Seven ways to ensure you enjoy (and network) the heck out of SXSW Interactive

Phoebe Connelly

Talk to the person who asked the best question

You've managed to squeeze into the day's most in-demand panel, stocked with representatives from companies you'd love to work for (or pitch your work to). When the session is over, a line will immediately form around the presenters. Instead of following suit, make your way over to the person who asked the best question during the Q&A. Chances are that person is just as likely to hire you or know someone who can. Even if said Q&Aer is at the same place as you in their career, she can introduce you to new networks, be a point of contact in another city, or turn into a professional sounding board for future ventures.

Go visit some Austin businesses

We're three deep at their bars, our rental cars are clogging their highways and SXSW has flipped their town into a wasteland of convention overflow. The least we can do is show homegrown Austin businesses some love. And getting time away from official activities will provide a needed mental health break.

I asked Austinites I trust for some recommendations. Leslie Clayton, host of the Five Things open mic, said the "very best of coffees" are at Houndstooth on N. Lamar. "It's run by the very local, very bearded, very handsome Henry brothers," Clayton says.

"On East 6th, I'd have to say our Five Things host, Cheer Up Charlie's, is the greatest," she added. "They've got an amazing banh mi at the trailer out back and kombucha on tap." She also suggested The Tigress on Northloop Blvd.

For shopping I turned to Laura Uhlir of Olive Vintage."Take Heart is a super sweet shop specializing in cool Japanese ceramics; it's a good gift spot," she told me.

She also pointed me to Farewell Books--the reincarnation of Austin favorite Domy, which Uhlir previously shared a space with. (Uhlir is also my future sister-in-law.)

Justin Cox of design collective Public School offered a means of hitting what he termed the "Texas Trio" without looking like an obvious tourist. "Mexican: Habanero Cafe instead of Matt's El Rancho or Guero's. Cowboy Experience: Horseshoe Lounge or Don's Depot instead of The Broken Spoke," Cox says. "And BBQ: Franklin or J Mueller instead of Salt Lick or Stubb's."

Take a pedi-cab

Traffic isn't moving because there is an energy drink delivery truck unloading the day's supply. Your feet (even assuming you've heeded everyone's admonishments on proper footwear) are aching. Pony up for a pedi-cab. Pedicab operators can charge either a fixed amount, or negotiate based on your destination--but in any case, per Austin ordinance, they are required to set the fare before you start your journey. It's a delightful way to get to your cross-town panel.

Go to a session that has absolutely nothing to do with your interests

Are you a community manager? Check out something geared toward mobile designers. Here for the government and civic engagement track? Hit up that panel on music as financing for independent film. Half the fun of a good conference is getting pushed out of your comfort zone. See how other professionals are tackling the challenge of building communities, launching products and navigating the ever changing social web.

Eat a breakfast taco

You will walk too much, drink too much, and talk until you run out of words. Do your body the kindness of eating the most important meal of the day Texas-style: Get a breakfast taco. Breakfast tacos are portable, come in vegetarian-friendly varieties, and will set you back less than $5.

Leave your laptop at home

Do you need to type a memo today? Are you required to maintain a website? Edit graphics on the fly? Publish a lengthy blog post? If the answer is no, then do yourself a favor and leave that machine at home. Take notes on paper. Jot ideas into your Droid. Fire up Hootsuite on your iPad.

When a rainstorm hits, every electrical outlet in the room is spoken for, or you have clocked hour 12 with a bag on your shoulder, you'll be glad that all you have is a relatively small electronic device. And who knows? Maybe cutting that electronic cord will force you to make small talk.

Buy a drink for the other person live-tweeting a panel

So you find yourself at a really dynamic, amazing panel, where every third exchange is tweet-worthy. Take a gander at who else is lighting up Twitter with choice quotes, and @reply them to grab a drink, or even better, see if you can spot them in the crowd and go introduce yourself.

It's a quick way to make a new friend--and continue the conversation.