10 Ways to Maximize Your Time at the Next Cannabis Conference
Know what you want to get out of a conference, and follow up with every person who asked you to stay in touch.
I attend and speak at many cannabis industry conferences, seminars and events around the world. They provide attendees an awesome opportunity to network, build and promote brands while making powerful new connections. Attending conferences also offers an opportunity for individuals to expand their industry knowledge. Conferences generally feature presentations, panel discussions and happy hour networking events, as well as vendor demonstrations of innovative products and services.
The wealth of information and resources available at conferences makes it easy for attendees to get overwhelmed by the options. As the "Green Rush" continues sweeping across the country, ever more relevant conferences will pop up. Here are a few tricks of the trade for making the most out of these cannabis conferences and staying a step ahead of the game.
1. Determine the right conference to attend.
There is a dazzling array of events for cannabis professionals and those eager to enter the space. New entrepreneurs looking to learn more about the industry might opt for a long-standing conference that is broad in scope, such as MJ Biz Con, or a consumer-focused educational event like the Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium & Expo (CEASE), launched this year by my company.
Seasoned professionals might prefer conferences that focus on specific industry segments, such as New West Summit which focuses specifically on cannabis technology or the Cannabis Science Conference, the world's largest cannabis science expo. The most important thing any present or future cannapreneur can do is identify their objectives and determine which conferences are most closely aligned.
2. Know your conference goals.
Once you’ve chosen a specific cannabis conference or event, define your unique objectives. Be sure to do a little background research for help setting realistic goals. Whether you’re looking to meet a high profile cannabis influencer, or find a company to invest in, having concrete goals will keep you on the fast track throughout for the length of the conference.
3. Create a conference plan-of-action.
After selecting a conference or two, and setting specific goals, it’s time to plan your schedule. Review the conference agenda and determine which presentations and networking sessions are vital for you and your business. Identify the experts that you would like to meet and block out time for one-on-one interaction. If there is a large vendor presence, research which companies you would like to connect with, what products you’d like to purchase and what questions you want to have answered.
4. Do some digital networking (stalking) beforehand.
The bulk of your networking should be done before stepping foot on the conference floor. Many conferences now utilize Facebook groups or hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to bring attendees together. You can introduce yourself and allow fellow participants to get to know you in advance on these platforms. This can make it easier for you to network during the conference because you’ve already built bridges online.
If you’re looking to connect with influencers or industry thought leaders, consider following them on social media for a few months or weeks prior to the conference. Like their pages, retweet comments and join in the conversation. Then, be bold, and ask for face to face time. Be sure to solidify your goals for the interaction in advance. Closed mouths don’t get fed! Don’t be afraid to approach your industry heroes if networking is one of your main objectives.
5. Be prepared.
Bring a notebook, tablet and several pens in a bag or briefcase to capture key takeaways. Make sure your devices are completely charged to take notes digitally or record footage. Keep extra batteries and chargers -- portable chargers with a battery pack are ideal since conference employees, speakers and other attendees may occupy all of the venue’s outlets at once. Don't forget to bring plenty of business cards to exchange. Wear comfortable and stylish clothing that makes you feel confident.
Many conferences are held at large venues and you will undoubtedly log major mileage on your Fitbit. Dressing in layers and having comfortable shoes can help maximize your stamina, allowing you go the distance, literally…you might have to walk a mile to the next session or event.
6. Don’t go to every session on the agenda.
Conferences often will offer a wide variety of breakout sessions, workshops and seminars that overlap. Know that it’s okay to miss sessions. While it may be important to attend business lunches and dinners, attendees need to know when to say no. If it doesn’t closely align with the overall goals set during the planning stages, don’t feel bad skipping out on a meeting or two. The conference itself can be intense for some especially with walking and moving about. If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, consider skipping a cocktail party or afternoon presentation. Go back to your hotel and rest so you can be refreshed for the next event later that day or the next day.
7. Use social media strategically.
Large events like Women Grow or MJBizCon are great for meeting people face-to-face, but they’re also excellent venues to network via social media. Think LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and use event-specific #hashtags to give organizers and your followers a curated view from your vantage point. That will facilitate connections at the conference and beyond. Post pictures and tag businesses and interesting people encountered. This tactic alone can do double-duty as a quick reference tool and a way to promote your brand or name as folks search the event. Likes, follows and comments can quickly turn into new conversations, friendships and even new business partners.
8. Be present
Once you’ve taken a few photos and made a few connections, make sure you are present and in the moment, particularly during key moments. Some attendees skip critical sessions, wake up late, leave early or go off gallivanting. My earlier advice to miss a few discussions comes with an important caveat -- attend everything essential to your goals. If you have invested the time, money and energy to attend this event, why not be fully engaged in the process and reap the benefits of knowledge transfer? It starts here.
Be sure to attend planned breakout sessions and take copious notes. Use your phone to record videos and take pictures of interesting presentations and speakers if allowed, but unplug and reflect on the experience. Set your phone to silent. If you are attending a panel discussion or streaming presentation, have at least one question ready for the speakers or panelists. This shows engagement and interest in the topic of discussion, and can lead to a future connection.
Remember to jot down important details. Names and titles may fall by the wayside, but actively listening and recording key pieces of information are vital to your future connection.
9. Debrief each day.
After leaving the conference for the day, take the time to reflect on the information presented and the business cards collected. Follow and engage with new contacts on social media. Write brief notes on the back of business cards, if they’re not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Do this while the information is still fresh in your mind. Reorganize your items and clean out purses, pockets, bags, etc. This will help prepare for the next day. Waiting a few days to take notes and collect your thoughts is a mistake -- that time is much better spent following up with new connections. This whole process rarely takes longer than 30 minutes and is worth every second of your time.
10. Follow up ASAP
Even the most motivated and dedicated attendees sometimes forget to follow up. Many people skip this important step, immediately jumping back into busy lives. You’ve collected business cards, emails and social media accounts -- so use them. Create a plan for following up with valuable new contacts. Within a week of the conference, send a personal message to everyone you encountered offering thanks and building on the connection. Try setting up phone calls or in-person meetings with potential business or personal contacts. This step in the process helps turn fleeting associations into lasting relationships.
The cannabis industry is constantly evolving. Events are a powerful way get in on the ground floor and get to work. Conferences are investments in both the future and the present. But, this critical tool is what you make of it. Have fun, network and stay focused.