First time Syracuse facilitator? Here’s what you need to know.

Editor’s note: On Friday, a bevy of visual journalists will come to Syracuse University to help with the Society for News Design’s annual creative competition. Some will judge the competition, but many students and professionals will help as “facilitators.” It’s a tough job, but one that comes with incredible learning opportunities and gives everyone involved a wealth of inspiration. Several years ago, we asked judging veteran Andrea Zagata to write this guide for first-time facilitators. She’s coming back, and so is this post, because it’s full of common-sense tips on what to pack — and what to expect — if you are also coming to SND36. Even if you aren’t coming, she gives great insight into the type of things that go on over this weekend.

Also, check snd.org all weekend and Monday for live coverage of both the Best of News Design and the World’s Best Newspaper competitions.

What to bring

Pack comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes. It wouldn’t hurt to bring more than one pair of shoes to change it up and give your feet a break mid-week.

Jeans are fine — sweatshirts, t-shirts, just be comfortable. Think night copy desk attire. Bring clothing to layer – the weather can change in a second and if it’s cold outside, it’ll be warm inside.

On Sunday, many people participate in “Jersey day” by wearing a jersey of a local or favorite team. Pack your favorite sports gear if you want to participate (but many don’t, so no pressure).

Friday

If you’re flying, there is a shuttle that will take you to the hotel. If you spot somebody who looks suspiciously like an art director/designer/photographer or other newspaper type, introduce yourself. It will be the first of many introductions over the weekend, so you may as well start somewhere.

When you check in at the hotel, you will receive a packet with an itinerary and lots of useful information at the front desk. If you don’t receive the packet, ask for one. Then spend some time actually reading it. Don’t skim.

Identification badges will be handed out either Friday night or Saturday morning. Check to make sure your name is spelled correctly, get your sharpie marker out if it isn’t, but DO NOT LOSE THE BADGE.

If you have time when you get in, take a nap. Trust me. If you’re tired from traveling, a nap on Friday to gear up for the weekend is a very good idea.

Around dinner time, people sometimes start to meander in the lobby. You can text the friend you made on the shuttle to see if they are going to dinner yet. Ask around — usually the facilitators all go somewhere for dinner together (it’s often pizza), and it’s a fun way to talk to some of the people you will be working with for the next several days. There is a map in your packet which includes some food locations.

Whenever possible, introduce yourself to someone new. Ask what they do. Talk about design. Talk about your dog, cat, kid, paper, website, pay wall, ebooks, mobile apps. Exchange business cards. You never know who you might be riding the elevator with. (Unless they’re helpfully sporting their badge, of course.) Try not to be shy, everyone’s pretty nice, whether this is their 10th contest or their first.

SaturdayMonday

At 9 a.m., you will meet in the hotel lobby and be bused to Drumlins (the judging facility). This is an excellent time to find your team captain (noted in your packet). Don’t be late, don’t miss the bus and don’t make somebody call your room to see where you are. That’s embarrassing.

Wear your coat in case the bus breaks down, or accidentally hits somebody, and you find yourself stranded. (Not that this will happen, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Syracuse is a cold place.) There’s a coat rack available at Drumlins, so you can ditch it later.

Don’t forget to eat some breakfast – you’re going to need some energy for the day ahead. Get ready to see more newspaper pages than you could possibly imagine.

When you are done with breakfast, find your team captain (especially if you haven’t met them yet). The judges are split up into groups that handle a certain number of categories, and the facilitators and divided in a similar manner.

You will be with your team for the whole weekend, and your captain is in charge of the pace in which you go through the categories. If you have a question, your captain is the person to ask. If you aren’t sure of what you are supposed to be doing, your captain will know.

There will be some downtime to look at pages yourself, and to get to know the people in your group. But remember that the contest is under a tight timeline and has to finish by Monday, so don’t leave your team hanging while you socialize.

Before you get caught up looking at an entry or engaged in a deep conversation, always make sure you’re not needed elsewhere. Remember there is plenty of time to talk at meals and at the hotel after the judging is done for the day.

If you see a judges looking around blankly and standing by a page, for example, they are likely looking for YOU. They probably need you to read a translation on a page, or check to see if they have voted, or have a question. Make yourself available to help them, that’s your job.

You may ask them if they need something, or just stay in close proximity so they can call you over. The best way to be available is to stay on your feet near where your group is set up, looking at pages, making sure the entries are set up properly, etc. It’s fine if you need a break (everyone does) but keep in mind that everyone is working towards the same goal – to complete the judging of thousands of entries in a single weekend.

Always take note of who is standing around you before you speak. All the work on the tables is what someone thought was one of the best things they did that year. If you think it’s awesome, that’s great. If you think it sucks, that’s ok too. But sharing your opinions in a noticeable manner is rude, and unfair to the judges, the people who paid money to enter, and just about everyone. So please use your discretion.

The judges are not allowed to speak about work or discuss it amongst themselves unless it is in a medal discussion. Listening in is one of the best ways this weekend to learn what makes a design good or great. If your team is doing a medal discussion for a round and you’re not needed to help elsewhere, take a listen.

You will eat lots of fruit and small blocks of cheese. Not because you are hungry, but because it is there. You may witness a sled race or a cracker-eating contest. It’s all part of the experience.

If you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing, ask your team captain or another experience facilitator how can do to help. It may be that nothing’s needed, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Don’t be offended if somebody asks you to do something or pulls you out of your chair to work — everyone is there to help.

Expect to work long days and be exhausted. Expect to be ordered around by people who have been there before. Expect to nearly fall asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel and need coffee in the morning. Expect to see and speak more design than you will for the rest of the year.

You will be fed breakfast, lunch and dinner. Introduce yourself to more people, people not on your judging team, people you haven’t met yet, at meals. Talk to the students who are there volunteering and if you have time, take a minute to look at their work or talk to them about what they are studying. If you have an internship at your company, tell them about it. Connecting with the students who give their time and volunteer to help run the competition is one of the most valuable ways to spend your down time.

You will learn more than you thought possible. Try to soak it all in and feel encouraged and inspired.

Learn. Network. Work your butt off. Sing Karaoke. Syracuse.

Andrea Zagata is a sports designer for The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). This will be her (she has lost count) time attending the creative competition in Syracuse.