How To Prep For (and Rock) SXSWedu

Eric Nentrup

SXSWedu is quickly approaching and like most educators, I have to find a moment to prepare myself for what will be a veritable deluge of information and interaction. The problem is that our lives as educators are so fraught with frenetic activity, it’s possible to go from all the fires we are trying to put out at our schools, and because of a condition known as “CBS” (Conference Behavior Syndrome), presume we’ll have a moment to relax as soon as we get to Austin.

Certainly, this can be a safe approach for myriad education conferences. You just can’t get away with that at this event because SXSWedu and Austin won’t allow it. 2015 is my third year attending, second year on the advisory board, and first year presenting, and I’m still intimidated by the need to prepare for the event’s magnitude. Admittedly I want to make a strong impression and am fixated upon bringing the goods to the session I’m co-hosting with Mike Kleba, Brooklyn educator and founder of Teachernomics. Yet I know just beyond our session is the need to wring the life out of everything orange in Austin that is SXSWedu. Here’s how I plan to do so and tips for you to consider:

Get The App NOW

Don’t wait until you arrive to line up your sessions. SXSWedu’s Mobile App is already available and will update regularly as changes to the lineup occur. There are a few great reasons to start fiddling with this now:

  1. Previewing your session choices to prevent FOMO (another CBS symptom) in the frenzy that is the hallways of the Austin Convention Center.
  2. But also, eyeing out networking opportunities in between sessions.
  3. Choose from a VARIETY of sessions such as workshop, panel discussion, core conversation, Future15, eduFilm and more. SXSWedu has the most diverse organization of types of presentations of any conference out there and not experiencing that innovation in event planning would be remiss.
  4. After “starring” a few options for each day, stalk some of the presenters beyond the schedule on Find their company, school, district, or non-profit. Read their blogs and watch their YouTube channel. Or reconsider seeing their session if you don’t see much of a digital footprint in favor of another option for whom you can make a more educated commitment to attending their session.
  5. Use SXSWedu’s eduSocial to connect with other attendees let alone presenters. Follow through by connecting with them on at least Twitter if not other social media platforms as well. This builds incentive for seeking out in real life (IRL) these people. In fact, I have some tweets out there now helping me layout a list of people to connect with.

Make/Design/Order Amazing Leave Behinds

enentrup-blog-imageTraditional, business cards, though functional are so yesteryear. And, following on Twitter alone isn’t enough. One way to make a big impression is to think through an exchangeable item for yourself that is representative, affordable, and foils expectations a bit. I’ve seen little tchotchkes in diminutive glass bottles, classic pin-on buttons, lanyard charms, silicone bracelets, etc.

But my favorite is a non-traditional piece of heavy bond paper that transcends the 2×3.5” rectangle. I call it the “power business card”. Measuring in at three-by-five inches, and made from an inkjet custom print flashcard pack, with my contact info printed in the header. I can quickly scrawl some pertinent information then hand it off to make an impression on a new acquaintance.

Of course, you can order your own personalized notecard or go the other way with a skinny, square or mini-card, instead. Just get ready to swap ‘em like they’re baseball cards. Clothespins for your bike spokes are optional but appreciated.

Brick and Mortar of Choosing Sessions and Beyond

After you land in ATX, register and settle into your hotel room, it’s time to get your game face on. Hop on Twitter and check out who’s using #SXSWedu or @SXSWedu. Start following these folks, retweeting their most salient tweets, and even reaching out to grab a coffee or beer with a few.

Set your expectations high, leave them there, but don’t be emotionally tied to those high expectations. We know that conference sessions can be more hype than anything else. As educators, we can be particularly judgemental of presenters who may not speak publicly six hours a day. Put that in check. It’s a forest and trees thing and it could keep you from forging some significant relationships with education professionals because of the rarified air the SXSWedu brand brings with it.

Next, with expectations managed, there’s one bit of advice that I can’t stress enough: it’s okay to walk out of a session that isn’t what you thought it was. This is especially true if you followed the advice before the trip and marked two or more sessions that you wanted to attend during a schedule block. Make your best judgement, know the location of your fallback choice, and don’t be afraid to jump rooms. The conference expects it.

Thirdly, Don’t be swooned by the big names of the “edurati” or other known commodities. You WILL run into some famous people in the hallways, as SXSWedu is a magnet for altruistic celebrities. That doesn’t mean their session is the best use of your time.

What’s incredibly important is that you put your most extraverted foot forward and introduce yourself to people also attending the event that you would otherwise have a very difficult time connecting with. If you get invited to an evening party just “off campus” you know you’re doing it right.

Meetups & Afterhours

Granted, Yelp! will tell you the closest joints worth visiting after we vacate the Convention Center each afternoon, the choices are overwhelming. Here are a few great places you can guarantee to find refreshing accompaniments to your conversations:

  • Easy Tiger. Amazing sandwiches and fresh-baked pretzels to go with one of the best curated beer selections in town.
  • The Brass House. Swanky, but not quiet if one of the local jazz ensembles is stirring it up. A great way to unwind at the end of a busy day sitting.
  • Pelons Tex Mex. You may want to catch a Lyft to this eatery, and you might enjoy a respite from the activity around the Convention Center. I guarantee you’ll rave over the deep fried avocado or carnitas. Sensational.

A Final Word

Have a good time. Really. Just commit to staying in “on” mode for a considerable portion of the day, get comfortable with improvising and socializing.

For more on SXSWedu, check out:


Eric Nentrup is an eLearning coach in central Indiana and advocate for teachers and students. Follow Eric on Twitter with @ericnentrup

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1 Comment

Caroline Vander Ark

I still talk about your personalized business cards! They def make an impression when you scribbled a note about what I said I'd follow up with you on after we first met!

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