The Introvert’s Guide to a Successful SXSW

Set your target who to meet

Set your target who to meet

Dorie Clark, Contributor

I write about marketing, branding and business strategy.

The South by Southwest Interactive festival is a frenzied cornucopia – nearly 30,000 people descending on a few square blocks of Austin, launching innovations and overtaxing everything from wifi signals to restaurant seating. It’s a dream for eager extroverts looking to make new connections and enjoy the legendary SXSW party scene, fully loaded with Texas BBQ and beer. But it can be a challenge for introverts who know (in theory) that they should be out mingling, but feel overwhelmed by the crowds, the strangers, and the incredibly loud music everywhere.

SXSW is packed – a challenge for introverts.

Most of my friends would laugh at the idea I’m an introvert; I love networking and meeting new people. But that’s because I work from home and generally have plenty of time to recharge in between social sessions. At SXSW, it doesn’t let up. With two days left in this year’s extravaganza, here are my introvert survival tips.

Get lots of sleep. Eric Hellweg of the Harvard Business Review wrote a great piece in the Wall Street Journal with his SXSW tips. But with all due respect, following his advice would kill me. “Look, you’ll be out each night until 2 or 3 a.m. at least, and then up for a 9:30 panel,” he writes. “…[M]agic can’t happen unless you’re in the mix, and magic does happen at SXSW. Suck it up and power through.” Would that I could, Eric. But for many of us, that’s just not going to happen. All the networking actually makes me far more exhausted, so I need more sleep, not less. If you’re a serious introvert, budget at least eight hours, and maybe nine. (HBR blogger Tony Schwartz would be proud.)

Create a connection goal. You could make infinite connections at SXSW, and stay out all night doing so. If you’re an introvert, spare yourself the grief. Set the number of connections you’d like to make – let’s say three – and then consider anything else a bonus. Today, I had an in-depth conversation over lunch with web video pioneer Tim Street; reconnected with authors Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, whom I’d met at a previous conference; and introduced myself to work-life fit expert Cali Yost, whom I’d corresponded with online but had never met in person. That feels like a productive day, and I’m still back in my room before 10 p.m. (I need to rest up for my SXSW book talk tomorrow at 5p.m.)

Skip the parties and meet people one-on-one. This might be SXSW heresy, but I’m not such a fan of the parties. They’re generally loud and booze-soaked, and unless you’re entering with a posse, it can be very hard to strike up a conversation because of the noise level. (Not to mention the fact that skulking around the edges alone feels far too much like junior high.) I vastly prefer to connect with people one-on-one for coffee or meals. If you run into someone, or discover from your social media stream that they’re in town, try suggesting an intimate gathering, rather than meeting them at a party (which are usually so crowded, you won’t find them, anyway).

Those are my strategies for managing the ‘drinking from a firehose’ nature of SXSW, while still making good connections and having fun. What are yours?

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.


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