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Everything I know about networking I learned at SXSW

Posted by Colleen Wainwright on

A couple of full days after returning from the glorious madness that is the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) Festival, I’m starting to get a bit of perspective on the event, as well as the use of my voice again.

But because there is still so much to process–this really is the big-mama, conference-to-end-all-conferences for anyone involved with social media, web design & development, interactive content, or any other kind of general iNerdery–I’m going to do it in the form of a list, to help me further sort my thoughts. And, hopefully, to make it easier for you to comment on/add to them.

Besides, we all know I’m mad queer for lists!

1. Networking, like marketing, begins way before the event itself.

In addition to prepping your head for the onslaught of new & old faces (introverts, I’m talking to you!), it is unbelievably helpful to get up to speed on who’s coming, what they do, what they write about–even what they look like. There’s kinda no excuse for not doing this anymore, between Google, Twitter, RSS feeds/readers and email. SXSW makes it dead simple by providing an online registry of attendees; check to see if your event does something similar.

2. Do not put off until tomorrow the person you can meet tonight.

Time flies at a good event. (You’re attending a good event, right?) Everyone says it because it’s true: if there’s someone you really want to meet, figure out how to meet them as soon as you can. Make contact before if it’s someone you "know" online and want to hook up with in real life. In addition to making sure you’ll actually meet them, it’s a good way to ramp up to full conference speed. My first-day breakfast with my German programming friend whom I met at SXSWi two years ago gave me the strength I needed to deal with lots of new faces.

3. Don’t buddy up too much.

It’s great to hook up with friends, but beware the friend-as-crutch. Yes, it was harder hitting the festival without my boyfriend this year; it was mildly terrifying to put myself out there again and again. But really, everyone is doing the same thing, most people are really quite lovely, and the ones who aren’t? News flash: you don’t want to hang out with them anyway.

4. Keep cards handy, but…

Chris Brogan–social media dude extraordinaire, networking god and good friend–has great advice on handing out cards without being creepy:

Another tip, don’t do the card-swap/handshake-at-the-same-time thing.
The other person might not need your relationship, and you might not
need theirs. Instead, when it’s about time to break off the
conversation, say, "I’m really excited we connected. I’d love to talk
more with you. May we exchange cards?" See how that feels? Totally

Full interview with lots more networking goodness here.

5. Ask, and you shall receive.

Before heading out, I sent out my March newsletter with my own networking tips gleaned so far. I used the opportunity to say I was hitting SXSW and to ask for any tips other people might have. Got a slew of great ones, including the importance of follow-up (separates the men from the boys, as it were) and about reframing the way you look at a sea of new faces (think "welcoming & warm" not "scary monsters who want to feast on your entrails"–a point  Kathy Sierra illustrated brilliantly in her panel about wooing users.)


If you’re interested in knowing more about the SXSWi experience in terms of how it can crack your head open and fill it up with inspiration, you won’t do much better than this round-up I found (on Twitter, via Hugh MacLeod, aka @gapingvoid) by Daniel Light.

I also wrote up my experience at this year’s conference, and how it compared to the last (also first!) one. Truthfully, I doubt I’ll ever be super-comfortable with meeting bunches of new people. But the more I do it, and the more I know about how to do it, the less mystifying it gets.

And so, of course, I have to ask:

Did you go? What was your experience? And if you didn’t, what have you learned about networking that changed your attitude towards it?

  • More in: How to Get the Most from ______, Networking, Posts by Colleen

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