This year I went to South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival without a badge, and it was much more enjoyable than when I went with a badge last year. I learned a few key things to making the most out of going without a badge, so I thought I’d write this guide to help others.
The best part of SXSW is meeting the right people, and you can’t really meet people while you’re taking notes in a panel and then running to the bathroom before the next panel. I loved not having a badge because I had time to meet so many more people and do more fun things than when I had a badge last year. I also met several SXSW veterans who came without a badge, and they emphatically agreed they loved no-badging it. If you’re a SXSW newbie or simply looking to learn a lot, then you should probably get a badge. But before you decide to go to SXSW without a badge next year, be sure to read this guide and decide if it sounds right for you.
Step 1: Look Like You Belong There
- Wear a neck lanyard with a badge holder, preferably your SXSW badge holder from last year (they used the same design in 2011 and 2012). Fill the clear pouch with your business cards.
- Carry a backpack or messenger bag with a laptop or iPad
- Walk around with your smartphone in hand
- Carry lots of business cards to hand out
Step 2: Create Your SXSW Schedule
- Download the free SXSW Schedule app and create an account (you don’t need a badge)
- Add your favorite panels and parties to your SXSW Schedule
- Look for unofficial SXSW party web sites and RSVP for ones that don’t require a badge
Step 3: Follow Twitter Search Streams
SXSW attendees are constantly tweeting with hashtags, so Twitter can tell you everything you need to know. Get creative with multiple boolean hashtag searches to find really specific information. Here are a few Twitter search streams that I found useful:
- Panel hashtags — All the key takeaways get tweeted. It’s like being there, only without the boring parts. Find the panel hashtags in your SXSW schedule descriptions.
- #SXSW OR #SXSWi (“i” for Interactive) — Look for lots of tweets about the same topic. These are the golden nuggets of SXSW.
- SXSW AND party — Find out which parties are fun, where, when, and if you need a badge to get in
- SXSW AND food — Find what’s good to eat and where the free food is
- SXSW AND free — Usually if it’s free, it doesn’t require a badge
- SXSW AND wifi — How I found out which networks had the best signal and what the passwords were for free secured wifi network
Step 4: Monitor Foursquare Trending Places
When lots of people are checked in at a place near SXSW, chances are there is something fun going on there right NOW. It might be the hottest party, a good restaurant, a popular panel, or a free promotion. Either way, it’s a guaranteed good place to hang out, network and meet SXSW attendees.
- How to find trending places: inside the Foursquare app click “Explore”, then “Trending”
I spent most of my time working on my laptop at open tables around the convention center, and while I was taking the “no badge” photo above, the Editor in Chief of Mashable sat down in the chair right next to me! I have always wanted to write for them, and now I know exactly who to contact. Thanks for the photo, Lance.