#SNDSF: Julie Elman shares 5 tips for first-time student attendees

SND is looking forward to welcoming journalists, innovators, students and advisors to San Francisco next month for SNDSF: Evolving our Craft. The complete schedule of speakers has just been released and you can still register for the conference here. To continue our preview of what to expect, we’ve asked a few frequent workshop attendees to share their tips for making the most out of the weekend.

Julie Elman is an associate professor at the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University and the SND Publications Director. Here’s what she had to say, followed by her five tips:

“I’m going to let you in on a secret: attending the Annual SND Workshop for the first time is a nerve-wracking experience, no matter who you are. Students, professionals, first-time speakers — every single one of them is a bundle of nerves and trying really hard to suppress their “I’m a total fraud” fears.

I teach design at the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University in Athens, and I’ve traveled to many of these workshops with our students. I’ve heard a variety of their questions before they attended the event; I’ve helped coach them as they navigate their time at the workshop; and I’ve been privy to the quarterbacking after we all convene back at school.

With all this intel under my belt, I’ve gathered what I think are solid tips for you, the student who’s attending the SND Workshop for the first time. This will be your opportunity to meet and network with some of the best visual thinkers in the world. (Now, what’s so intimidating about that?!) You’ve got about a month to get your head in the right place to make the most of this experience. It won’t be nearly as scary as you think.”

1. Wear whatever makes you feel the most confident.

Students frequently ask me about what to wear to the workshop. I’ve never once thought of this as a silly question. The way we dress is an expression of who we are — but I can understand how students want to get a sense of the lay of the sartorial land. My best advice is to wear whatever makes you feel confident. (This includes your shoes. Years ago I took an acting class, and the best piece of advice I got from the teacher was that a character could be greatly shaped and defined by the actor’s shoes. My take: Wear the shoes that make you feel the most grounded.) Workshop attendees tend to dress casually (e.g., jeans). Occasionally, the business-casual attendee can be spotted. It’s all good. Remember, hotel interiors (and San Francisco in general) can often be on the chillier side, so have some layers on hand. For the reception that takes place at the end of the workshop, you’re good to go if you want to dress up (I’ve seen it all: the black dresses, the heels, the ties and sport coats) — but you’ll also fit in if you choose to dress down (to business casual).

2. Take advantage of the student programming on Thursday.

April 7 is YOUR day. You will be surrounded by lots of other students from other schools, and all of the presentations — career talk and what’s happening in the industry — will be geared toward you. This is definitely a don’t-miss occasion (and, it’s FREE, even if you’re not registered for the rest of the workshop). Speaking of free, lunch on Thursday will be served, courtesy of #SNDSF. Portfolio reviews will be part of this day, too (see Tip #3).

Be sure to register ahead of time for the student workshop here.

Beyond the student programming, you’ll have to make some tough choices on which of the many presentations you’d like to attend on Friday and Saturday. (Usually there are multiple speakers scheduled at the same time, in different rooms.) The lineup of speakers is impressive. When it comes to topics, there’s something for everyone. Find the speaker roster and schedule here, and check out snd.org to read speaker profiles as they are posted over the next few weeks.

3. Spllchck your resume, business card and portfolio pieces.

Before I even get into portfolios, you need to know this one thing, first and foremost: The spellcheck function is your friend. Spellcheck will help maintain your credibility and professionalism as a detail-oriented visual communicator. Misspellings are a real — REAL — turnoff. I mention this because I have reviewed portfolio pieces with spelling mistakes in them. Sometimes numerous mistakes. Using spellcheck should be automatic. (This, coming from a former front-page designer at The Virginian-Pilot — yes, I’m talking about yours truly here — who, during one election night, thought 40 pairs of newsroom staffer eyes on A1 was a sure-fire way to ensure the page was 100 percent. And what showed up the next morning, above the fold, in red, all caps? VIRGINA BEACH. Now, slow down and read those two words carefully. Lesson learned.)

Students bring all sorts of portfolios to the Thursday afternoon reviews. Some show their work on their tablets, some use laptops. Others bring along hard copy examples of their work (and an average size of these portfolios seem to range from 8.5 x 11 inches to 11 x 17 inches). Whatever you choose to show, be sure it’s tightly edited and include only the work you feel is your best. How many pieces? That’s a common question I hear, and there’s no right answer for that. Could be nine pieces. Twelve. Maybe 20.

Trust me, the attendees who volunteer to review student portfolios all LOVE to do this — that’s why they signed up, of their own accord. They really enjoy giving you, the students, honest and constructive feedback on your work. So, don’t go overboard on stuffing your portfolio with everything you’ve ever created.

Many students also have with them their business cards and resumes. I’ve always advised my students to keep these particular self-promotional items simple. That means not being overly decorative, or unnecessarily design-y. Let the content be the king here. Keep the design tricks to a minimum.

4. Put yourself out there, even if it feels like jumping off a cliff. With no clothes on. Blindfolded. From the top of Mount Everest. With no parachute.

Participate in the portfolio reviews, but also take note of the professionals and educators who volunteer to review student portfolios on Thursday. If you don’t have time to meet with some of them on that day, you may be able to make arrangements to meet with them later.

One of my senior-level design students who attended the workshop last year in D.C., recalled that learning everyone’s names at this event was overwhelming. She pointed out that the world of visual communication seemed to be a small one (she’s absolutely right), and there’s a good chance you’ll cross paths more than once with the people you meet at SND — in San Francisco and beyond. Whatever memory tricks you can conjure up to help yourself recall people’s names are worth doing.

During most years at these workshops, various representatives from different companies set up booths where they welcome all attendees, especially students, to stop by and ask questions, show portfolios and get feedback. You have my permission to walk up to anyone at any of these stations, introduce yourself and show your stuff. I promise you, no one will bite.

5. Take two minutes to stand like a super hero.

Research has shown that your body language can have a positive impact on your behavior. I’ll leave you with a homework assignment here: By the time you arrive to San Francisco, make a point to watch the TED talk video by Amy Cuddy on power posing.

And before you walk out of your San Francisco hotel room and get ready to attend the workshop, put on your confidence-boosting shoes, spend two minutes in your power-posing stance (cape is optional) and then, with your head up high, sail right into that sea of visual thinkers. You’re one of us, and we — professionals and educators alike — have walked many miles in your shoes before.

To register for the 38th Annual Workshop & Exhibition, which runs April 7-9 in San Francisco, click here. Check back at SND.org for more program updates, interviews with #SNDSF speakers and previews of what to expect at the workshop next month.

Featured photo: Carlos A. Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of SND.org.

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