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sxswi-2104Every year it’s the same. You spend months looking at the schedule, planning your every move and RSVPing to dozens of parties; then, like footsteps in sand at high tide, SXSW Interactive is gone, and with it, your chance at networking with some of the most influential people in the world.

Where did the time go? Did you make the most of your week? Are you coming home with relevant connections that will move you and your business forward in the coming months and years?

If you’ve been to SXSW Interactive in the past, you know the pandemonium that is about to ensue starting today and lasting through next week. If this is your first SXSW, get ready for one of the most unique, exciting and physically draining experiences of your life.

In its 27 years, SXSW has gone from a music conference with roughly 300 badge holders to a music, film and interactive festival with over 50,000 attendees. There are movie stars, rock stars and technology stars who have launched some of the most celebrated works of art and creative ideas of the last decade.

In the seemingly endless ocean of panel discussions, lectures and parties, how do you get the most out of your time here? It’s no secret that there are a lot of amazing events going on throughout the festival, but there is also a lot of fluff you don’t need.

So before you embark on the week, eat your weight in BBQ and tacos and walk all over downtown Austin, keep these tips in mind.

Have a Plan

You can’t just step off the airplane at ABIA and expect to have the experience of a lifetime without some sort of plan and list of goals. Before leaving your hotel room and making your way through downtown, make sure you know exactly what you want to accomplish over the week.

In addition to having a plan on where to go and who to meet, you need to also know your story. Be prepared to tell people about what make you and your company unique. Have an elevator pitch ready in case you meet someone important. You are your brand and you have to constantly keep that in mind this week.

Forget Your Plan

But you just said…I know what I just said. Yes, you have to be prepared and always keep in mind your goals for the week, but that sometimes means forgetting your schedule or plan and going with the flow. Be flexible and willing to ditch your planner.

Example. You strike up a conversation with someone at a party or in the lobby of your hotel. His or her best friend is also at the festival and happens to work in the same industry as you. The stranger asks if you want to come and meet this person but you planned on attending a lecture that starts in 10 minutes.

In this instance, its going to be far more beneficial to meet and talk with someone in person and make a connection than sit in a large room with hundreds of other people. Sometimes you have to deviate from the plan to get the most from your week.

Go to the Right Parties

Parties during SXSW aren’t in short supply. Every company has a party offering free drinks, T-shirts and other giveaways. Thousands of festival attendees RSVP for every party and scour the streets for free alcohol.

That is why it is important to go to the right parties where you can meet and talk with relevant people in your industry. Parties where the CEO of the company is there. Parties where people are ready to talk about technology and talk about your small business. Parties like ours, today at Minibar from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (shameless plug).

Make sure to also be aware of “zombies,” who roam the streets and take up space at parties. You don’t want to waste your valuable time talking with people who have no interest in your business or the field of technology.

Work Smart and Play Smart

Last but not least, make sure you are working and playing smart. SXSW Interactive combines an eight-hour work day with a multi-hour play day. Along with being smart about where you are going and who you are meeting, you also have to play smart if you want to make it through the week.

This includes everything from wearing comfortable shoes, drinking plenty of water and wearing appropriate clothing for the Austin weather (sunglasses and sunscreen included).

Take care of your body. There are a lot of parties and a lot of opportunities for fun. Remember, SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself over the course of the week. You don’t want to miss out on a chance to make a life and career-altering connection because you have blisters on your feet or are too hungover to make it out early the next morning.

SXSW Interactive is entirely what you make of it. Use the week to your benefit and walk away knowing you did everything you possibly could to move yourself and career forward. Leave it all on the streets of Austin and you will have a beneficial and memorable experience.