Making the Most Out of the Experience of an SSDP Conference
Written by Amy Hildebrand, Illinois State Policy Intern
The annual SSDP International Conference is nothing short of a whirlwind. A weekend that is filled with moving speakers and impactful panels, reunions with old friends and internet friends and the blossoming of new collaborations, communities and cohorts. I think we can all agree it’s a lot to take in.
I came home from SSDP2018 this year feeling like it didn’t even happen. I had been planning for Baltimore since what seemed like the second I got home from Portland last year, determined to justify my Rising Star Award and keep pushing. I organized fundraising efforts for our chapter as early as June 2017 and had secured ten students’ conference registration, hotel, and airfare by Winter Break. Tack on planning the “I’m Done with School. Now What?” Panel and running for the Board of Directors, and the road to Baltimore was a emotional, time consuming, year-long effort. It was a bittersweet moment when I deleted the “Baltimore Master Planning” folder off of my desktop.
And I know I’m not the only one. The SSDP staff puts in countless hours to make sure everyone’s conference experience is excellent, as do our Board of Directors, panel moderators, speakers, and chapter leaders. Our conference is a huge deal for a lot of reasons, but perhaps above all, it’s the one time of year that all of the powerful, positive energy that exists in our extended SSDP network gets to bounce off itself in the same space, inspire movement and growth, and reinstill the community of compassion and direct action we have built these past twenty years. It is nothing short of a palpable reminder that there is good in the world, a smack in the face that you are loved, accepted, and have found somewhere you can thrive.
Here are some of my tips for making the most of your conference momentum before, during, and after the event:
- Put yourself in a good position to have a transformative weekend. Clean your room and throw out any food that might go bad in your fridge. Remind people you may not be reachable all weekend. Get work done to avoid falling behind or missing deadlines.
- Sleep. You won’t sleep at the conference and traveling can sometimes be more exhausting than you’d like. Try to head into conference weekend well-rested.
- Plan your outfits based on what’s important to you and how you want to convey it.
- If you would have snacks or easy meals available at home, go buy some when you arrive. That way, you don’t have to leave the conference hub to buy anything late at night or in the middle of the day .
- Give yourself alone time. Take a shower. Close the bathroom door when you brush your teeth. Taking a few minutes to center yourself throughout the day is important, especially when you are being constantly talked to and otherwise stimulated.
- Find your people. The SSDP family is filled with vastly different characters who offer colorful conversation, professional advice and other insightful anecdotes. But, there are a lot of us! It’s nice to feel like you have someone to meet up with for lunch and those encounters can breed chapter collaborations and lifelong international friendships.
- Keep track of your action items. Even if note taking slips your mind, at the very least try write yourself a to-do list. This way, things that inspire you make it back to the community you live and work in and can become something less abstract.
- Show off! Tell your family and friends about your experience, share the conference recap video and any photos you took. Let everyone know how important SSDP is to you and why this conference is life-changing.
- Stay in touch. Tell the people you met or reunited with at the conference how much they mean to you. Don’t just vow to stay in touch, make your SSDP friends an important community of support and understanding. Use the power of social media.
- Eat. A full meal, preferably one with vegetables and a big glass of water.
- Create plans of action with your chapter and outreach coordinator. Take what you learned at the conference and turn it into something you can be proud of achieving in your own sphere.
- Follow up. If you made professional connections or got the business card of someone you want to work with, send them a simple email saying it was nice to meet them. You never know where it might lead.
- Feel and express gratitude. Be present in the warmth that is this community.