Get Ready for SXSW Sydney


We’ve got less than a month to go before SXSW Sydney opens their doors to an excited and curious public. I’ve been to SXSW Austin six times since 2009, and learned a lot of what not to do along the way! So I thought I’d share some tips that first timers might find helpful.

This is mainly aimed at Interactive and Platinum badge holders, but there might be something useful in here for others too.

Don’t call it “South by Southwest”

It’s just “South by” 🤠

Get organised

SXSW has finally announced the full schedule of venues and speakers, and with over a dozen sessions in some time slots, taking place across different venues, you’re likely to miss out on great sessions without a bit of planning.

The web-based schedule page and the mobile app lets you mark favourites in advance. I tend to use the web app to favourite everything I’m interested in regardless of time slot, and at the end of each day I look at the next days options (some of which might be moved or cancelled at the last minute), thinning out the options allowing maybe a maximum of two in each time slot. Plus I can also ask around the night before if anyone else has found something great I overlooked.

Note some of them will have long queues (see below), so you’ll need to allow queuing time as well.

I also recommend checking out the headline and featured speakers shown here. Amy Webb’s sessions are a staple for SXSW Austin, and I’m sure Charlie Brooker will be essential viewing too.

Mix it up

With so many sessions taking place, it’s inevitable that everyone’s SXSW will be different. This is a great opportunity…I’ve always found that a lot of the learnings take place in the evening, where not only do you find out what other people have learned throughout the day, there’s also the potential for ideas to overlap and combine and become something completely new. Honestly, this space inbetween the sessions is one of the best things about SXSW.

As a self-confessed introvert I’ve always found it hard talking to strangers, but if there’s one place to try your best, it’s SXSW. Have a few questions ready in the chamber to ask at the bar, or across the table, or even at a session when you’re waiting for it to start. Just asking about their best session so far will usually get an interesting response. SXSW attracts such an exciting range of people and perspectives that you’ll always pick up something new.

Don’t be afraid to walk out

If you’re in a session that isn’t piquing your interest, just walk out. Even if you’re sitting at the front. Plenty of other people do it. Your time is too valuable to waste on poor sessions, and there might be an amazing one next door. The SXSW Austin app provides a ‘Sessions near me’ feature which I hope will be available in Sydney, but even if it isn’t, don’t let that stop you walking out - go choose a new adventure!

Pace yourself

A conference in a foreign city always feels a bit like a holiday, with late nights at new bars (especially if you have a Music, Film or Platinum badge), but with bleary eyes the next day. SXSW tends to take this to the next level; 6-10 solid days of sessions, drinking, late nights, unhealthy food, early starts and being on your feet all day and night will take its toll. I’ve learned to factor in one or two lie-ins / later starts, but most importantly - stay hydrated, bring fruit and wear comfortable shoes. I tend to start each SXSW by visiting Whole Foods and stocking up on high protein yoghurts, healthy snacks and enough fruit to sink a battleship - much better than queuing to pay $5 for an apple.


Many of the popular sessions in Austin have queues that extend well over a kilometre (and over an hour). As you’d expect, people save places for people, engage in chat and cut, or just wait for the queue to move and then try to merge in. Hard to predict whether the situation will be as bad in Sydney, but if you’re really keen to see a particular session, and you think it might be popular, try and get there well in advance. You’ll also get a better seat. You could be in the queue for an hour, so use the toilet before you join..

And the more extreme option is attending the preceding session in the same room. Done this many times, with friends outside missing out.

Use your badge

If you have an interactive badge, just remember that it’ll get you into film and music events if they’re not filled up. Probably won’t get you into a top film premiere, but hopefully some live music venues will have a steady rotation of lesser known bands and you can rock up and rock on. Also a chance to watch some great independent films.

Humblebrag: I saw a 2 hour acoustic set by Beck with just an Interactive ticket in 2022. So freakin' good!

Bring your bullshit detector

When something is high on the hype cycle, you’ll find loads of corresponding sessions - and most of them will be bullshit. Whether it’s AI, Web3, Blockchain, Virtual Reality, or something else, it’ll be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. Don’t just be pulled in by the session title, dig into the speakers to see if they’re likely to be telling you something new, or instead they’ll just reaffirm what you already know. And, as mentioned before, don’t be afraid to walk out.

Panel or presentation?

In my experience, presentations are 10x better than panels. Don’t get me wrong, you can get some great panels (and some terrible presentations) but when it comes to panels you’ll want to check the presenters' credentials to make sure you’re actually going to get something out of it rather than just mutual admiration, endorsement and groupthink.

Keep an eye out

I’ll be wandering around with (hopefully) an Altai t-shirt on, come and say hi if you see me!

Want to get away from the crowds?

I recommend you head to Wynyard, jump on a B-line bus (20 minutes or so to Warringah Mall) and then head to the many breweries of Brookvale.

Map of breweries in brookvale

They’re all great, but Dad & Dave’s is the best. Let me know if you’d like to buy me a beer and I might meet you there!