I was recently asked for my top tips for maximizing the experience of SXSW as well as a story of a serendipitous encounter. Here is my answer to both:
The best way to maximize your experience at SXSW Interactive is to plan to fail! By that, I mean that you should use the SXSW app and website to create a detailed schedule with several options for each time slot. Since South By is a multi-track event, you should have have multiple events scheduled for every hour so that, if any given event isn't working for you, you can easily move to another one. However, even the best laid SXSW plan is bound to fail so go with the flow and focus on enjoying the experience!
I also recommend having a back channel. Monitor Twitter and other social media outlets in the weeks right before SXSW, and you'll probably see people listing hashtags or Slack teams to follow or join. These back channels help you cut through the noise of SXSW and see what events like-minded people are attending. This is a great way to discover intimate events that fall under the hype radar and also that secret party that always is disclosed at the last minute!
I had a serendipitous encounter at SXSW when I was walking to a late night party and ran into a friend who I haven't seen since he came a book signing I had in Austin a couple of years ago. I totally didn't expect to see him, but that brief interaction further strengthened my friendship with him. You may not find your best friend forever at SXSW, but you will definitely have the opportunity to incrementally advance many deep and meaningful relationships.