SNDLOU: Students, here’s what you need to know about the conference

Whether you’re coming to Louisville as a freshman, a senior, a newbie, or a pro, here’s what you need to know about attending the annual workshop.

Thursday: SNDU and the Opening Reception

Thursday is all about you. The opening reception happens Thursday night, but leading up to the party, you’ll have the chance to learn from some of the best in the industry at a day-long workshop known as SNDU. Like the rest of the workshop, SNDU will be held at the Muhammad Ali Center, which is just around the block from the Galt House Hotel. The speakers this year are phenomenal, so if you can make it into town, plan on attending.

Speakers

First session is at 10 a.m., when you’ll hear from Steve Dorsey about entering the job market. In his own words …

STUDENTS AND NEW GRADS! Don’t miss Steve Dorsey‘s session at the SND-U — he’ll share tips and wisdom on job placements and getting ahead, harvested from centuries of experience collected from top artists and designers around the nation. Don’t be dissuaded by the ridiculously early time slot Prof. Sanefski assigned @Dorsey. Come for the swag, if nothing else. (Steve always has good swag).

The 11 a.m. session is Seth Gitner on tackling digital publications for the first time.

Then you’ll break for some lunch (which serves as a great opportunity to chat with the speakers and meet some other students), and when you come back, it will be time for Larry Buchanan’s 1:30 p.m. session on navigating the world of freelance. He says …

Feel like setting your own hours, picking your own projects, and going to the zoo on a Thursday afternoon because you’re not chained to a desk working for the man? Well, it can be done, you don’t have to live on Ramen, and you’ll be at the otter exhibit by noon (that is, if you’ve made the logo big enough, and aren’t waiting on client feedback).

If the schedule holds, you’ll have some time for a Q&A with the speakers (you’re a journalist — ask questions).

Portfolio reviews

After you hear all the speakers, you’ll have a chance to sit down with professionals from around the country for a portfolio critique. These people are there to help, certainly, but they’re also looking for young talent to fill internship slots or jobs. You won’t get a ton of time with each person and you won’t get to sit down with everyone. Make sure to edit your portfolio as tightly as possible. The professionals will be just as interested to hear what you have to say as what your portfolio holds.

Last year I noticed a lot of people opting towards showing their portfolio on iPads or laptops – this is perfectly fine (and a pretty easy way to go about it) but make sure you’re fully charged and the files are easily accessible. You might not have WiFi where you’re sitting, so don’t rely on being able to access a website. Have business cards or something to leave with them and then follow up after the conference is over.

Opening Reception

Once SNDU is over, you can head out to Churchill Downs for the opening reception (there will be shuttle buses from the Galt Hotel). This is always a highlight of the workshop and the perfect opportunity to meet new people. Find the designer you’ve admired ever since finding their newspagedesigner profile and talk to them. Find the design director you want to work for. Just make sure when approaching someone that you aren’t interrupting a conversation. Many of the attendees will be seeing friends for the first time since SNDCLE, so you don’t want to make a bad first impression by interrupting a reunion.

Friday/Saturday

Friday and Saturday are the big workshop days. Sessions start early and run all day. You obviously want to focus on making the sessions most important to you, but you also want to take the time to chat with other attendees. Those 15 minute breaks in between sessions can be the perfect opportunity to grab someone for a quick portfolio review. If they don’t have time at that moment, ask if you can grab coffee or lunch with them. This workshop is full of people who were once in your position and, in turn, want to help. All you have to do is ask.

Each night, you’ll find people mingling at the hotel (usually in the bar or lobby area), trying to figure out evening plans. See if you can grab dinner with a group, or watch Twitter/FourSquare to find out where the after-dinner gathering spot is. The social time is usually some of the most beneficial, as it gives you a real chance to get to know some people.

SND Foundation Lebowski Night

Friday night, the SND Foundation hosts their annual fundraiser. This year’s theme is “Lebowski Night” in honor of the film and Lebowski Fest, which is a huge event founded in Louisville. For $30, you’ll get free drinks and bowling at The Sports & Social Club from 9-11 p.m. The money raised helps to fund many of the educational experiences that SND members benefit from. If you can attend, it’s another great opportunity to meet industry professionals, as well as SND board members and officers.

Closing Reception

Saturday night will mark the closing of SNDLOU with what I can guarantee will be a great time. Starting at 7:30 at the Ice House (about 1/2 mile from the Galt Hotel), you’ll have dinner, drinks, awards, and a ton of people feeling really inspired after two very full days. In case you haven’t figured this out by now, this is another time to branch out, meet people, and have meaningful conversations.

Advice

During my time in SND, I’ve made some incredible friends who offer incredible advice. So I asked them what piece of advice they’d give to students.

Since there is a lot to read here, I’ll give you the common themes: Don’t be shy. Talk to people. Be polite. Contribute. Take something to leave with people. Follow up after the conference.

Kyle Ellis, CNN (and digital director of SND): In all things, step outside your comfort zone. If you come with a group of students from your school, spend more time hanging out with students from other schools. If you’re a print designer, make it a point to attend more digitally-focused sessions. Bring your portfolio and ask for critiques from anyone willing to give them. Ask thoughtful questions. Be genuinely kind to anyone you come across. Remember that your next internship or first job could likely come as a result of attending the workshop.

Grant Keller, consultant: Do your homework and PARTICIPATE. It’s easy (especially as a student) to feel like attending and “observing” a conference is enough. The real strength in conferences is not just absorbing the knowledge, but participating in the discussion and making connections along the way. By its nature, everyone at a conference has shared interests and likely shared experiences. Leverage that to strike up conversations. Don’t be shy!

Jen Cieslak, JLC Creative: To steal a line from Andrea Zagata’s SND facilitator post: Introduce yourself. Talk and participate and contribute — and ask questions. Absorb lots of cool new information and inspiration. Collect handouts; they may later be the pages of your bible.

Rob Schneider, Dallas Morning News (and current SND President): Find someone attending that is doing work you admire. Find them. Introduce yourself and ask if they have time to critique some of your work. (There’s 15 minutes between sessions, that’s enough time because you’re only going to have them look at three things.) Expect the feedback to be critical. Talk about your process and what you learned and what you could do better but don’t try and explain away the things they are critiqing. Be gracious. Thank them. Make eye contact. Ask if you can contact them in the future. Nine times out of 10 the person is going to be nice and if they aren’t than you know everything you need to know about them anyway. Wait a couple of years and pay that forward when someone asks you.

Andrea Zagata, Buffalo News: If you’re shy … well, just pretend you aren’t. Nobody will know it but you. And make a leave behind! Something small and memorable with samples of your work and your contact info all in one. It can be anything – a folding piece of paper, a 5×7 card with thumbnails, etc. If you don’t know what a leave behind is, that’s what Google is for. An advertising professor I had made us make them once and I carried them to every single professional conference I attended and handed them out instead of business cards.

Mike Rice, Minneapolis Star Tribune: Bring copies of your work – tearsheets, PDFs, 8.5×11 prints– and get them in front of as many people as you can. How often do you get the chance to get your work critiqued by this many talented individuals? And make sure you have a business card or resume to leave behind. Making an impression is only good if people can find you after the workshop

Shraddha Swaroop, UX Designer: Say hi to everyone. Relax, chat and let them see the real you. They’ll admire you for it. Then leave them a business card and get theirs. This includes fellow students and rock star icons & legends you’ve always wanted to meet. Remember that everyone started out where you are now. Have fun!

Doris Truong, The Washington Post: Follow up with people you’ve met.

Emily Chow, The Washington Post: Don’t forget to follow up afterwards. Those messages and moments are just as crucial as the conference itself.

Joey Marburger, The Washington Post: Talk to people. Don’t be shy. Ask questions. There’s a lot of brown liquor in that town so be careful. Find me. I’ll buy you some. (If you’re of age, of course.)

Tim Ball, Tim Ball Studio: Venture out (physically) from the comfortable circle of people you know and approach those whose work you respect. They want to talk to you, and more than anything, the great people who are part of this organization want to help you grow and succeed in it.

Courtney Kan, The Arizona Republic: Introduce yourself to people, make a good first impression, and leave them with something that’ll make them remember you (whether it’s a well-designed business card, an anecdote that sets you apart, etc). Ask for and expect constructive criticism.

Katie Park, The Washington Post: Step outside your comfort zone and talk to people. Have real conversations with them – don’t just ask for a portfolio review! And never, never try to out-drink Yuri Victor.

Steve Dorsey, Austin American-Statesman: Meet as many people as you can. Don’t be shy. Play “6 degrees of Tim Ball” and blog about it – connect everyone you meet to TBall through various co-workers of his past. Get out of the hotel and check out the Lou a little. The biggest risk of most conferences is getting to caught up in the conference itself.

Dave Wilson, ESPN: Treat everyone you meet with respect, no matter how small or insignificant you think the tiny newspaper or org is on their nametag. At my first SND in 1996, I ended up seated at a dinner table next to a very nice woman named Julie Shirley (now exec. editor of the Bellingham Herald). She was editor of the Marysville, Calif. paper, and introduced me to EVERYONE, including the Dallas Morning News art director who hired me six months later. It was one of the most invaluable meetings of my career. Come to think of it, I owe Ms. Shirley a thank-you note.

David Kordalski, Cleveland Plain Dealer (and current SND vice president): If you meet someone at, say, the student sessions on Thursday, then don’t see them again until the Saturday night reception, reintroduce yourself (I’m Tim from Ball State. We met at lunch Thursday). They will probably remember you, but it’s important to consider that you weren’t the only new friend they met during the conference. Also, don’t be overly defensive while being critiqued … “didn’t get the art until late, wasn’t happy with the headline …” It’s fine to explain circumstances, but if it’s in your portfolio, you want to know why something didn’t work. Critique is meant to improve your work, and sometimes that means hearing that something missed the mark. Use it as an opportunity to learn rather than apologize. Ask questions like “what would you have done?” or “how would you restructure this?”

Darla Cameron, The Washington Post: If you like the work of a nice person like Steve Dorsey, introduce yourself! Ask web designers how they learned their skills- it’s probably the same way you’re learning now, by trial and (lots of) error.

In conclusion

SNDLOU will be as valuable as you choose to make it. You’ll be surrounded by people who are not only great at what they do, but who genuinely care about SND and its members. So take advantage of the time you spend in Louisville. Talk. Listen. Have fun. (And if you’re ever looking for a friendly face, come say hi! You’ll find me sitting in a comfy chair, posting to snd.org.)