There are so many marijuana industry events these days. One of my friends on social media referred to it as an 'industry event epidemic.' I remember back when there weren't that many industry events. Prior to the 2012 election, most marijuana events revolved around an entertainment focus, probably because a thriving industry seemed still like a bit of a ways off. That's not to say that there weren't dispensaries and industrial gardens, because there certainly were. But as with most things in the marijuana industry, I measure things pre-2012 election and post-2012 election.
In 2016, it seems like every time I'm scrolling through social media or open my e-mail there's another industry event. All of them claim to be the best, and that their event 'cannot be missed.' One of the most common e-mails that I get is from an event organizer asking if I'd like to interview 'fill in the blank' expert on all things cannabis as part of their event. Sometimes I recognize the name, sometimes I don't. True experts that get me excited to see are few and far in between.
Not all marijuana industry events are created equal. To be up front, I've never put on an industry event, and am far from a titan of industry. However, I've been to lots of industry events over the years, and have watched countless hours of event interviews, panels, and presentations and have walked many show floors talking to virtually every booth at the event if time allows. I know a lot of others that have attended industry events too, and below are some of the things that we came up with that we like to see at industry events that we feel make some events worth going to compared to others:
One thing that I always do when I go to an event is locate where the activism tables are. I always call it 'activism row' because they are usually all clumped together. If an industry event doesn't allow reputable activist organizations have a presence at their event, that's a deal breaker for me. I went to a few back in 2013 that were all about the mighty dollar. I get it, it's an industry event, but the industry and reform movement go hand in hand, and so if there's no activism present at the event, that tells me that the people behind it aren't that smart and likely don't have an established background in cannabis. How can I trust someone when they say that they are a cannabis expert when they weren't even a cannabis fan prior to the 'green rush' and doesn't support reforming harmful cannabis laws? The last Marijuana Business Conference in Vegas did an amazing job at incorporating activism into their industry event with not only activism row, but also an activism dinner/fundraiser at the Rio in Vegas, during which Jeff Mizanskey was honored.
Top Quality Speakers
Event speakers are the biggest draw of any event, and just as all events aren't created equal, neither are speakers. One thing that I always look for in an event is a keynote speaker that is either speaking at an industry event for the first time, or close to their first time. That's not to take away from 'the usuals' that are always speaking industry events, because a good event has to have those too. But I like to hear fresh perspectives from people. A good example is Cliff Robinson speaking at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference, and simultaneously announcing the launch of Uncle Splliffy. National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), MJ Biz Daily, and the people behind the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) all come to mind when it comes to putting together really, really good speakers. It's tricky getting speakers that are very knowledgeable, but that also posses good public speaking skills. I've sat through some snoozer presentations for sure!
A Good Venue Located Somewhere Travel Friendly
Most marijuana industry events do a good job of picking a location that is travel friendly. However, there are some in some fairly obscure places and I often wonder who is traveling to those. I used to work as banquet staff in college, and the place I worked at was an awful venue. It wasn't set up to flow really well and everything was cramped. A lot of events remind me of those times. No offense to bootleg hotels, but if an event is at a bootleg hotel that's located out of the way, that's probably not an event worth going to. The California Cannabis Business Expo starts tomorrow at the Hilton in San Francisco. That's a fantastic venue. Plus the event features Ethan Nadelmann, which is a FANTASTIC speaker. Rule of thumb - if an event has Ethan Nadelmann speaking at it, it's quality.
Events should be affordable enough that if a dedicated entrepreneur wants to show up, and all other travel accommodations are taken care of, that they should be able to afford the event. Elite people have a lot of success, but I want to network with people that are rising, regardless of where they are on the timeline of their pursuits. At an industry event I want to talk to the people that are just starting out just as much as I want to talk to the people that have been in the industry since its infancy. There's much to be learned and many relationships to be built with people from all walks of life, and that only happens if the event is affordable. I like events that offer discounts and multiple options. Maybe someone can't afford the full package with VIP perks, but they can at least hear some speakers and walk the showroom floor for an affordable price. The absolute hands down best example I've ever seen when it comes to affordability is the Cannabis Health Summit. It had a heavy medical education focus, but that goes hand in hand with the industry considering how enormous the medical marijuana industry is, has been, and will be in the future. It was a virtual event, so no travel costs were involved. The event was completely free when it aired live and featured a laundry list of the top experts in all kinds of different areas of the cannabis industry and beyond. Even now the event is on sale and can be viewed from anywhere the internet allows, and there's even a DVD option, which I'm going to get soon myself so that I can have some viewing parties with people that need to get educated (affordably!).
Some people probably read that title and scratched their heads while whispering 'wtf is specific variety.' I don't like events that have just one focus and that's it, and people beat a dead horse in a trillion different ways. I guess if you were in that specific sector of the cannabis industry, it might be fun, but I like to mix it up. So in that regard, I want variety. However, that doesn't mean that I just want a bunch of stuff slapped together. I have been to some events where it feels like a bunch of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. One speaker will get up and talk about something, then there's a bunch of workshops that don't have anything to do with the industry and instead are some kind of personal history lesson on the speakers life with a limited Q and A afterwards. I like events where the agenda is clearly outlined, and as far in advance as possible. It's OK to add stuff leading up to the event, but not 90% of the program within two weeks of the event. That's a good indication that things aren't organized, and if I'm traveling and spending my own money, I want to be efficient with my time away from my family. Give me the education and give me the networking and cut out the chaos, and BS and minimize the boring stuff as much as reasonable.
I love walking the exhibitor floor and seeing what new things are out there. Just as entry into the event needs to be affordable, so does exhibiting at the event. I getting really bored when I walk into a showroom and it's the same brands that I see over and over and over. I get that they need to be there because they have the deep pockets, and they tend to also have the best SWAG. But I like to see those fresh ideas and to have my mind blown by the geniuses that are out there to make my love for marijuana go deeper than I ever thought possible. I've never invented anything in my life, but I'm fascinated by those that have. I love hearing their stories and seeing the passion and excitement in their eyes when they talk about their goals.
I'll get straight to the point - if I see butt cheeks at your industry event, I'm not coming back. If there's one rogue registrant that happens to streak through the event as some type of immature prank, I'll understand. But if there's people in booty shorts handing out stuff at an industry event, I'm out. I'm all for freedom of expression, but not gender exploitation.
Timing is not vital for an event to be an elite event, but it sure helps. I remember being at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference (OMMBC) last year in Eugene after legalization had passed, but prior to a lot of the rules being set and the licensing process being rolled out. You could feel the excitement and wonder in the air. Another great example was the first ever Marijuana Business Conference put on by MJ Biz Daily in 2012. The event was in Denver, the day after Colorado voted to legalize marijuana. There were hundreds of people there, and all we could all do was look at each other, smile, and talk about how bright the future looked. Timing is very difficult to gauge, but when it all lines up I will say from first hand experience, it will create lasting memories and keep people coming back for more!
Local, Regional, And National
Most people think of national events when they think of marijuana industry events, but I've had a lot of fun and learned a lot at local/regional events too. The OMMBC is a good example. NCIA is absolutely fantastic in this area. I recently attended a brunch fundraiser for Earl Blumenauer, which also honored Barney Frank. They also put on quarterly caucus meetings. One of many reasons to become an NCIA member.
Draws In Reputable Attendees
In addition to seeing who is speaking at an event, I always try to check out who else is going to the event. That takes a bit of 'social media stalking' but if you look on social media hashtags and on people's pages, you can get a good feel for if people are going to an event or not. If I don't hear much buzz out there, that's not a good sign. On the flip side if people that I respect and admire are going, you better believe I'm going to try to get there too because I know it will be worth my time, effort, and money.
Has A Panel On Social Media And The Internet
For the love of 2016, why are marijuana industry events ignoring the internet and social media? I get that there are a number of topics to cover that are extremely important such as taxes, compliance, etc. However, when I go to events and they event either have no web panel, or have a branding panel, but it's all just about how 'sexy' your logo can look and how warm and fuzzy you can make people feel with your custom fonts, that sucks. On rare occasions there will actually be a panel dedicated to that topic, but the speakers are people that barely know how to turn on their tablets...It always reminds me of a character on the popular show Silicon Valley named Gilfoyle and what he said in an episode. 'Internet, ever heard of it?' Apparently for many marijuana industry event organizers, the answer to that question is clearly no.
As always, if there's something I missed, feel free to put it in the comment section so that others can benefit from your knowledge and experience. There are two events coming up that I'm going to specifically try to get to. The OMMBC is coming back to Eugene in April. I had a ton of fun last year, and I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to attend this year. The other is the Cannabis Business Summit put on by NCIA. There's a brochure that you can download for the Cannabis Business Summit by going to this link here and signing up for it. That event is taking place in Oakland in June, and that's an event that I absolutely want to get to. I've been to a lot of local NCIA events and some other celebrations, but I have a feeling that this summit is going to be particularly outstanding. I'll have more about both events in the near future, and hope to see you there!