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13 Takeaways from the 2019 ICCFA Convention

Apr 12, 2019

This week, I traveled to Charlotte with the ASD Team to attend the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Convention. Events like the ICCFA Convention encourage thought leaders in our profession from across America to gather together to share strategies, trade tips and educate others based on their own experiences. These conferences encourage attendees to keep their minds open to fresh ideas and perspectives. As a funeral writer, I’ve learned that with an attentive outlook, you can find both essential lessons and important truths hidden in every corner of the convention center.

By far, the most rewarding aspect of the ICCFA Convention is the people you encounter and the priceless interactions you have with others in attendance. There is such a multitude of shared connections, many dating back multiple decades.I enjoy fostering these priceless relationships while looking at the profession from every angle. Trade shows provide a unique opportunity to help me broaden my understanding of the funeral service community and document key insights I pick up along the way. Below are a few of the important lessons I learned this year attending the 2019 ICCFA Convention.

1.Don’t refer to your achievements as “little things”

There were so many valuable insights from Drew Dudley’s keynote presentation on Creating Cultures of Leadership and the Power of Lollipop Moments. We can’t imagine anyone not feeling supercharged and inspired by Drew’s words about the true nature of leadership. One of the biggest takeaways for us was his emphasis on how we reflect on our own successes. There is a tendency to compare our accomplishments to giants like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg. As a result, many people minimize their own successes. Drew explained why this way of thinking is inherently flawed.

“Don’t call the things you do ‘little things’ because it devalues them,”Drew stated.“By saying that, what we’re really saying is that if something doesn’t make you rich or famous, it’s not important.”

Consider the work of funeral directors. It is not defined by any one great success, but rather the countless number of kind gestures and comforting words that help those in need. Yes, it is possible to win awards, receive promotions, gain profits, and receive praise in this line of work. But for the vast majority of funeral directors, these types of aspirations are truly the little things. The passion funeral professionals have for bringing comfort to those who are hurting is greater than any other measurement of achievement.

2. While grief impacts your heart and emotions, trauma changes your brain

We were deeply moved by the Keynote Speaker, Mindy Corporon, who so openly and courageously shared her story with ICCFA attendees. The horrific tragedy Mindy and her family endured drove her down a new path in life. In her powerful and heartrending session, Managing Your Business After a Tragedy, Mindy recalled the day her father and oldest son were murdered by a white supremacist and the devastating aftermath on both her personal and professional life. One of the things Mindy discussed was how her brain was forever altered by the trauma she experienced. Beyond the grief she felt, Mindy was no longer able to do mathematics in the same capacity she had before the tragedy. This led to her eventually stepping down as the CEO of a wealth management firm she had co-founded.

“With tragedy comes trauma. While grief affects your heart, trauma changes our brain. I was experiencing things differently than what all the literature said. Trauma affected my brain so drastically, I couldn’t do math,” Mindy shared.“People kept telling me, ‘it’ll come back.’ Over the last five years, it has trickled back but there are still holes. I don’t know why my brain decided math was something I no longer needed. As an owner, it’s important for you to understand how trauma changes your brain if one of your employees were to experience something like this.”

3. A fresh pair of eyes can give you a new perspective

Since joining ASD’s Sales Team, I have had the privilege to attend more than a half dozen national funeral conventions. This year, while walking the trade show floor, I was accompanied by our Client Solutions Specialist, Marissa Peagler, who was attending her very first convention. It was so interesting to see everything on display through the eyes of someone who had not seen it before. There were a number of things I might have overlooked had Marissa not been there to share her perspective with me. For instance, Marissa’s interest in cremation jewelry led to one of the most interesting conversations about the art of glassblowing with a vendor at Eternity’s Touch. We also had a great time hanging out with our friends at Ring Ring Marketing while enjoying a little coloring time.

4. Messy and finished beats perfect and incomplete every time.

Keynote speaker, Jon Acuff,delivered an information-packed session that focused on how to achieve goals and stick to resolutions. One of the things he discussed were the enemies that often prevent people from executing their vision. These enemies often show up in the form of perfectionism and comparison. Jon explained that it’s easy to hide behind perfectionism and get obsessed with finding some flawless ideal, but in reality, you don’t get to a final version without an imperfect first draft. Jon also spoke about the danger in comparing your ability to complete goals with others.

“If you’re ahead of someone, you feel cocky and you’ll start to coast, if you’re behind someone you feel ashamed and discouraged and you’ll stop. It’s lose-lose. Comparison leads to arrogance or shame, but never happiness,”Jon explained.

5. You can’t measure your impact without analyzing your interactions

One takeaway we really appreciated during Drew Dudley’s keynote session was his emphasis on the importance of interactions as a measurement of success. In today’s era, we have become very focused on quantifiable metrics and numbers on a spreadsheet, but there are some things that cannot be weighed or measured. Personal interaction is not something that you can buy, sell or trade. It cannot be put under a microscope or input into a calculator. However, its value is tremendous. Drew explained that the biggest impact a person or company can make stems from “a commitment to creating moments that cause people to feel as if they are better off for having interacted with you.”

6. It is crucial to consider in advance how your organization will respond if a team member experiences tragedy

The experience of losing her father and oldest son in such a violent and unexpected way resulted in Mindy Corporonfinding her purpose in helping others understand the impact trauma has on survivors. In this capacity, Mindy provides insights on how businesses and organizations should respond when one of their own is affected by tragedy. There were so many important lessons to be drawn from Mindy’s story, but one of the most significant is the importance of having these “what if” conversations before something happens so that if it ever does happen, you can provide the right kind of support to the person who has experienced a life-shaking trauma.

“You want them to re-integrate into the work place. Don’t let the person build a wall around them,” Mindy warned. “Give your employee the opportunity to come back to the workforce, give them purpose, and have your firm share that purpose.”

Mindy brought up specific examples of questions you should ask in advance. For instance, what functions can be outsourced if a tragedy were to occur? Who will take control of internal and external communications? Who will facilitate work counseling sessions? Who will step up if the company owner is the one who experiences a tragedy?

7. Cremation products are becoming increasingly personal

With the U.S. cremation rate steadily rising, the number of cremation-related products and services has grown as well. It is interesting to see how many inurnment options now exist for families that choose cremation. From a racecar-shaped urn for a NASCAR lover to cremation jewelry that can be infused with photographs, it seems there is no limit for all of the unique and distinct ways that ashes can now be displayed. For us, one of the biggest standouts at this year’s convention was the glass front cremation niches created by Global Bronze. Their ICCFA display demonstrated how these niches can be personalized with photos, ceramics, lights, vases and other meaningful touches to create a pleasant environment for families to visit. This is a really great option to offer to families, especially those that crave having a space they can visit and decorate like a gravesite.

Glass Front Cremation Niches on Display at the Global Bronze booth

8. Leadership recognized is leadership created

If you weren’t able to attend Drew Dudley’s keynote presentation at the ICCFA Convention, you may be wondering why his session title mentions ‘the power of lollipop moments.’ Drew explained this refers to any moment when a person has come up to you unexpectedly and made you feel as though you made a difference. He described how the vast majority of leadership in the world comes from people who don’t identify as leaders. A big reason for this is because our society often fails to acknowledge the positive contributions leaders make and as a result, many natural leaders don’t realize how much of an impact they make on others.

“We let people walk around who have made our lives better and our careers better and we don’t tell them that,” Drew stated.“Please, tell them that they have done so because leadership recognized is leadership created.”

9. You can’t “step out” of tragedy when it’s within your own family

“I want you to understand what happens in the lives of people after a funeral is over.”

This statement from Mindy Corporon’s keynote presentation really stuck with me. As someone who works closely with the funeral profession, it does often feel as though I am stepping into and out of other people’s tragedies. I know that funeral directors experience this on a much deeper level. During her presentation, Mindy talked about her former career as a financial planner and how she used to “step in” to families to help guide them through retirement decisions and then “step out” afterward. However, what she learned after her own loss is that you can’t step out of grief and tragedy when it’s within your own family.

Mindy talked about the importance of funeral homes providing aftercare to families they serve because after the trauma does not end after the funeral take place.

10. In both business and bowling, consistency is everything

During the ICCFA Convention, the ASD Team had a chance to cut lose and spend some time out on the town in Charlotte. We had a great time with some of our clients at the Strike City Bowling Alley. While it’s rare for me to ever bowl above 100 (and with artificial nails, even that’s a stretch!) there is something to be learned even from a fun game of bowling. The biggest successes seem to come when you are consistent in your game and repeat the same things (timing, arm swing, steps, Etc) each time it is your turn. The same is also true when it comes to business. Take ASD for instance…can you imagine if we only dispatched someof the urgent messages we handled?

I was asked more than once during the convention why I liked working for ASD and for me it is such an easy question to answer. I feel pride representing a company I feel is worth standing behind, that offers a solution that is truly needed and unfailingly strives to provide its clients with the most consistent service. This feeling of pride is shared among all my teammates and we know how special it is and that it would not exist if we worked for a company that misses the mark. Thankfully, ASD’s level of service is much more reliable than my bowling game.

11. When someone on your team experiences tragedy, you must be the calm in the chaos

Mindy Corporon’s session included a help model that she recommended companies follow if one of their own is impacted by a major loss.

The A.B.L.E Model:

Ask:Ask the person in trauma questions such as “How can I help?”, “Are you eating healthy?”, “Are your finances okay?”, “How is your brain today? “What is your capacity for the next hour?”

A person experiencing tragedy cannot think long-term because they are still stuck in the moment the tragedy occurred, trying to figure out how to stop it,”Mindy explained.

Believe: People who experience a loss often have a lot of weird experiences such as visions or dreams. It’s important those around them don’t invalidate these experiences by casting doubt on them.

Listen: Both the person who experienced the tragedy and the people who work with them should feel as though their feelings have been heard.

Encourage: You can encourage the person hurting to channel their feelings into something else in particular, such as a charity event, awareness walk, or group counseling meetings.

“You need to be the calm in the chaos and if the tragedy happens to you, others need to rally around you and be the calm in your chaos,” Mindy stated.

12. Community calls us to heights we cannot call ourselves

One interesting takeaway from Jon Acuff’s keynote address about how company cultures can execute their goals was his emphasis on teamwork. A “me against the world” mentality can be dangerous in the workplace because big dreams require big teams. Jon emphasized avoiding a workplace culture where employees are encouraged to go at it alone and instead to encourage employees to share their challenges with one another.

“Within the business world, it is easy to become isolated and to feel alone. Sharing both the keys to success and the fear of failure are monumental assets to punching fear in the face and achieving awesomeness,”Jon said.

13. Nothing helps a group of people problem solve like an unavoidable downpour

On the third day of exhibiting at the ICCFA Convention, a nasty storm moved through Charlotte that brought with it heavy sheets of falling rain. The hotel ran out of their supply of umbrellas, which made the very short walk down the street to the convention seem like a mile. One of the more comical moments of the convention occurred when dozens of ICCFA attendees stood under the hotel awning waiting for just the right moment to cross the street. Like a real-life game of Frogger, we all watched the traffic patterns and decided together when to make our move. In the end, we arrived in the convention hall a little damp. But, thankfully, not drenched. It is pretty funny to think about more than 15 people working together to decide how to get from point A to point B the fastest without getting wet. Rain is temporary, but a good story is forever!

Thank you so much to everyone who spent time with the ASD Team during the 2019 ICCFA Convention. We appreciate you and look forward to seeing you next year in San Antonio.

About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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