EDITOR’S NOTE: Kc Wayland, our Digital Applications Specialist here at Dodge College, recently went to SXSW to participate on a panel, and came back with some great tips for those of you who may be thinking about going next year.

A few weeks ago, I was invited as a guest speaker for SXSW 2015 on the panel “Audiodrama in the 21
Centrury”. Through the process of telling people about what it is and what it’s about, I found that most people weren’t familiar with the “festival” or “convention”, and may not even know what the abbreviation “SXSW” means. Personally, I wasn’t too familiar with what it was either, but over the week there I discovered how truly unique “South by Southwest” is and how it can be incredibly beneficial to just about anyone looking to attend.

SXSW is a conglomeration of “Interactive, Film, and Music” rolled into hybrid festival/conference. They have sessions on just about every sort of current social media, trend, and upcoming technology advancements and conversations, from bitcoins to artificial intelligence. What I found to be the target of most of the convention is entrepreneurs. The festival offers many avenues in self-start ups and sharing of information for those who wish to start their own new company or even have their own idea they want to market. Those concepts might take pre-existing technology and experiment with them in other fields. You never know, the next trend of fashion could in fact be from 3d printers! If you look at the list of all the
, you will quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of information that can be absorbed through the walls of the conference center, but I quickly learned that SXSW’s experience isn’t confined to what you get with the price of admission.

kc at the sxsw panel

The streets of Austin are slammed with people. So many, in fact, that if you plan on coming into town it’s almost beneficial to park further away and take an Uber or Lyft into town. Once you’re there, you’ll see why. Block after block is jam packed with people and venues filled with everything from corporate sponsored parties to independent start ups trying to show you their newest tech offerings.

I’ve been to many different conventions before from NAB to SDCC, but one thing sets SXSW apart: the people. I found that many of the social gatherings where free food and drinks were offered had greater benefit than some of the organized sessions I attended. I learned more from the guy in line for chicken about the brand new streaming tech “Meercat” and Facebook promotion metrics than what I heard in related sessions. It’s all about networking, who you meet, and the best contacts I found at SXSW were made at these social meet-ups. Be aware and plan ahead as many of these events are free to attend, albeit you have to “RSVP” free online on several websites ahead of time.

There is one section of SXSW that requires a badge that’s worth it, and that’s the film screenings. I had the privilege to see and interact with many of the filmmakers as their projects were hitting the screen for the first time. Much of what screened there had their world premiere and the artists were on hand either in person or online through social media to respond to comments or find out what your impressions were. It makes you feel more connected with a film when the artists are so involved and you get to see the film before any reviews come out.

on line at alamo draft house

What’s even better is that many of the screenings take place at the Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater that seems to actually care about the film-viewing experience. It’s odd at first to be able to write on a piece of paper what sort of food or beverage you want and place it on the little bar in front of your seat, just to have someone scramble over take the paper and return with your request. I was pleased to see that one is planned for Los Angeles. That was one of my favorite things about SXSW.

The worst? The crowds and lines. While most events were somewhat easy to go to, there are still a fair share of lines and crowds. Just about everything had a long wait. That chicken I mentioned earlier, well I was in line for over an hour. Any place in or around the convention center takes a long time, so it all comes down to planning ahead. Spending twenty minutes the morning of or the night before to plan out your path will increase your exposure to what SXSW has to offer, while often bypassing the lines altogether.

kc at the animal planet cat booth

Should you book a hotel now for next year? Most of the places to stay in the area are booked out almost five years in advance, but there are still a lot of openings, they just cost a considerable amount. If you’re going to give SXSW a try, find someone local friend to stay with or an AirBNB to keep the costs down. The town is also a bit of a maze and can be overwhelming so knowing locals in the area really helps. I was fortunate enough to have a personal friend and one of the hosts from
, Chris Cox, show me the ropes as the scope and mass of everything can be a bit intimidating.

Is it worth it? Of course! Whether you’re an aspiring student, or already in an established career, SXSW can truly inspire new ideas and can give you the opportunities to reach out and connect with people who you might not ever get the chance to encounter. I found myself coming home with a renewed source of energy and inspiration that I hope to continue on and maybe perhaps even inspire another trip to South by Southwest in the coming years.