So, are you thinking yet about the Society for News Design annual workshop in St. Louis?
The event begins two weeks from tomorrow. Your packing, planning and prep work should be underway by now.
In a time in which our industry has precious little to celebrate, this will be an opportunity for visual journalists to brush up on the latest news design treands, to network and to enjoy a little down-time with their pals and to let off some steam.
If you’ve never been to an SND workshop before — or if you have but would like to maximize the benefit you might get from attending — then read on, with our…
TEN WAYS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF SND/STL
1. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE
The presentations will be fine. Very fine. I mean, have you seen the list of speakers? Wow…
But frankly, theyâ€™re of secondary importance. The most important reason to go to St. Louis — your Number One task while youâ€™re there — will be to meet people. To network.
Believe it or not, there will be folks in St. Louis who are hiring. Or who may be hiring soon. Or who may be hiring soon but donâ€™t know it yet.
There will be folks in St. Louis who have the power to hire interns. If you’re looking for an internship for summer 2012, then now is the time to start looking. Not during spring break.
Your task will be to make a fabulous impression on these folks; one that will cause them to not only remember you and your work, but also to make them think of you when they discover they have a position to fill. Your task will be to put either your portfolio or your card — containing info on how they can find your online portfolio — into their possession.
Youâ€™ll be tasked with doing this in a way that doesnâ€™t piss them off or annoy them or the other attendees.
And just because all that isnâ€™t difficult enough, youâ€™ll have to do it without knowing just which editors will be doing the hiring this year!
Sounds like an impossible job? Itâ€™s not. Itâ€™s simple networking 101. And you can do it. Itâ€™s a piece of cake, really. As long as you love meeting new people.
(If you loathe meeting and talking to people, then do us all a favor and change your major, willya? I mean, after all: This is the communication industry.)
So meet as many people as you can. Shake as many hands as you can. Make a fabulous first impression.
Q. Are you saying the sessions arenâ€™t important?
A. No, Iâ€™m not saying that at all. Youâ€™ll learn a lot at those sessions. Iâ€™m just saying SND workshops are about more than just the sessions.
- Donâ€™t obsess about the sessions. Youâ€™ll occasionally run into a situation in which you have to choose between two sessions you really, really want to see. Fact is, very few sessions at an annual workshop suck outright. So if you have even a passing interest in the subject, youâ€™ll get something out of the session. Believe me.
- Split up. If youâ€™re attending as part of a group, send various folks to sessions in the same time slot. You can swap notes later.
- In the past, some sessions have offered handouts and some have not. This year, the hosts are making a real push to make sure speakers bring something that attendees can take home with them. If you happen to miss a handout, though, don’t sweat. They’ll probably make sure you can download a PDF or Powerpoint presentation or something.
Q. So, then, which will be the hot sessions to see this year?
A. Heh. There are so many of them!
- There are two on Friday morning that I wouldn’t miss: “Combating the ‘More With Less’ Malaise” by the Washington Post‘s Laura Stanton at 9 a.m. and then “Fun 101″ with author and consultant Tim Harrower at 10 a.m. I’m betting those might be two of the best sessions of the weekend right there. And they’re both in room F on the second floor. You won’t even have to leave your seat!
- That afternoon at 4:40 p.m., Adonis Durado of the Times of Oman — whose staff came seemingly out of nowhere this year to capture a ton of SND awards — will be discussing the “Secret Ingredient of the Secret Ingredient” of creative visual design. I worked with Adonis a bit in South Africa, back in 2009. Take my advice and be there. That, too, will be in room F.
- One of the most-talked about sessions last year in Denver was the one in which the world’s most engaging speaker — Karl Gude of Michigan State University — shared info on free sites and resources. He’s doing it again this year: Saturday at 3:40 p.m., in room A/B. That will be a must-see as well.
- If you’re going to St. Louis to learn more about mobile and tablet design, then you’re in luck. There will be a lot of sessions geared to that, thanks to SND’s alliance this year with the RJI Digital Publishing folks. You can park yourself in room A/B on Thursday and sit there nearly all day as a parade of fascinating speakers come and go.
- There will be strong emphasis this year on career development. One of the most interesting of these will be Joe Grimm‘s session on how to build your digital brand. The downside: It’s scheduled for Friday at 4:40 — the same time Adonis is speaking.
- Speaking of logjams, one of the most painful for me will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. We’ll have Nick Mrozowski, Carrie Gee and Emmett Smith in room C discussing brainstorming strategies; some of the brains behind the new Boston Globe website you’ve heard so much about — Miranda Mulligan and Mat Marquis — doing their thing in room A/B; and a huge roundtable discussion in room F about the new design hubs, by folks who are up to their necks in that sort of work.
- And, of course, the various keynotes should be terrific. Friday at noon by Rob King of ESPN digital, Saturday at 11 a.m. by Dave Gray of XPLANE, and Saturday at 4:45 by the creators of EPIC 2014, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson.
Q. But what about the sessions you didn’t mention?
A. Oh, they’ll be terrific as well, I’m certain. Those are just the ones I’m looking forward to. Your actual mileage will vary depending on your experience level, career needs and application to your current work tasks.
There’s definitely something for everyone, though — and often at the same time. Find the schedule here.
Better yet, download a customizable workshop schedule to your iPhone or iPad. Go here to find out how.
2. DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR BUSINESS CARDSâ€¨â€¨
What? You donâ€™t have business cards? Youâ€™ve never needed them before? You donâ€™t think you need them now, in the internet age?
Wrong again, Buck-O!
Hey, feel free to bring hard copies and CDs if you like. When you see Rick Epps or Dave Kordalski between sessions, itâ€™s easy to slip them your packet when they can toss it into their briefcase or computer bag.
But what happens when you run into Tracy Collins at the opening reception? You donâ€™t have your CDs on you, so you canâ€™t give him one. And he has no pockets big enough for your file folder anyway.
So bring business cards. And then give them out to everyone you meet. Everyone.
And then what?
After you meet someone, take a moment â€” as quickly as you can â€” to grab a pen and make a brief note or two on the back of their card. Anything that will help you remember them. â€œGave me career advice.â€ â€œMentioned a sports design internship.â€ â€œSaid he liked my page one work and wants to see more PDFs.â€
Why take the time to do this? Because if you do it right, youâ€™ll get home to discover you have dozens of cards. And youâ€™ll have no idea of which card went with which person. These quick notes may help you keep them straight.
Now, once you get home â€” thatâ€™s when the real work begins. Hereâ€™s what youâ€™ll do:
- Put all the cards in a stack.
- Type all the info from the cards into the electronic contact book on your MacBook, iPhone, iPad or Blackberry.
- Look up everyone you met at Facebook or LinkedIn. Invite them to link up with you via those sites.
- Then, write everyone a personalized e-mail. Tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. A personal detail or two â€” that’s what those notes are for â€” to help prevent these e-mails from reading like form letters.
- And then, the really tough part: Keep in touch. E-mail from time to time. Wish them a happy birthday or whatever. If you see they’ve posted something nice at NewsPageDesigner, congratulate them. Or, better yet, ask them how they pulled off this or that fabulous project.
This is basic networking.
If you want to fancy up your cards in a way so folks will remember you, go right ahead. Speaking for myself, I tend to remember the unusual business cards the most. But make sure you cover the basic info: Name. E-mail address. Phone number. And, preferably, a link where we can go to see your portfolio.
And, of course, make sure the info on your card is accurate and easy to read. Most news design professionals will forgive a boring card. But an ugly-ass, error-ridden card? Hehâ€¦
Q. But itâ€™s too damn late to have business cards made up! What do I do?
A. Itâ€™s never too late! Go to OfficeMax or FedEx/Kinkoâ€™s. They can design a card on the spot and print 500 of them in about 45 minutes. If you happen to have one of my old VizEds business cards, thatâ€™s where it came from: Kinko’s. Total cost was under $30.
Just this morning, I ordered up a batch of new cards to take to St. Louis. They’re the first cards I’ve had, in fact, since I moved the blog last summer:
If you go to St. Louis and don’t leave with one of these cards, then I will have failed.
So it is not too late. I wouldn’t wait much longer, though, if I were you.
3. PROOFREAD YOUR RESUMÃ‰S
You might bring copies of your resumÃ©, either on disc or on dead trees, to distribute. Fine; no problem.
But the No. 1 problem I find on resumes: Typos. Poor grammar. Mistakes.
Now, some visual editors wonâ€™t mind this at all. Hell, some of the worst typists on this planet are graphic artists.
But if I were to bring you in for an interview, itâ€™d never be by my call alone. Iâ€™d have to get my AME or my managing editor or my editor to sign off on you. And, being word people, they might not like seeing dumbass mistakes on your resumÃ©. Because the kind of candidate who distributes a resumÃ© with a mistake on it just might be the kind of new hire who wonâ€™t pay close attention to her business front design or her locator map or the interactive presentation sheâ€™s building for us.
So take the time to proofread any resumÃ© or word material, be it hard or soft copy, that you distribute in Vegas.
Q. But I suck at proofreading!
A. Thatâ€™s OK; I do, too. As you can tell from this blog.
Here’s what you do: Find a copy editor or a teacher whoâ€™ll help out. Barter some design work if you have to. But make sure your resumÃ© is immaculate.
4. SLEEP IS FOR SISSIES
While the presentations youâ€™ll see in St Louis are very cool, some of the most important work is being done in what Mark Friesen of the Oregonian calls â€œbackchannels.â€
These are conversations being had in the hallways. Among the booths in the exhibitorâ€™s hall. At a little sandwich shop down the street. At the bar, late at night.
Especially that last one. Believe me. Youâ€™ll be amazed at the amount of business in this business — or any business, really — thatâ€™s done over a beer.
So donâ€™t make the mistake of thinking that everything shuts down at 5:30 p.m. or whenever the sessions end. Thatâ€™s just when things get rolling for many of the professionals youâ€™ll see in St. Louis.
Iâ€™ve had some very interesting discussions at 1 or 2 in the morning. I recall reviewing a student portfolio at 3 a.m. in Boston, although that is a bit late for me. Especially at my age.
Late night at an SND workshop is basically the old-school version of social networking. Donâ€™t waste the opportunity. There will be folks getting together all over the hotel â€” in suites, in rooms, in the lobby, in the bar. And down the street at nearby establishments. Find an interesting discussion and join in. If you find it boring, say goodnight and find another discussion.
And stick with it as late as you can. Sleeping is overrated, anyway. You can always sleep when you get home.
5. DONâ€™T BE A DOUCHEBAG
So you see Michael Tribble chatting with Tim Frank. You want to talk to both of them, so you run over, interrupt the hell out of them and you thrust your portfolio in front of them.
Remember the first impression thing we talked about? Well, congratulations; you just did it. Both Tim and Michael are now quite impressed with how much you suck.
Many of us see our good friends from other papers only once or twice a year. We value greatly the chance to buy Steve Dorsey a beer. Or to let him buy us one. So please let us have at least some time to meet and greet our pals.
If youâ€™re hoping to meet someone, hover in the vicinity and try to catch them when their conversation is wrapping up. If youâ€™re hoping for a portfolio review, make sure you understand that these professionals have presentations they want to see, too.
Perhaps youâ€™ll be told that a professional wonâ€™t have time to look at your stuff right now. Most will ask you to approach them later. Some will even try to set up an appointment with you.
But nearly all of them want to see your stuff. Recruiting is one of the reasons theyâ€™re going in the first place. Blowing you off wouldnâ€™t make sense.
Another thing: If you bring your portfolio to St. Louis, make sure you pare it down to the bare minimum. Folks simply wonâ€™t have time to leaf through 20 or 25 pages of your work. Keep it to five or six pages, max. Of only your very best stuff.
And as you hand them your book, make sure you specify why youâ€™re showing them your work. If youâ€™re hoping for a job or an internship, say so. If you want feedback on your pages, say that, too.
Also, keep in mind that if you ask a professional to critique your work, you might actually get a critique. If they find something in your pages they donâ€™t like — and, believe me, they probably will — then make sure you take their suggestions with a smile. If you canâ€™t take a critique, then for Chrissakes, donâ€™t ask for one. (I learned this one the hard way, 20 years ago. Ask me about it sometime.)
If you see a little rudeness on the part of a professional, try to understand: Perhaps heâ€™s under some stress at the moment. Perhaps heâ€™s speaking in the next session and his Mac just died.
But if you find a professional being consistently rude, please let me know. Iâ€™ll be glad to have someone kick their ass. Or, better yet, Iâ€™ll ridicule them publicly, here in the blog.
If, on the other hand, you act rudelyâ€¦ well, believe me: Youâ€™ll only be hurting yourself.
Q. But it is OK to bring my portfolio, right?
A. Oh, absolutely. Bring it especially if you’re job hunting or if youâ€™re hoping to ask industry professionals to critique your work.
(In fact, there’s a special portfolio review session set up just for college students at 1 p.m. Thursday. I’m one of the critiquers.)
But keep in mind if you bring your portfolio every day, youâ€™ll have to tote it around all day. I saw a lot of students at SND/Boston in ’07, struggling to carry big portfolio cases, laptop bags, purses and workshop swag bags.
Bring what you want. But consider the repercussions.
6. WATCH WHAT YOU DRINK
Yes, many will be imbibing. Some will imbibe quite a bit. Some will get downright sloppy drunk.
And thatâ€™s OK for professionals. Theyâ€™re over the legal drinking age. But for you job-seekers and college-types, you might want to take care.
Iâ€™m not going to discuss the legalities of alcohol and folks under the age of 21 â€” thatâ€™s between you and your Mommy and Daddy. I will, however, point out that if you get a little tipsy and then run into a hiring editorâ€¦
Well, it could get nasty. Just member that â€œfirst impressionâ€ thing I talked about earlier.
Youâ€™ve had way too much to drink, but then you spot Scott Goldman. You trot over, grab him by the shoulder, spin him around, pump his arm and loudly proclaim youâ€™re his next intern.
Then you belch loudly. And you ralph all over his shoes.
Oh, yeah: Heâ€™ll remember you.
OK, thatâ€™s an extreme example. But Iâ€™ve seen things nearly that bad.
If youâ€™re drinking, try not to drink too much. Save that for when you get home or back to school.
7. LEAVE SPACE FOR THE TRIP BACK
Some papers will bring cool swag to give away. Others will have huge bundles containing copies of their paper.
And hey, you never know when youâ€™ll spot that gotta-have-it item in the SND Foundation silent auction.
So when you pack your suitcase, make sure you leave a little extra room for whatever you bring home.
Q. Hey! I had thought about donating something to the silent auction, but I plumb forgot about it. Hasn’t the deadline passed?
A. I typically donate a few small things to auction for the Foundation. And I usually bring them with me. I’ve been assured that auction items will be gratefully accepted at check-in.
Q. What sort of things are they looking for?
A. Well, what sort of things might you buy? For a quick primer, read this.
8. DONâ€™T BE SHY
Every year, I find myself compelled to defend SND against charges that the Society is too cliquish.
Well, bullshit on that.
Fact is, folks of the Society are very glad to meet you. Some of them will travel all the way to St. Louis just to meet you, in fact. I donâ€™t find them cliquish at all.
Hey, I once thought the same thing, too. What I discovered, though, is that if you go out there and make an effort to meet people and to shake their hands and exchange business cards and if you can make intelligent conversation with them, theyâ€™ll be delighted to include you in their circle of friends.
There may be a few exceptions. But only a few. Hell, if these folks will talk to a geek like me, theyâ€™ll talk to anyone.
So donâ€™t be afraid to chat. And if youâ€™re shy, well then, go ahead and play the wallflower game. Just donâ€™t come crying to me later about cliques.
Q. I have this one person I really, really want to meet. But I’m too scared to walk up to them and introduce myself! What do I do?
A. Sigh… Find me. I’ll help you.
9. DONâ€™T JUST SUCK UP â€” SUCK DOWN, TOO
Youâ€™re familiar with the idea of â€œpass it forward,â€ right? Consider this a variation.
Youâ€™ll be there in St. Louis with a few portfolio CDs, a big mess of business cards and an eager grin painted on your face, scanning the crowd for big-name visual editors to whom you can suck up.
The irony of it is: Many of those same visual editors are doing the same damn thing — theyâ€™re looking for even bigger-name AMEs and managing editors to whom they can suck up.
And the biggest names of all? In my experience, Iâ€™ve found that those top dogs donâ€™t always consider themselves to be top dogs. So some of them, even, are looking for someone they can chat up.
So my message is this: Go ahead and spend time sucking up. Thatâ€™s part of what networking is all about.
But make sure you spend some quality time with folks who are newer to the business than you are. Folks from smaller papers. College kids.
Or, if youâ€™re still in college, underclassmen. Or folks from tiny colleges youâ€™ve never heard of.
Iâ€™m a believer that if you spend time helping out smaller fish â€” what I call sucking down â€” then, at some point, the karma will even out and youâ€™ll find yourself graced with good fortune.
Even if that doesnâ€™t happen, youâ€™ve made a friend for life. And who knows who that kid will grow into one day? I like to tell the story of a very young, very green college kid I met once at a Poynter seminar in 1994. Flash-forward fourteen years: That kid was deputy art director of the Washington Post.
So spend time helping out the folks below you in the pecking order. Youâ€™ll make friends, develop your leadership and mentoring skills and perhaps make a lifelong friend in the industry.
At the very least, youâ€™ve done the right thing. And dammit, Iâ€™d like to think that still counts for something. Occasionally.
10. KEEP UP WITH THE BLOGS
The last annual workshop I attended was in Boston, back in 2007. That year — and the next year in Vegas, and the year after that in Buenos Aires and then last year in Denver — the wifi airwaves were buzzing with information as the conference was happening.
SND maintains a live blog of the entire workshop. There is usually a Flickr feed, stuffed with pictures. Folks tweet like crazy.
While some of this coverage is aimed at our pals back home who canâ€™t make the trip, quite a bit of it was aimed at folks on-site: Where the cool party is happening. The scuttlebutt on which morning session will be the most kick-ass. Last-minute schedule changes. Whoâ€™s hiring.
So donâ€™t forget to bring your laptop — or, if that’s too old-fashioned for you, then bring your iPad or your iPhone or your iPad or whatever — and log on often.
Just donâ€™t make the mistake of living all weekend with your nose in your device. Because, y’know, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to do that at home.
A FEW MORE STRAY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERSâ€¦
Q. My boss just decided I could go. Is it too late to register?
A. Itâ€™s never too late. Steve Komives and his crew of volunteers will register you at the door, if necessary. The only thing you’ve lost is your early-bird discount. The fee is now $495 for both members and non-members and $345 for students and faculty.
Unless you get real lucky, however, it’s too late to book a room at the St. Louis Renaissance Grand. There are rooms available in nearby hotels. Plus, there’s always a chance you could room with someone. Find the SND/STL lodging details blog here.
Q. A roommate? That’s a great idea! How do I find a roommate?
A. The SND/STL folks set up a roommate board, but hardly anyone has used it yet. Find that here.
Q. How about internet access?
A. Wifi in the hotel section of the Renaissance Grand will set you back $14.95 per day. In addition, Will Sullivan tells me:
I believe we will be buying WiFi for the convention/meeting room areas.
There’s a pretty decent 3G signal. It’s a brick building, but the convention/meeting rooms are all on the second floor of the convention building (next door to the hotel building), so the signal does get through.
Last year, I stayed in the hotel building and was able to get excellent signal to tether my phone to avoid the individual room wireless fee.
Q. Please tell me there’s a Starbucks nearby.
A. There is not a Starbucks nearby. Instead, it’s in the lobby of the hotel.
Q. How can I get from the airport to the hotel without it costing me an arm and a leg?
A. Take the Metrolink red line train from the airport to the Convention Center stop. It’ll cost you only $3.75 each way. The ride takes about 30 minutes and deposits you about a block-and-a-half from the hotel.
Or, you can take a shuttle van (about $20) or a taxi (about $40).
If you do the latter, you might consider sharing a ride. Make up a big sign that says: SND: Share a taxi to the hotel?
Q. How can I get around downtown without it costing me my other arm and leg?
A. Most of what we’ll be doing is within walking distance. The opening reception on Thursday is at the City Museum, eight blocks away. If you want to go over to Kiener Plaza to shoot pictures of the old courthouse and the Gateway Arch — like you saw at the top of this post — well, that’s only six or seven blocks in the opposite direction.
If you’re like me, though — too lazy to walk and too cheap to pay for transit — simply take the Downtown Trolley. Two bucks buys you a day’s unlimited pass. The trolley runs from 7 a.m. until midnight.
Q. Are there cheap eats anywhere around?
A. Tons of ‘em. I had started compiling a list until Will Sullivan and the folks at the Post-Dispatch posted a fabulous map of the area, marked with pubs, bars and hotels for all price ranges.
That map pretty much answered my questions. Make sure you print a copy before you go. Or download it to your phone.
An even better point: A number of your meals are actually part of the workshop. For example…
- You might to eat something Thursday night before the opening reception. But yes, there will be food there. In fact, the food there sounds wonderful.
- A continental breakfast will be served Friday, courtesy of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
- Friday, there is a “business lunch” session where ESPN Digital’s Rob King will speak.
- A mid-afternoon coffee break Friday will be sponsored by the Toronto Globe & Mail.
- Friday night, everyone is invited to the Flamingo Bowl, a nearby bowling alley. Your SND badge will get you admitted for $10, which includes pizza, chicken fingers, “happy hour” drink specials and free shoe rental if you decide to bowl.
- A continental breakfast Saturday will be sponsored by the Font Bureau and Webtype.
- Dinner on Saturday, of course, is the annual banquet.
So how many meals does that leave on your own?
- Whatever you eat for your light Thursday dinner,
- Saturday lunch, and…
- Whatever you eat on your way out the door Sunday.
Not bad, right?
Q. Will I have a chance to get out and see the town?
A. It depends on how badly you want to. One of the biggest complaints I heard after Boston in 2007 and Las Vegas in 2008 was that folks didn’t get to see much of town. But part of the reason for that was there was just so much cool stuff going on.
What’s more important to you? Seeing downtown St. Louis? Or networking with your visual journalism colleagues?
Now, having said that: The folks at SND/STL have planned a bunch of cool activities four our downtime…
- Thursday: The opening reception at the City Museum — sponsored by the Post-Dispatch — promises to be very cool and very interesting. Read more about that here. Afterwards, they’ve planned a “bar crawl” to take us back to the hotel.
- Friday, there’s dinner and bowling at Flamingo Bowl. Afterwards, there’s Trivia Night to benefit the SND Foundation. Read all about Friday night here.
- Saturday, of course, is a reception and then the annual awards banquet. The master of ceremonies will be Tim Harrower. When we get done around 10 pm.., folks will probably head out the door into Washington Ave., where the bars and nightclubs stay open until 3 a.m. Read more about that here.
Q. There’s not a professional ball game in town that weekend, is there?
A. The regular baseball season ends the weekend before. Now, the Rams do host the Redskins on Sunday — the day we all pack up and leave — at the Edward Jones Dome, just a couple of blocks from the hotel.
But have you seen the Rams play? I wouldn’t call them professional…
Q. Did you say you’ll be there?
A. Yep. I’m a speaker this year.
Q. Sorry; I just can’t make it to St. Louis this year. Where will next yearâ€™s SND workshop be?
Q. This post is over? I still have questions!
A. And conference co-chair Will Sullivan has answers. So much has been covered already via the SND/STL web site. But if you still can’t find what you need there, contact him at will [at] journerdism.com.