Syracuse for first-time facilitators

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. Andrea Zagata is coming to Syracuse as a facilitator this year and writes what you should pack — and expect — if you are also coming to SND33.  Even if you aren’t coming, she gives great insight into the type of things that go on over this weekend. 

Also, check all weekend and Monday for live coverage of the competition. 

What to bring

Pack comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes, a heavy jacket and clothing to LAYER. (Not to be confused with information layers. Layers of all types are recommended.)


Expect to take the shuttle from the airport to the hotel with someone else who is attending the conference. It will probably be someone you haven’t met. You will recognize them as an attendee when you see them eyeing your Converse All-Stars, nerdy glasses, and other hipster attire suspiciously. Introduce yourself. This will be your first of many introductions, so get used to it.

When you check in at the hotel, you will receive a packet with an itinerary at the front desk. If you don’t, say “Where is my packet with the itinerary?” The most common reason (I have encountered) to not receive a packet is because you look like a student. Assure them that yes, this is your hotel room, and yes, you are a professional attending the conference and just give me my packet, already, OK?. There will be an ID badge in your packet. DO NOT LOSE IT.

If you have time, go to your room and take a nap. Trust me. I know you didn’t get any sleep on that plane, and you’re going to need it.

You may get a note under your door regarding an impromptu facilitator dinner. Attend. Attend everything you are invited to, even if you are exhausted. It’s worth it.

At dinner, introduce yourself again, many times. Talk about design. Talk about your dog, cat, kid, pay wall, furlough, mobile apps. Go to bed. Introduce yourself to somebody on the elevator on the way up.


Early in the morning, you will meet in the hotel lobby and be bused to Drumlins (the judging facility.) Don’t miss the bus or you will be shunned. Wear your coat — it’s cold out there, folks. Introduce yourself to people on the bus.

Eat bagels and fruit for breakfast when you get to Drumlins. Hang up your coat. Not necessarily in that order.

At some point, your team captain will contact you and let you know that you are there to serve them until Monday when the contest is over. Get over it. Get used to being ordered around. Introduce yourself to others in your group. Every group will eventually fall into a judging routine. The mechanics of how the judging itself works will be explained to you by somebody who is not me.

You will see judges looking around blankly and standing by a page. They are looking for YOU. They probably need you to read a translation on a page, or check to see if they have voted or some such. Get off the floor where you are likely sitting and ask them what they need.

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 Cheez-It eating contest. All part of the experience, move along.

You may be mistaken for a student once or twice. This may become a running joke at your expense. Wait, maybe that’s just me.

Do not sort the bingo chips that the judges use to vote. Make a student do it, unless you need an excuse to sit down and look productive. In that case volunteer to sort the chips. If you see a judge sorting chips, tell them to go judge and find somebody else to sort the damn chips.

Expect to work long days and be exhausted. Expect to be ordered around by people who have been there before. Don’t take it personally. 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. There will be opportunities for you to donate to the Foundation through betting on things like sled races.

Introduce yourself to more people, people not on your judging team, at meals. If you see their name tag and you’re a HUGE FAN, tell them so, but try not to faint. Fainting is not a good first impression.

Expect to have extremely strong feelings about some of the work you see on the tables. Try to keep it to yourself. Never tell a judge how you feel about an entry or let them hear you talking about it. Keep the judging pure. If someone wanted your opinion, you would be a judge and not a facilitator, and even then you wouldn’t be allowed to talk until the medal discussions.

Take note of who is standing around you before you speak. Always.

Expect to listen to lots of discussions about design. 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 Detroit News. This will be her third year as a facilitator at the creative competition in Syracuse.

About Andrea Zagata

is a news designer at The New York Times.

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