9 Effective Strategies to Make the Most of your SXSW Experience

SXSW is on the horizon, and whether you’re a SXSW conference veteran or rookie, it’s important to plan ahead and develop an effective strategy that can help make the most of your experience. With proper planning, you could avoid missing out on some key panels and networking events. But most importantly, you can create valuable connections with the opportunity to maximize your conference ROI.

Aerospace and Defense Leaders, here are nine effective strategies you can deploy to make the most of your SXSW experience.


  1. Clearly define your organization’s strategic goals

SXSW is a very large event and requires both logistical and strategic planning to ensure you are able to maximize your time there. At any given time, there may be over 40 events running concurrently, so knowing where the best place to be can be challenging.

When planning for SXSW with our clients, our approach begins with forward-thinking. We focus on understanding our client’s objectives for the upcoming year, ensuring their conference strategy and attendance are in perfect alignment with their broader goals. This foresight is key to maximizing ROI and making the most of their marketing spend at SXSW.

While focusing on customers is generally always the priority for most organizations, we examine all of the primary organizational goals by asking the following questions:

  • Is the organization seeking target companies or technology to acquire?
  • Is the organization looking for talent like JV partnerships or teaming partners?
  • Is the organization seeking new technology vendors?
  • Is the organization hoping to attract new investors?
  • Does the organization want to establish itself as a significant thought leader or a trusted partner?


  1. Pre-set prospecting meetings for your executives

Build your executives’ schedules with more than just panels and networking events. You can get a head start on networking by reaching out to other attendees or speakers via LinkedIn to start building relationships before SXSW even begins. When working with our clients, we always research who will be attending SXSW and pre-set meetings for the executive team with high-value targets. The meetings can take place in the lobby of the conference center, at a local coffee shop, over lunch, or at designated meeting spaces included in sponsorship packages like SDI Events, LLC offers for the Space and Defense Innovation Showcase & VIP Reception sponsors or at various venues throughout Austin, TX for a rental fee. Remember to build briefing books to help your executives effectively prepare for their meetings ahead of time.


  1. Plan panel and event attendance strategically

Attending events can be expensive and time-consuming, and only some events at a conference will benefit you and your organization. Reviewing the conference schedule and events with your organizational goals in mind will help you narrow down your options and zero in on the panels and events that best achieve your desired outcomes. It’s helpful to think of attending conferences and events as one communication tactic in your arsenal, like developing a brochure or writing a thought leadership piece to share with your network. You can add or subtract your investment of time and resources in a conference relative to how it helps you meet your priorities.


  1. Consider speaking opportunities

Do you consider yourself an expert in your industry, or does your company offer an innovative product that others would be interested in learning about? If so, consider participating in one of SXSW’s many panel discussions or speaking opportunities. The conference setting is perfect for garnering attention and demonstrating your credibility as a subject matter expert. As soon as you see a call for speakers or panel submission announcements for SXSW, start developing a compelling proposal to submit for consideration. Be sure to keep your audience in mind and create objectives that attendees will achieve by attending your presentation. Remember to be creative– a concise and catchy presentation title will be more likely to stand out and grab attention. If you need help crafting your presentation title or abstract, this is one of the many services we offer our clients to help them take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.  


  1. Buy your SXSW badge before January 11th

This year, more defense programming will require a badge. In addition to your badge getting you into programming, badge holders also receive access to SXSW Housing & Travel, providing big discounts on hotels. Badge costs will increase by $100 per badge after the 11th of January. With Army Futures Command (AFC) hosting a great deal of official programming, you will want a badge to access this great content. Programming will feature leaders from throughout the DOD Innovation community—including Army, Air Force, DARPA, DIU, Navy, Marines, National Guard, NSIN, SBIR/STTR, Small Business, Space Force, and more— they will be hosting programming throughout the conference from March 8-15. This isn’t just a display of defense capabilities; it’s an invitation to startups, tech industry leaders, and individual innovators alike to understand the real-world implications of defense challenges and collaborate on scalable, groundbreaking solutions.


  1. Research unofficial aerospace and defense events happening during SXSW

While the SXSW conference website is a valuable place to find events you may want to attend, make sure to look at Capital Factory’s lineup and other unofficial aerospace and defense events happening during SXSW. Distinctive Edge will be publishing an events calendar in mid-January with a complete listing of official and unofficial space and defense events. Check back for the latest round-up, including the third annual highly curated Space and Defense Innovation VIP Reception held on March 9, 2024.


  1. Strategize with your colleagues to divide and conquer

Most companies send more than one person to SXSW. If this is the case for your organization, find out who else will be attending so you can meet beforehand to get your plans in sync. One effective strategy is to implement a “divide and conquer” approach. Review your targeted lists of keynotes, panels, seminars, presentations, and after-hour events, then determine which team members will attend so you can maximize your company’s presence and cover more ground. By collaborating with your coworkers, you will be able to share more information and meet twice the number of potential contacts than if you were to attend alone. 


  1. Host your own panel or networking event

One of the best ways to take your fate into your own hands is to host an event where you can curate the right content, audience, and outcomes for your organization. Consider teaming up with partners who can co-host the event with your organization and share in the planning and event costs. Start planning early to get your first choice of venues closest to the main convention center in downtown Austin, TX. 


  1. Consider hiring an organization that specializes in planning and hosting events during SXSW 

Lastly, the amount of time and energy it takes to map out an effective event strategy or plan a panel or networking can quickly burn through company capital and resources. Consider hiring an organization specializing in strategic conference planning and hosting events to maximize your SXSW experience. This can save you time, money, and resources over the long-run because it decreases your learning curve and allows you can spend your time focusing on what really matters. 

At Distinctive Edge Partners, we specialize in aerospace and defense, bringing significant industry connections and expertise to help our clients make the right connections. We can help you navigate the vast amount of programming and build customized event schedules most likely to make the biggest impact to your organization. We can help identify the most meaningful targets, pre-book your executives’ meetings, build briefing books, and ensure your executive team can maximize their time on the ground with a full schedule of targeted activities. If you are looking to plan your own programming, we can help you navigate through all the SXSW requirements and select the best date/time, venue, and speakers to achieve your desired outcomes.  



A conference strategy is a must in order to take advantage of all the available opportunities an event has to offer. The more planning you do ahead of time, the better your overall experience will be. Don’t wait until the last minute to create your plan – or worse, try to play it by ear. A well-designed conference plan before the event starts is a smart and effective approach that will result in a positive ROI for your company long after the event ends.



The Distinctive Edge team comprises business-builders with unique communications expertise and industry specialization. We help leaders solve business problems, thrive through transition, and achieve growth and engagement goals. The tools of our trade are strategic event planning and management, storytelling, investor and public relations, communications, and marketing. To learn more about our services, visit https://distinctiveedge.partners or book a free 30-minute consultation HERE.