I’ve tried writing this post three times and I can’t seem to make it a cohesive, single story.  So here’s a bunch of “bullet point”-type paragraphs highlighting the best aspects of this convention.

NFDA chose the right location.  With myriad theme parks and other tourist attractions, Orlando is a great place for funeral directors with families.  Many of the folks we sold cot covers to shared that their family was at a theme park while they attended seminars and training classes.

For vendors, the location was great because Florida is a “right-to-work” state, meaning many exhibitors could set up their booth without getting attitude from union laborers about who can plug an electric cord into an outlet.

They invited expo-only guests.  By inviting area funeral directors (with a free pass offered through exhibitors) to attend the expo, the NFDA got bodies on the floor, so to speak.  They received several hundred of these registrations, many of which, I would presume, were from people who wouldn’t normally pay to attend a national convention. 

NFDA still collected full-convention fees from those who saw the value in attending everything AND they were able to get new people to the floor to check out all the great new products and services.  Getting these folks onto the floor helped fill out their final attendance figures, but it also helped vendors with their biggest hurdle:  getting people to walk by the booth.

They combined the general sessions with the expo floor.  A few people were confused by this arrangement (“Wait – I go into the Expo to see the opening session?”) but it got people onto the floor and made the expo floor a place visit more than just one day of the show.

The opening night reception provided variety for expo-only visitors.  Because the next three expo-only sessions were during the day (9:00 am – 3:00 pm) the opening night “preview” was a good change of pace for area visitors who needed to get back their funeral homes Monday morning and provided something to do for out-of-town directors who arrived Saturday or Sunday and wanted to hang out and chat. 

While my company didn’t sell a lot of cot covers that night, we made some good connections with folks who returned later in the show to place orders and make our exhibit truly successful.

Allowing Boston 2009 booth reservations builds confidence.  Vendors who had a good show, like me, are more likely to work from the immediate success and lock in their spot right away.  This also gives NFDA a chance to capture repeat business (something that may have been a problem from last year) from the people (exhibitors) who help pay a portion of the convention bill.

Also, rewarding early adopters by giving them primo booth placement means better relationships with some “power exhibitors,” the folks who will help drive the show in the future.  Yes, companies like Batesville will still provide a lot of the show’s draw, but when someone wants to see new products or that small company that doesn’t travel to all the state shows, they look for booths like mine.

NFDA Staffers looked like they were having fun… most of the time.  I don’t know if it was part of Wynn Burke’s work or just the mood that Orlando helps create, but NFDA staffers looked like they were enjoying themselves.  From bright-colored “paradise” shirts (a management decision, to be sure, but it made them easily identifiable) to the easy smiles when asked a question, every staffer I met was cheerful, even when there were lots of things going on and many issues to address.

All in all, my experience at the 2008 Convention was great.  There are a few things I would change and some specific snafus that the NFDA needs to correct before next year’s show, but those few problems don’t change what I saw as a strong show with a good base plan to build on.