Short answer: why yes, yes it does.
SXSW, the annual festival/conference for all things interactive, film and music, is a carnival. It’s got a pretty loosely organized conference structure- dozens of concurrent panels and plenary sessions- and parties and receptions and launches round the clock. With all the general noise, it was hard to tell if people were working, creating connection, having shared experience, or simply enjoying the spectacle.
The community drives a lot of the content, and it has pretty uneven quality. That it to say, some mainstage sessions are fantastic, some are yawns. We found one panel stuck in a back hallway with a 100 people in attendance that was absolutely brilliant (Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard’s Center for Internet and the Law, and the Founders of Crowdflower and Kickstarter talking about crowdsourcing and the new way of working), but many of the content and social media panels were just a snore- a rehashing of very well known factoids, and usually poorly facilitated with a lot of selling from the stage. So it made for a lot of potential downtime in between planned meetings and parties.
Plan ahead: Have some idea of who you want to talk to in advance, schedule some set meetings if you can (we found breakfast worked best, because after that, its very hard to stay on track). Print out a schedule of the things in your bullseye, attend, tweet/comment, and in general show up. Go to as many things as you can get to. One party alone, which we almost bailed on due to Day 4 fatigue, thrown by Second Market, was only founders and investors- really interesting people working on exciting concepts.
Be present wherever you are: If a panel or talk is just not doing it, leave. Even if you’re not naturally an extrovert, this is the place to just be one anyway. Hang out in the lobby spaces, proactively introduce yourself to everyone, and be genuinely curi0us about what they do, and you will discover amazing intersection points (not to mention tips on hot startups and great parties).
Serendipity and wonder: You will see people you know. You will be surprised that in this vast sea of people from all over the world, at the bottom of the escalator,or at a picnic table in the front, there’s the exact person you were wanting to talk to. Nothing is firm, stay on #Hashable or Twitter, Keep your PDA handy, and roll with the day. You will also see things you never expected to see- take that in.
Wear the walking shoes: You may be surprised at the distances between things, so don’t sweat it if you can’t get somewhere. And if you are moving between points, share cabs, cars, a walk. Skip the pedicabs, they cost a fortune.
Check your bags: even if you booked late and are therefore staying in the hinterlands, around 5 pm each day, check your bag with any near-the-conference-center bellman. They are waiting, and you’re not lugging things from place to place. After 5, its a handsfree event.
Exercise anyway: Do your yoga (there are some great studios), swim, take your vitamins. I know it may seem ridiculous to say, but you really need your energy high and clear and clean to do this thing- don’t blow it by drinking and bingeing- the culture (spoken and unspoken) is drive hard (we went to a panel where a presenter awarded prizes to those who were out latest, and to the most hungover. That really doesn’t have to be you.
Followup: We met fantastic people, and the stack of cards and contacts was 100+ thick for each of us. Plan ahead for followup- a cushion of a day or two when you get back and its fresh in your mind.
For us, SXSW was a visual and sensory treat, we recruited new alpha users, tempted digital agencies, met analysts and press- and we’ll definitely be going back. Prepared and ready to do business.