The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down, especially when it related to work. Work-from-home became the new norm, with Zoom and Google Hangouts becoming the new conference rooms. Trade shows and events moved online, filling the void until we could all be together again.
Two and a half years later, the world has adjusted to a new normal. People are slowly returning to the office, and trade shows are back in full swing. With MJBizCon, the cannabis industry’s largest annual gathering, and many other shows, parties, and networking opportunities still on the calendar for 2022, the thought of attending may feel overwhelming after such a long time out of the crowd.
“It has been an interesting transition as events start to come back, but one thing has been apparent: networking and peer-to-peer conversation seem to be a top priority for everyone,” said Adelia Carrillo, CMO and cofounder of EventHi, a cannabis events platform, and cofounder of Blunt Brunch, a popular series of networking events for women in the industry.
“There is still a little bit of awkwardness in the experience, and event organizers and attendees alike need to keep this all in mind.”
We want to make the transition back to in-person events as seamless as possible. Gear up for trade show season, avoid the pitfalls of being on the road, and get the most out of your schedule by following our expert tips for getting back in the mix.
Being prepared has always been an important rule for navigating conferences. With so many people and activities crammed into a short amount of time, it’s crucial to have a clear plan to stay on track and accomplish everything on your list.
Think about why you are attending an event: What are your goals? What do you hope to get out of the experience? Who do you want to connect with? What constitutes a good return on your investment?
Make sure to review the conference agenda ahead of time and make note of panels or exhibits you want to see. Physically write down what you want to see, or record the times in the notetaking app of your phone—mental notes don’t suffice. Secure tickets for the entire event to give yourself plenty of time to meet your objectives.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” said Chad Sloan, founder of B2B trade show series Lucky Leaf Expo. “Take your time walking the floor—you don’t want to rush through what could be a meaningful interaction. A successful show is often about quality, not quantity.”
Do what feels right for you (and you alone)
The pandemic revealed there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to navigating how you approach being around other people. Plus, networking takes practice, and after two and a half years away, you may feel a little rusty. It may feel intimidating to be around large crowds after existing within a relatively small bubble for such a long time.
There are no right or wrong answers for how to approach these situations, and it’s important to define what works for you. This may include wearing a mask, even if other people aren’t, or limiting your time at packed after-parties if it feels like too much.
“Take it step-by-step, and only do what is comfortable for you to ease back into socializing,” Carrillo said, who added there is an unspoken understanding when it comes to personal boundaries with regard to networking today.
“The majority of people want to respect each other when it comes to interacting, and while none of it distracts at all from the event, it is just our new reality.”
You may have lofty intentions of hitting tons of talks and cocktail parties but could quickly find yourself needing a retreat. Allow yourself to be flexible at the moment—if you need to take breaks, give yourself the time to do so.
Feeling a bit of awkward energy during your interactions? Just remember, you are not alone—everyone is trying to navigate uncharted territory. Practice unconditional forgiveness, and don’t dwell on any perceived hiccups you felt in your conversations. They were likely noticed by you alone.
Take steps to stay healthy before and during your travel
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prepare for your journey ahead of time by taking steps to boost your immune system. Increase vitamin C intake, rest up, and pack plenty of hand sanitizer and liquid IV.
Once you’re on the road, do not let the hectic nature of your trip get the best of you. Resist the urge to jam-pack your days and nights, and avoid late nights. Purchase bottled water at the local big box store for your hotel room and pack protein-rich snacks in your purse or briefcase in case food is light at the event.
“Don’t overdo it,” said Carrillo. “Whether it is a conference after-party or a festival, drink plenty of water, be mindful of your consumption, be sure to eat, and get plenty of sleep the night before. It can be overwhelming and overstimulating to attend your first event or conference and it’s important to listen to your body.”
Sloan echoed Carrillo’s sentiment.
“Wear comfortable shoes, eat when you can, and take your time!”
Lean into technology
Love it or hate it, the pandemic helped all of us become a bit more tech-savvy. These tools exist to help reduce stress and increase efficiency, so why not take advantage?
Many events utilize apps to help attendees get the most out of their experience. They typically contain schedules and meeting request functions to help set you up for success.
Don’t have time to make new business cards? More and more people are relying on QR-code-enabled contact apps to stay connected. Platforms like Blinq and Haystack allow you to share your information with others quickly and seamlessly, and they can integrate with many CRM solutions—no paper required.
Make a contingency plan
Taking things as they come has become the norm in a post-COVID world, and being flexible is now a crucial part of existence. Events and meetings may be postponed or called off at any moment, but having a backup plan may ease your disappointment and ensure you’re making the best of a missed opportunity.
Ask yourself, “what is the next best thing you could do with the time you would have spent meeting?” Think about alternative events that may be happening or look into what’s going on in your community. If the event you were planning to attend shifts online, be sure to join in. It may not be the same experience, but you’re still making a concerted effort to grow your business.
Also, remember to act quickly if your travel plans need to change. Many airlines and hotel chains had temporary policies in place to accommodate last-minute changes during the height of the pandemic, but that may no longer be the case. Consider buying that extra travel insurance for added peace of mind on the front end, and don’t be afraid to plead your case should you find yourself caught off-guard by an unexpected cancellation.