How to Rock SXSW + Any Other Conference You Attend

 

Shama TV: Episode 40

With conference season in full swing, Shama gives you tons of tips for how to prepare for a conference, how to get the most out of it while you’re there, and what to do after you get home. You don’t want to miss this one!

 

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Click here for the full transcript!

How do you really make the most of South by Southwest and other conferences like that? This is a question I get often. I’m actually headed this Thursday to Austin, which many of you may know as actually sort of got a really great place in my heart because I went to school there. I am a Longhorn, and so I’m really excited to go back to Austin. The first South by Southwest conference that I attended was almost six years ago, maybe seven, so there are about two hundred of us at South by Southwest Interactive.

For those of you who don’t know, real quick for South by, there’s an interactive, a film, and a music, and of course, I’m partial to the technology, the interactive side, so I will definitely be there, and I’m thrilled. I’m going to be doing a lot of cool partnerships with brands, clients, media, and I’m going to be keeping you guys in the loop, so be sure to subscribe to our VIP email list. You can do so at Shamahyder.com.

Let’s get into it. What does it take to make a conference successful for you? A lot of people are going this year. It’s amazing. Tens of thousands of people show up, so if you are going to South by Southwest or another conference like this, you might want to listen up. All right. The best way to approach a conference like this or really any conference that you want to get a lot out of is to have a pre, during, and post approach, and I’ll break it down for you.

The pre approach is what kind of things do you do before you actually ever get to the conference, pre things that you definitely want to do. One, have a good sense of what sessions you want to attend. Do your homework. Have a sense of maybe which parties you want to go to or who you want to meet. Send those people a tweet, looking forward to meeting you there. Even if you’re not setting a schedule, so even if your schedule doesn’t look like mine, and mine literally looks like eight in the morning to midnight, that’s okay. Having a general framework of the things that you really want to do while you’re at the conference will help you a lot.

Also make sure that you don’t make the mistake that I often do. Pack good walking shoes. Now you guys know that I’m a huge fan of heels. I love my heels, so I just generally have to do a nice wedge boot. For women, I recommend that, and guys, just make sure that you have good shoes on, because definitely at South by Southwest and other conferences, you end up doing a lot of walking.

Make sure that you have your business cards. I actually just got my new batch in, so I’ll be business card-ready for South by.

All these things matter, so really just make sure you have a good sense of what you want to get out of the conference too. I think this is more of a mind set thing, so there’s a part of it where you want to keep a general framework, things you want to attend, people you want to see, things that you’re really excited about. On the same token, make sure that you keep room for some serendipity, for things to happen while you’re there, because the best part of conferences to me is the people you meet, the lunches, the dinners, the coffees in between panels, and that’s always a lot of fun for me and where I’ve made some great connections. Have a plan, but not so set in stone that it doesn’t really allow you to experience the conference.

Now during the conference, now this is really where the fun starts. You know it’s really about mind set and having some nice goals in mind, but don’t be too focused on the schedule you have in hand because I promise you that you’ll probably get to do about fifty to sixty percent of it realistically if you’re taking advantage of other opportunities. That means if you had a panel in mind, but you hear everyone tweeting about something else that sounds really intriguing, go for it. I think there’s a lot to be said about letting your intuition guide you when you’re actually at the conference.

The other thing I will say is pace yourself. I can’t tell you how many parties I get invited to, and for friends and people closest to me, they know that during those parties, Shama’s probably in bed sleeping in her hotel room. I do this strategically as well because I know that the next day I’ve got an early start. I’ve got lots of work to do, and if I keep attending every single party that I’m invited to, I’m really going to burn out, so you have to pace yourself.

That means take protein bars. A lot of times even though you think a conference, especially like South by, there’s lots of food everywhere, I actually go hungry quite often at conferences. I actually distinctly remember this one time when I was at Cannes in France, the Cannes festival, and the CMO of Forbes, whose name is Tom and is a great guy, was walking around the alleyways of France with me trying to find a single eatery that was open, and everything was closing and I was so, so hungry, which by the way is a really sad thing to be in France and hungry. It just somehow feels like a cosmic joke. All that to say, be prepared. Take your protein bars. Have a good bottle of water on you. Just make sure that you are really managing your own energy, not just the time that you have allotted, but your own energy, so you pace yourself and you get the most out of every conference.

Now when you network and meet people, here’s just a note. Treat everyone you meet kindly. Everyone’s stressed. Lots of stuff is usually happening. People will get kind of bombarded by everything that’s going on. They often might get overwhelmed. You might get overwhelmed, and I think it just makes things a little bit better for everyone when people are kinder. There’s a little bit of compassion. There’s just a little bit more understanding, so taking that approach will get you a lot further.

The other thing that you want to keep in mind is this isn’t the place necessarily where you are going to leave and try to do something transactional with people. Sometimes that happens, but the great thing about conferences is that you can really start to build a relationship. When you collect the business cards from people, don’t think of it as just an exchange, like here’s mine, here’s yours, great, see you later. It’s more about maybe learn a thing or two about the person. What stands out to you? Take that time to be fully present. It takes the term tech mindfulness to a whole other level.

Now post. A lot of times I think the most value you get out of a conference is really what happens after the conference, and this is a great time, one day, this is my approach. I do a detox, a conference detox, where I kind of take all the ideas and let it just settle. I might take a pen and paper, I know, very analog of me, but I write down people I met who left an impression, ideas I had, thoughts, even if it’s a jumble, and I kind of let it all simmer, so kind of like an idea pot if you will, and that’s a lot of fun because once you’re out of that conference detox, all these ideas somehow make sense. Things start flowing a little bit better, and this is your chance to then follow up with people that you met that you really want to keep in touch with.

I’m amazed at how many people I meet that I say I would love to hear from you, stay in touch, and what do they say? Yes, oh my God, I’d love that, so excited to meet you. Do I hear from them? You know, its a fifty-fifty, and sometimes I think, boy, I really wish they had. I was very interested in what they had to say or offer or whatever it may have been. Always, always follow up. My trick is I take a lot of those business cards, connect with people on LinkedIn, and then poof, business cards don’t necessarily stick around, but I connect with the people.

Having some takeaways can be very helpful post conference, meaning what are three things that you want to do differently that you want to enact from the conference, and actually do them. Even three things can make such a big difference if you actually do them, so a conference is great. It opens up your mind, your network, but at the end of the day, it really is what you make of it.

I hope that was helpful. I would love to hear your best conference tips. Feel free to tweet me, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever your poison is, and be sure to subscribe at Shamahyder.com. Put your email in and that puts you on our VIP list, and that way you’ll be always in the know of all the cool stuff that’s going on. All right guys. See you later.

 

–Episode Tips–

Before the Conference

Tip #1: Do your homework. What do you want to see or attend?

Tip #2: Expect to walk a lot and pack comfortable shoes.

Tip #3: Don’t forget to bring business cards.

 

During the Conference

Tip #1: Leave room in your schedule for serendipity.

Tip #2: Pace yourself!

Tip #3: You’ll get hungry. Bring snacks, protein bars, and water.

Tip #4: Be kind to other conference attendees. They’re weary too.

Tip #5: Make a great impression when meeting new people.

 

After the Conference

Tip #1: Decompress slowly.

Tip #2: Follow up with connections you made.

Tip #3: Take what you learned and run with it!

 

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