Today I arrived in Austin for one of the biggest events I have attended – South By South West, or as it is more affectionately know, SXSW . This is my first visit to Austin and my first SXSW. I came alone. I basically know no one. There are so many moving parts to he event that it can be overwhelming. FOMO is a definite risk.
I started out knowing no one – in person anyways – and ended the day with new friends and connections.
So how do you do it? How do you start making connections before the event even officially starts? Here are a few tips to maximize connections and experience at SXSW and other events new to you.
- Start connecting early via Social Media. Most events have a list of attendees or a hashtag to use on social media. Use the hashtag to find people talking about the event and request connections using LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media accounts.
- Check Facebook for event groups. SXSW has several themes with the main themes being Music, Film and Interactive. I searched for groups using both the event name and hashtag and by searching specifically for the stream that interested me. By joining the group I was able to connect with people early and they with me. This also gave me access to private Whatsapp chats that included great advice, opportunities for special events and enough notice to get a Westworld ticket before it sold out again in a manner of minutes.
- Show up early. Get to know the event area. Register and show off your badge! Carrying an SXSW bag or wearing your event badge gives you an instant warm open with other event attendees you may meet on the street. It is a kinship of sorts that lends itself to opening a conversation.
- Stand out (in a good way) and be remembered. Be unique. Wear that fedora. Have funky hair or clothing.
- Go to the before and after events. The main events may be during the day but many connections do not happen until later during the unofficial pub crawls, meals, meetups and more. THIS DOES NOT MEAN GET DRUNK. You do not want to be overly intoxicated at one of these events unless that is the image you want to portray. Have a few drinks. Eat some nibblies. Dance. Talk. Laugh. Relate. This is where the connection happens.
- PUT ON YOUR CAPE. Walk into each activity as if you are wearing an invisible cape. This will give you super powers as you will instantly feel yourself standing straighter with an air of confidence that only a cape can give you. This is especially useful when trying to blend into events where you may not have an official invitation. Act like you belong there.
- Ignore the event full notice. There are times that events will be full or oversubscribed but chances are that many people will RSVP and simply not show. If you want to go to the event, present yourself at the door and ask to be let in (in some cases you may just need to walk in and join the group). You can also ask your new connections if anyone has spare tickets. This will not always work but you will not know unless you take a chance and try it.
- Strike up conversations with new people as often as possible. Say hi. Compliment their shirt/necklace/tie/hair etc. Comment on an activity. Ask about their passions and what makes them excited. Please DO NOT ask what they do. What you do may not align with what excites you and thus will quickly shut down the conversation. Do not be afraid to join groups of people (preferably a group of 3 or more or two people in a position that welcomes a third person to their group) and introduce yourself as much as possible. Business cards should not come out before you connect and many people now avoid using cards at all. (Me, I have a bad memory so I will take your card once we have connected.)
So now you know my secrets. These tips have helped me build a
strong global network. Try them for yourself and have your best event experience yet!