checkmark-small-300x225-8043567SXSW 2016 is fast approaching (less than a month away!) so it’s time to start prepping to make the most of this massive event.

This will be my 4th year involved in SXSW, this year I’ll be doing a Mentor Session which I think of as ‘speed dating for problem solving.’ There will be 6 time-slots available from 11am to 12pm on March 13th, if you want in just click here to request a time-slot.

A few weeks ago I went to a #SXSWSpeaker Meet-Up in San Francisco & was able to share my experiences with a group of first time SXSW presenters. Here’s some of what I had to say:

Promote your session – Use social media to your advantage & help get butts in the seats. Now is a good time to start posting, it will give you nearly a month to get the word out and bring your session to the attention of the thousands of people starting to plan their schedule. Include the main event hashtag (#SXSW2016) as well as the personalized hashtag for your session (for instance, last year mine was #FreeTheB) Also, in longer-form social media formats (such as Facebook & LinkedIn) make sure you include the day/time of your presentation as well as the building/room. Make it easy for the people interested in your talk to find you!

Practice & Plan – There’s nothing worse than a presenter who isn’t prepared. People at SXSW won’t hesitate to walk out of your session if you don’t have solid info to share, there’s just not enough time to waste it on a bad presentation. So regardless of which format you’re presenting, make sure you’ve spent enough time getting ready. If you’re a moderator on a panel, you’ve got work to do too. Collect short bio’s for each panelist, prepare a list of questions that will result in a discussion that’s on-target for your presentation description, and have a couple of practiced ways to get audience questions back on track.

Wear something professional and comfortable – The general dress code of SXSW is pretty casual. You’ll just as often see jeans & t-shirts alongside blazers and suit pants (though seeing a tie is rare.) When it’s time for your presentation, I recommend you err on the professional side, but make sure it’s something that’s not going to annoy you when you’re trying to focus. For attendees and presenters I recommend wearing comfortable shoes, because you’ll be doing a lot of walking! The sidewalks in Austin are pretty treacherous, so especially for ladies, this is the event to leave your high heels at home and save the suitcase space.

Allow time and space for “Southby Serendipity” – It can be really easy to get overwhelmed at SXSW, there is SO MUCH going on your inclination might be to try and schedule everything down to the last minute of what you want to see and where you want to be. I recommend a different approach. Go through and figure out your “first tier” sessions, which are topics that you consider “must see” presentations. Workshops and scheduled all over the city, so if it happens to be at one of the further out venues, make sure you give yourself time to get there. Lines are often long for the most popular presentations. But it’s also important that you let spontaneity into your experience. Can’t make it across town to the class you wanted to attend? Look for one close by and drop in. Or ask someone you’ve just met what they’re going too and if you can tag along. I had one of my most important lessons when I did that in 2014 which led me to be inspired to my 2015 topic. One of the best things you can do at SXSW is introduce yourself to others and be open to what the universe brings you.