I went to the Interactive portion of the 2013 SXSW Conference for the first time, below are a few of my tips for anyone attending SXSW for the first time. These observations came from making first-timer mistakes and with the help of veteran SXSW'ers Jeremy Williams & Jason Poteet and fellow SXSW newb Alex Wilson.
Start Your Day Early
The best sessions are later in the day, but its nice getting to downtown Austin early to plan your day and be ready for the long day of events. It can take a lot time to get something as simple as coffee, so get there early to relax.
Try Something New
Since the sessions cant get too deep or technical (but the workshops do) its usually best to hear a talk on a topic outside your area of expertise. It's enough to have a minor interest in the topic or having heard about the speaker but know little about them.
My favorite sessions were the ones i didnt expect to be interesting. I have no interest in TMZ yet Harvey Levin was engaging and provided helpful insight to non-media types.
Caveat to Trying New Topics
Don't be afraid to go to a technical session or a subject that lies within your domain because you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Take a chance on new stuff but mix that in with your own specialties.
Seriously Consider the Mini-Sessions
The 15/20 minute sessions were great and packed with information. At first glance it seemed like the short length wouldn't be enough or that you might miss a better hour long session. Due to the time constraint the speakers were forced to present the meat of their domain knowledge which seemed to be an issue for some less interesting hour-long sessions. If there's an interesting topic thats a mini-session, check it out.
It's All About the Speaker
The speakers make or break session, too often a bad presenter took ruined an otherwise interesting topic. The topic isn't always as important, an engaging speaker can capture your attention on just about anything. Find popular bloggers that you follow, a famous entrepreneur, an interesting product or a someone who is known for good presentations.
Find the Food Trucks
Check on twitter, foursquare or ask native texans where to find the best trucks. The food trucks in Austin are amazing and serve better food than I've ever had in Omaha with the exception of the aged filet mignon at omaha prime. You can get a wide variety of foods, but the tacos are the feature attraction.
I really enjoyed my time and recommend anyone to go even if your not in web. I've been re-energized to write code, build better products and design with purpose. It's worth the time and money you will spend in Austin, Texas.