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How Do I Become a Speaker at Cannabis Industry Conferences?

Published on
May 11, 2020
A curious team of thought leaders wonder how they could speak at MJBizCon

Meghan O’Dea is a versatile writer with nearly a decade of experience covering the travel, outdoor and cannabis industries, as well as in digital and content marketing. She prides herself on finding the exact right voice and angle for any given project and on research expertise honed from her years in academia. Meghan specializes in both big-picture content strategy and detailed technical skills like search engine optimization, all without losing sight of distinctive and creative brand messaging.

Prior to joining the Grasslands team, Meghan contributed to publications including Fortune magazine, Uproxx and Lonely Planet. She has also earned bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Nylon, Willamette Week, Yoga Journal, Subaru Drive Magazine and Different Leaf, amongst others. Meghan holds a master’s in creative nonfiction from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and was a visiting scholar at the international MFA program at City University in Hong Kong. She has also taught writing at the college level and guest lectured on topics such as literary citizenship, urban history and professional development for writers at conferences and universities throughout the United States as well as Madrid, Spain.

Three media outlets I check every single day: The Cut, New York Magazine, The Washington Post

Super inspired by: Women like Isabella Bird, Uschi Obermaier and my maternal grandmother, who dared to travel the world even in eras when global adventures went against the grain.

My monthly #GrasslandsGives donation: PEN America’s Prison Writing Program

When I’m off the clock (in five words): Books. Long walks. Architecture. Mixtapes.

How Do I Become a Speaker at Cannabis Industry Conferences?


So you’ve seen your biggest competitors posting on social media about their upcoming speaking engagements at major industry events like the Cannabis Conference, MJBizCon, or thought leadership events like TEDx or SXSW. We totally understand if you have FOMO—conference speaking engagements often bring about powerful networking opportunities and lead to valuable connections. They also serve as vital tools for building brand awareness.

“The value is immense,” explains Grasslands founder Ricardo Baca. “I mean, for one, you are up there and you’re seen as an educator, you’re seen as a thought leader. Your peers are out there and they’re looking to you to share your expertise. It’s good for your personal brand, but it’s also good for the brand that you’re there representing.”

Before you get to share expertise and build a reputation onstage, however, you’ve got to land those speaking slots. Strategies for success revolve around several tactics, including:

  • Building on media relationships and industry connections
  • Leveraging the members of your network involved in conference organization who are familiar with your reliability, skill set, and perspective
  • Filling out a speaker application


Applying for conferences is a fairly standard process. Different event applications might vary in terms of the level of detail required or the word count to which your responses are limited, but most expos demand similar kinds of information. The challenge isn’t filling out the form; instead, it’s figuring out what conference organizers are looking for, and proving you are the person to provide it.

When picking a thought leadership topic, it helps to think in terms of the classic five Ws journalists rely on: who, what, when, where, and why. Be prepared to speak to who you are, what actionable takeaways attendees will gain, when you’ve participated in thought leadership in the past, where you’re coming from in terms of your background and perspective and why you are a qualified expert.

To begin, jot down a list of topics about which you feel your contributions could be meaningful. Be sure to include subjects that best represent your business’ competitive advantages and that will appeal to conference attendees. Investing in thought leadership takes time and money; think strategically about how each cannabis conference speaking opportunity will help your company meet its messaging goals.

Take a look at that conference’s previous year schedule to see what’s already been covered, or which of last year’s topics have seen pertinent changes in the months since. Note emerging trends in the cannabis industry or the economic landscape at large that might impact how cultivators, dispensaries, or vertically-integrated operations do business. Take another cue from journalists and practice active listening at your next industry happy hour to see what seems to be a hot topic or a particular pain point for different types of cannabis businesses.


Not only do you need a timely, actionable  and fresh-feeling proposal, you also must to assess what you bring to the table as a speaker. Press pause on imposter syndrome for a minute and ask yourself the same kinds of questions you would anticipate from the expo’s organizers as they read through the stacks of applications they’ve received.

When the cannabis industry was smaller, fewer conference applicants routinely appeared at events all over the country. As their thought leadership resumes grew, conference organizers turned to them repeatedly for speaking engagements. The rise of a relatively small pool of cannabis experts led a certain level of overexposure, however. Conference executives picking speakers became increasingly concerned, as audiences don’t want to pay $500, $600 or $700 for events featuring the same arrays of speakers they already have encountered at other gatherings.

Conference organizers are “seeing the need to get new faces out there,” notes Ricardo. “That’s great news for developing thought leaders and new brands with compelling things to get across.”

Find What Makes You Unique in the Cannabis Space

Are you one of those new faces who represents something fresh in the cannabis industry? That can certainly help your chances of your proposal being accepted. It can also help shape the proposal or panel you submit and how you approach the subject matter at hand. Perhaps you’re unique value-add as a speaker is that you transitioned to the cannabis industry from another field.

Evaluate intersections of your personal brand and the company you represent. For example, ancillary services that formerly steered clear of cannabis, such as law, accounting and transportation firms, now flock to the space and generate buzz—and their executives increasingly speak at cannabis conferences. Perhaps you bring intersectional identities or diverse perspectives to the cannabis industry. Or you innovated a unique solution to a problem other companies face. Lean into your unique qualifiers to stand out among other applications.

Establish Your Bonafides

Closely scrutinize your resume and professional portfolio, too, for examples demonstrating your capability not just as a subject matter expert, but as a public speaker. As Ricardo notes, “a very common question on those speaker abstracts is ‘have you spoken before in public? Have you spoken on a panel?”

“If there’s a photo or video evidence [of your public speaking skills] they oftentimes ask for that because they want to make sure that when you’re on that stage in front of 10 people or 500 people, you’re not going to clam up,” says Ricardo. “They want to make sure that you’re going to be able to express your expertise and have a thoughtful conversation with your fellow panelists to help educate people in the room.”


If it’s starting to sound like getting on the thought leadership circuit takes some work, you are correct. But you don’t have to go it alone. Industry partners in cannabis marketing and PR can help you break into speaking at cannabis conferences and finesse your personal and professional value-adds and branding.

The more you do something, the more practiced you become. And agencies like Grasslands have a lot of practice helping clients earn prime spots at industry events around the world. They also know firsthand what it’s like to develop and deliver cannabis thought leadership at events like TEDx Boulder, TEDx Marin, SXSW, and the Women in Cannabis Expo.

With hard work, vision and a little help from savvy industry partners, you might just be surprised by the influence you can flex through thought leadership and speaking at cannabis conferences.

Want to learn more about how you can develop your expertise into thought leadership as part of a robust PR and marketing plan? Reach out anytime to talk with the Grasslands team.

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