Annabelle Blackburn (aka AB), our North American Sales Manager, is a pro networker. Whether it’s EurOUT, Lesbians Who Tech, or SXSW, AB is present, business cards in hand.
Here are AB’s 7 tips to make the week a success. If you’re an ambitious millennial prepping for SXSW, read on!
Plan, prioritize… and get comfortable with FOMO!
The SXSW Schedule, as much as it can be completely overwhelming, is a pretty fantastic tool. Spend some time ahead of the conference browsing the full event list, as well as any tags or tracks that catch your interest.
Make sure you prioritise events based on the reason for your attendance: is it general learning? sales? gathering investors? raising the profile for your company? Consider who is paying for your ticket and what stakeholders expect from you, and ensure you tailor events you attend to their needs – but make sure you include some fun events, too! I’ve found that specific events targeted to a skill set or identity trait are fantastic places to network since people already feel that you have something in common.
Once you’ve done this, prepare to comfortably attend about 10% of those events. SXSW is busy, and it will invariably take you more time to get to places. You will meet interesting people along the way who change your plans, you’ll get pulled into a different event, or you may just need that second round of margaritas to cool down after all. If you are intent on going to as many events as possible, plan a minimum of 30 minutes between events to give yourself the best chance of getting to them on time, but prepare to be flexible, and get comfortable with FOMO!
I’ve tried countless apps and still find that the most reliable method to share details is… business cards.
Have your contact details ready
It sucks to have an amazing connection with someone, only to realise you didn’t get their details and have no way of contacting them. If you’re speed networking at SXSW, you can expect to be speaking to well upwards of 50 people per day. I’ve tried countless apps and still find that the most reliable method to share details is… business cards. And, despite the amount of tech switching hands that week, nothing beats a slim bit of paper (that may or may not contain a QR code).
If you’re going with your company, make sure to pack a good stack of business cards with you. If you’re self-funding your ticket, do yourself a favour and invest in some personal cards – make sure they’re memorable and contain the contact information you want to share. If you’re like me, bring both sets and maximise the opportunity to boost your company’s profile as well as build up your personal brand.
At the conference, always have a set readily available and avoid unnecessary faffing about in a bag or pockets. Time is a rare commodity at SXSW, so don’t waste your own or other people’s, plus it only ever looks good to be ready.
Pack water, and make the most of any opportunity to drink water. I also recommend having a snack bar with you at all times: hotel breakfast buffet bars are a good place to source, or perhaps the world’s first Whole Foods nearby. Breakfast burritos and margaritas can only take you so far. Your future self will thank you.
The truth about batteries
I always carry at least two portable chargers with me – good ones. While plenty of people will be handing these out, they’re often cheap ones that won’t charge your phone beyond 30 minutes, so invest in some decent ones.
Practice your pitch and master the Humble Brag
I’ll stress this again: time is rare at SXSW. When someone asks what you do, where you work, what your company is about, where you got those fabulous cork wingtips, be prepared with a precise and concise answer. If you don’t have an elevator pitch ready, definitely spend some time ahead of the conference to rehearse a few options and get feedback from friends and colleagues as to what’s most effective. Perhaps have a few versions of the same answers ready to whip out for different industries or roles.
You should also practice a good way to gracefully exit a conversation and move on to bigger fish. If you’re not getting the vibe, it’s likely they’re not either, so they’ll appreciate an out as well.
You should also practice a good way to gracefully exit a conversation… If you’re not getting the vibe, it’s likely they’re not either.
Be memorable and have fun
There are thousands of PYTs at SXSW, all with their own ambitions and stories. I have found that my young age combined with eagerness to connect and efficient time management were a great ramp to stay in people’s minds. I also made sure to be very active on social media (#SXSW on Twitter is like a whole other conference!) and participate in relevant conversations – this meant I could network from a distance, and led to a handful of great leads that I then met in person.
Personally, despite all my prepping, my best asset still was my dapper style: it gets people chatting to you! I’ve been featured on Buzzfeed, DapperQ, and a series of other style influencer profiles, so SXSW is a great opportunity to flex my speed-self-tie-bowtie-tying skills and stand out. Find your thing that makes you feel confident and comfortable, and turn up the dial at SXSW. I’ve had people contact me months afterwards saying ‘Hey, you were that person with the whale bow tie!’
Finally, perhaps surprisingly, one of the best ways to be memorable is to listen. Invest in the conversation that you’re in, and you’ll be that more ready to find a common point that will hook them in, or craft an amazing follow up email that makes it clear you listened – and truly care.
AB is our Sales Manager for North America. She splits her time between Paris and Philadelphia. Her hobbies include networking, wood whittling, and consuming guacamole and margaritas. Going to SXSW? Hit her up on Twitter, SX Social, or Instagram.