SSDP2016, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference will commence on Friday! 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:
“Make/bring business cards.” – Victor Pinho ‘02
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.
“Look at least semi-professional. I felt pretty underdressed at my first conference. (Not that anyone’s judging here!) Super important for headshots 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.
“Talk to Eric Sterling. At least once.” – Irina Alexander ‘07
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.
“Make sure your hotel room meets your needs.” – Stacia Cosner ‘05
When you arrive at the hotel, check to make sure your room has everything it should have. This means, for example, calling the front desk for extra towels if there are more than 2 of you in a room. Make sure the internet, air conditioning, electricity, etc. is working. If not, you’ll want to resolve that sooner rather than later. Also, no matter what hotel you’re staying at, there is always the possibility of bed bugs. Take a few minutes to check for signs of bed bugs before you settle in.
“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 ‘09
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.
“Keep track of your things.” – Stacia Cosner ‘05
All conference bags and programs look identical. Make sure to keep track of yours! You can do this by writing your name on the outside, or by keeping an identifying belonging in there (hey – that’s my hat!). If you do lose or find something, come to the registration table so we can help.
“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 ‘09
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.
“Don’t spend your time partying so hard you miss the morning sessions. #NotPro“ – Victor Pinho ‘02
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 2am to get enough sleep to be fully recharged.
“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 ‘07
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.
“Make an effort to connect with people who have different views from yourself.” – Frances Fu ‘11
People who decide to come to an SSDP conference are here for a variety of reasons. Some people are here to learn about needle exchange programs, others are here to learn about medical cannabis legalization in their state, and still others are here to learn about criminal justice reform. SSDP members have diverse political views, with about 20% identifying as libertarian, 32% identifying as socialist, and about 22% identifying as independent. In short, you will probably meet someone at SSDP who doesn’t share the same views that you have. Make sure you take the time to have a conversation with them to better understand their views – that’s the only way our movement can progress!
“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 ‘02
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.
“Stay Sensible!” – Scott Cecil ‘10
SSDP conferences are a great place to meet new people and have a blast while you’re doing it. Just remember that if you decide to party to keep your sensibility about you. You are, after all, representing SSDP in a public setting the entire time you are at this conference, even when you are not at the hotel.
“Engage in ‘self-care’ best practices.” – Scott Cecil ‘10
Make sure that you take care of yourself during the entire conference weekend by getting enough sleep and enough to eat and drink. Remember, if you sleep in, you will miss breakfast and may miss out on the morning sessions of the conference. Make sure to get plenty to eat and drink. Between traveling and attending a conference it can be very easy to miss one or more meals per day several days in a row. Don’t forget to hydrate. How ever much water you think you need to drink to stay healthy, drink more than that.
“Take pics and make videos. This conference is going to change your life forever. You won’t want to forget it.” – Irina Alexander ‘07
You can tag photos and videos with #SSDP2016 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 ‘00
16.“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 ‘02
Couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂