How to Learn, Party & Network at #SXSW

For years I have been going to South by Southwest’s Interactive Festival and learning to balance my learning, partying, and networking has been what I consider a true art form.

How to Learn, Party & Network at #SXSW


For those who have only heard of the crazy fun times that happen at SXSW and have never actually attended the festival, you’re missing out. It’s basically one week that fuses together excellent learning opportunities, amazing parties, and networking that takes place with one (or two) drinks in your hand. Personal and professional contacts have been made at SXSW and grown post-conference. I still talk to people who I met at my first SXSW 3-4 years ago, but how’s it done? How do you balance sessions, partying, and networking without completely losing your shit before day 2 starts at the conference?

Learning at SXSW

Learning at SXSW is pretty straight forward. You have sessions, you have a SXSW Scheduler, and you have a iPhone (hopefully!). Schedule your sessions in advance, add them on your calendar, and learn! Here are a couple tips:

  • Set your schedule in advance. Know which topics you’re wanting to attend and schedule EVERYTHING else around them. Ultimately you should go to SXSW because there are really good sessions from true thought leaders (buzzword vomit) and know what they’re talking about. Don’t be confused, though. There are a lot of people that have sessions or that are on panels that have no business. They are either there because their company is a big sponsor or they have a lot friends who spent countless hours voting on their sessions/panels.
  • Hit the keynotes. This is something I have always strugged with. The keynotes this year are quite fantastic. Austin Kleon (not really sure who he is), Neil deGrasse Tyson, Anne Wojcicki, Adam Savage, and Chelsea Clinton. These five, well four, are pretty fantastic and I will attempt to be at the majority of their keynotes. It’s not everyday you get to hear people with such caliber.

Partying at SXSW

Partying at SXSW requires true art form. This first step might be a little late once this blog actually hits the interwebs, but it might serve a bigger purpose when people are searching for “SXSW 2016.”

  • Register for ALL the parties. If you haven’t registered for every single party, regardless if you’re going to attend or not, you’re missing out. It’s like “the thing to do” when it comes to SXSW. Event organizers (like ourselves) hate it because it means we have to be very selective in who we let in, especially if your party is for clients, friends of clients, and prospective clients, or if it’s an industry party. Bottom line, is spend a good hour or two of your evening registering for every South by Southwest party you can. Bonus hint: When registering create a fake email address like so you don’t get all the spammy emails (again, something organizers don’t really like). 
  • Use services like RSVPster to sign up for EVERY party. RSVPster is one of the best tools out there to basically pay a fee and get signed up for every possible party there is at SXSW whether you’re interested or not. This is the best way and most time efficent way to get RSVPs. You’ll want to make sure you’re definetly on the lists for your top five must attend parties, but RSVPster will jumpstart the process!
  • Find out the best parties from Blogging4Jobs! Each SXSW we put out a top list of parties that are must-attends. Check out the blog. Also if you’re in the HR & Recruiting profession or a avid reader or Blogging4Jobs, email me at blake(at) to get on our VIP list for Social Siesta.

Networking at SXSW

Networking at SXSW will come naturally through learning and partying at SXSW, but here are a few ways to boost your networking.

  • Bring lots of business cards . If you’re at SXSW and you forgot business cards, you’re missing out. Yes, everyone is technologically savvy and probably has the latest app that you can tap to transfer contacts, but having a physical card will be more beneficial (considering the person doesn’t get too drunk and lose it!)
  • Talk to everyone! Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone and everyone. SXSW is a big networking extravaganza. Don’t miss out on all the awesome people you’ll meet at SXSW by sitting at a session or having a beer with at the bar. Last year I was at a gay bar and was sitting next to Andy Cohen and casually had a conversation with him although I was geeking out inside.

Learning, partying, and networking at SXSW in Austin will be one week that you’ll never forget (unless you black out a lot!). If you’re coming swing by our party and say hi! We’d love to hear from our readers!

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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