SSDP2014, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference + Lobby Day will commence one week from today! With such an action packed few days, it can be a lot to take in, so I asked SSDP alumni if they had any tips for first-time conference goers on making the most of your conference experience and here are some of their suggestions:
1. “Make/bring business cards.” – Victor Pinho
You can do this at Kinkos, or just buy relatively thick paper and print business cards at home. If all else fails and someone asks you for a card when you don’t have any, ask the person for their email address and send them a message with your contact information right then and there.
2. “Look at least semi-professional. I felt pretty underdressed at my first conference. (Not that anyone’s judging here!) Super important for Lobby Day participants though.” – Lauren Mendelsohn
The attire for the conference is business casual (which typically means no jeans, tennis shoes, t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc.), but some people will be more dressed up, others will be less so. You never know who you’ll meet at a conference, so as long as you’re confident in the way you’re presenting yourself to others, that’s what’s most important. It’s also a good idea to hang up your nicer clothes as soon as you get to your hotel room to reduce wrinkles. Most hotel rooms have an iron, but if yours doesn’t, call the front desk to ask for one.
3. “Take pics and make videos. This conference is going to change your life forever. You won’t want to forget it.” – Irina Alexander
You can tag photos and videos with #SSDP2014 on social media to share them with all the new friends you’ll be making! In addition to taking pictures and videos, it’s a good idea to take notes during sessions. You may even want to take some time each evening to jot down some of the highlights of your day. With so much happening in such a short period of time, it’s easy to forget important people you met, things you heard, ideas you had, etc. and keeping a journal of sorts can help you remember as much as possible.
Also on the topic of taking notes: “Pro Tip: Keep notes on who you spoke to, what you discussed, and if you need to follow up. Backs of business cards are helpful or a neatly folded piece of paper. Best to do right after the conversation.“ – Darrell Rogers
4. “Read the speaker bios beforehand and figure out who you want to try and connect with at the conference, for career advice or to talk about what your chapter’s working on” – Julia Peterson
There’s no need to wait until you’re actually at the conference to start figuring out who’s speaking and on what. Check out the conference program here.
5. “Talk to everyone, but especially seek out SSDPers from your state/region! Conferences are a great time to meet and bond with folks from nearby chapters with whom you can then work on campaigns or host events (like the UConn-URI sister chapter thing we have goin’ on)!” – Sam Tracy
During the opening reception (5-8pm, Friday 9/26) we’ll be encouraging people to network with others in their regions. If you miss that, each person’s name tag should have a colored dot that corresponds with what region they are in.
6. “Don’t hesitate to approach someone you think is important and introduce yourself. We are all just activists and we are all inspired to find others who are as excited as we are about changing unjust policies!” Amber Langston
The SSDP community is incredibly welcoming and open, so don’t let your hesitation cause you to miss an opportunity. Chances are, most folks will be just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them.
7. “Split your chapter up and all go to different sessions, rather than going to them as a big unit – you’ll not only meet more people this way, you can also debrief later on and share all the awesome stuff you learned. (UConn always splits up and has everyone take notes in one big Google Doc!)” – Sam Tracy
During most of the breakout sessions, there are 3-4 things going on at once, so you’ll need to choose one session to attend, and sometimes it’s a pretty hard decision to make. Check out the schedule ahead of time and make a plan for which sessions you want to make sure to hit, then talk to your friends/chapter members about which sessions they’re most excited about and split up.
8. “Don’t spend your time partying so hard you miss the morning sessions. #NotPro“ – Victor Pinho
Try to resist the temptation to stay up until the crack of dawn hanging out with your new friends. Remember there are 3 days and nights to make it through. Your future self will thank you for hitting the sack early, trust us. Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday is from 9:00am-9:45am, so veteran conference goers suggest getting to bed around 1am to get enough sleep to be fully recharged.
9. “Talk to Eric Sterling. At least once.” – Irina Alexander
Trust us on this one, you want to meet Eric. The perfect time to do that is at Saturday morning’s “Breakfast discussion with Eric Sterling” from 9:00-9:45am.
10.“Make a special effort to put your best self forward, really show up, be present, get to know people, make friends, not keep to yourself, not be distracted on your phone the whole time” – Jesse Stout
Couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂