the things I wanted to be warned about, so I assume there is at least one other person who needs the same advice before next year's SXSW. Below are the three things that I will keep in mind for my trip to SXSW2012:

Be Prepared: To get the most out of any conference, networking event or life in general, you have to know what you want to get out of it. Write down your goal and make sure you keep it in mind when making plans. Once you know what your goal is, you can start to plan what panels, lectures and parties will be most beneficial. I was there in the market for developers so I made sure to be places I thought they may hang out and spoke loudly about my intentions.

Embrace the Chaos: Chances are that whatever your goal actually is, you're going to have myriad options every day. When you are making plans remember that you are only a single person that can be in one place at one time and you have to eat eventually. When you are getting overwhelmed, this is the time to sit down, do some yoga and evaluate what is going to actually going to be helpful. Will this move you closer to your goal? How? Why?

Plans are Plans: Roll with the punches. I know you just spent 3 weeks planning your schedule, but things are going to change. Panel members will be switched out, Ellen Page isn't going to show up, and that company you want to meet so badly might just be at the party you're already at. Keep your ears open and your plans flexible. If you're not open to change, there's a pretty big chance you're going to miss something you'll regret. I noticed that my most memorable connections were made with people when I veered off the path I was planning to take.

Something to note is that I encountered a few people who went to SXSW without a badge. I questioned them about it and it seemed that their experiences were not that far from someone with a badge. It seems that these rules apply in exactly the same way. There are plenty of opportunities for the badgeless to engage and interact with people attending the conference. It's just a different sort of mentality with a different value. Keep in mind that I am NOT suggesting you don't get a badge, but if you are unable to purchase one after you already purchased your plane tickets, there are ways to make the best of it.

Does anyone have experiences being both a badge holder and a badgeless attendee? How different is it? What are your big conference suggestions?