Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Depending on a variety of factors—where you live, the number of local cases and deaths, the availability of testing, and more—your deathcare firm could be anywhere along the path of the COVID-19 crisis right now.
Your area still might be dealing with an almost-total lockdown. Or your state and local authorities might be letting most businesses go about their services as normal, albeit with certain restrictions and limitations. What you're allowed to do now might be very different from what it was a month ago, and it might be very different again a month from now.
In other words, at the risk of stating the obvious, the coronavirus pandemic (and its resultant restrictions) have created a perfect storm of challenges for cremation service providers and related deathcare businesses.
As tragic as a natural disaster can be, whether a hurricane or earthquake or something else, at least there's (most often) a straightforward process of recovery. It's not something that just lingers on for the foreseeable future.
But that's what it's like dealing with COVID-19. There's no closure on the horizon anytime soon. Experts say it could be 18 months before a vaccine is created and widely available, and most say that's the most optimistic projection.
And no matter how you feel about the severity of restrictions at the moment—whether you feel it's an overreaction or an underreaction, or anywhere in between—the fact remains that we'll all be dealing with a "new normal" for most likely the remainder of 2020 and probably well into 2021.
Nothing's simply going to "snap back" into place. Everything will have changed.
The New Normal
So the question is this: What does all of this change have to do with your deathcare firm? Does it mean you have to start making some extensive changes, if you haven't done so already? Or do you still think you can wait for all of this to just blow over?
As we've dealt with all of this over the past several months, I've come to a few conclusions:
- A shocking number of funeral industry business owners still think this is a temporary inconvenience, and everything will revert back to normal soon. They're wrong, and their loss can be your gain.
- Many of the evolutions demanded by this crisis, especially videoconferencing and remote project management, are critical initiatives deathcare firms should have long before now.
- Those same initiatives will be incredibly important for cremation providers long after COVID-19 is under control and virtually all restrictions are lifted.
- Many people in this industry think making their processes more digital will require lots of time and money. It won't. These tools are incredibly cheap and easy to learn—even for technophobes.
Tools You Can Use
Now, I've spent much of the last six weeks telling anyone who will listen about some of the specific tools they can use. Some depend on what you need to achieve in your particular business.
If your setup is such that you regularly consult with families or individuals, it's obviously a good idea to leverage videoconferencing. You can use it to meet with clientele, staff, or vendors.
If you typically handle life celebrations and are still restricted from doing them (or remain limited in the number of attendees), you can look into livestreaming services or recording them for family and friends to later watch online.
There are lots of options for videoconferencing. You're likely aware that Zoom is the most popular right now. You're also likely aware that Zoom also got hammered with heavily critical news reports due to security lapses and a scary (but actually very rare) type of treacherous trolling known as "Zoombombing."
Here's the bottom line: I use Zoom all the time at my company. It works wonderfully for us. It's also incredibly inexpensive for the basic professional version, and the free version's pretty useful for most companies too.
Zoom is also so easy to learn that I could teach the most technophobic person in your family how to install and use it in less than 10 minutes, guaranteed. So that's why I use it (for about six meetings every workday, on average) and encourage others to do the same.
(This is where I like to note that I have no promotional agreements whatsoever with any tech product or tool I mention here or anywhere else. If I recommend something, it's because it works well—not because anyone's being paid for it. I'm certainly not!)
With that said, the real learning curve in videoconferencing isn't understanding the basics of the tool, whether it's Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, ClickMeeting, or one of several other major providers.
The learning curve is getting used to communicating empathetically with people through the internet instead of face to face. It's mostly the same, but there are some subtle differences, and you'll want to practice at least a little before jumping into a consultation with a grieving family.
My other strong recommendation is that you look for ways to do more project management and coordination online. Even when there's no pandemic, it's much more convenient and efficient to handle the disposition of cases through cloud-based software than on a physical whiteboard in the office.
Yes, of course I know that all change can be challenging and stressful. And yes, I've spoken to many a funeral professional who explained to me that the whiteboard he's using is the same one his father did, which is the same one his father's father did, and it's worked just fine all this time and yadda yadda yadda.
I certainly respect these traditions, but when the traditional way has been long eclipsed by much more efficient processes, it's usually best to bite the bullet and evolve.
I can run my entire business, with more than 50 full-time employees from home. Our home office in Las Vegas has been empty for going on two months now, due to the pandemic, and we haven't missed a beat. I haven't laid off or furloughed a single worker. And we actually have more clients now than when the lockdowns started!
There are lots of reasons for that, but one of the biggest ones is that we had all the necessary remote tools and techniques already in place long before the COVID lockdowns began. They were just our standard way of doing business! I could run projects and coordinate with my teams anywhere in the country or in the world—from a laptop or even just from my smartphone.
Now, I don't expect cremation service providers to become as technologically advanced as a marketing firms that specializes in digital tools, but there's no reason you can't use some.
Try out Trello for project management: We've found it indispensable. We also use the Microsoft suite of tools for various creative projects, along with MS Teams for basic messaging and chat. (Slack is also an excellent choice for those who prefer that interface or simply don't use Microsoft computers or devices.)
How many forms do you use that could be both filled out and legally signed digitally, but you're still using paper for everything? If you're like most deathcare businesses, the answer is somewhere between "most" and "all." While I realize that some paperwork remains restricted to literal paper in some places and for certain purposes, those situations are ever fewer and further between.
Find a Degree of Certainty
And honestly, that's just the tip of the iceberg. But you don't even need to concern yourself with the iceberg yet. Just start looking at how these cloud-based remote work tools benefit your business during the lockdown time—and picture how beneficial they'll remain long after.
The more you've evolved your business technologically, the more prepared you'll be for anything that comes along. The work you do right now to better handle COVID-related restrictions will pay dividends in the future.
At the very least, you need to keep up with competitors making these changes. And if they're not, you can be the one to take advantage. It's the best way to take control and find some degree of certainty in these uncertain times.
Welton Hong, is the founder of Ring Ring Marketing® and a leading expert in creating case generation from online to the phone line. He is the author of Making Your Phone Ring for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.
Welton recently launched Elevating Funeral Service, a podcast developed with Ellery Bowker. They have an entire episode about Zoom with practical how-to guides that you can see here.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Updated: Monday, May 4, 2020
Funeral professionals have a challenging job under normal circumstances; these are not normal circumstances. Covid-19 has simply turned the world upside down. As a psychologist who works with funeral homes and also works in one, I want to offer several suggestions for dealing with the additional stress created by the current epidemic. Many of these ideas come from my work on the Finding Resilience program sponsored by Homesteaders. You can download free materials here.
Professionals in a wide variety of fields consider it a badge of honor to wear many hats in their business. However, I don’t know of any professionals who wear more hats than funeral directors.
Within a single week, you might be expected to demonstrate knowledge of:
- Event Planning
- Funding Options
- Infectious Disease
- Workplace Regulations
- Grief Support
- Religious Traditions
- Reconstruction, Cosmetology, & Hair Dressing
- …and countless other tasks.
In the last few months, you have also had to add “remote videographer,” “social distancing expert,” “Covid-19 expert,” and “creative rituals coordinator”. Not only are all of these duties happening under significant time pressure, but also in the midst of continually changing state and local regulations. It’s no wonder that funeral directors are feeling the effects of compassion fatigue and/or burnout.
Ideally it is best to make relatively small changes to reduce feelings of burnout before it becomes overwhelming. These changes may include hiring additional staff, delegating responsibilities to others, or finding a colleague to cover during much-needed time off. Funeral professionals experiencing profound burnout, anxiety or depression may seek professional help from their physician or a therapist. Hopefully, you may only need a few “course adjustments” to keep you on a productive, lower-stress path. Here are my suggestions for reducing stress under normal circumstances as well as during the current crisis.
SAY “NO” TO NON-ESSENTIAL TASKS
Especially now, there are going to be some tasks that should be postponed. There may be certain types of long-range planning or reviewing production options that are best left to another time. Even better, it is an ideal time to eliminate some of your daily and weekly tasks that don’t impact your business operations or your quality of service to families. I call this process “smart subtraction”. By reviewing your daily and weekly schedule, you may find tasks that can be eliminated, automated, or outsourced.
MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
My work schedule has shifted. I have tried to have “fun nights” with my wife and three daughters, and I have had to adjust to extended family living with us for the last two months. This has destroyed my regular sleep schedule (and I don’t even have to go on middle-of-the-night death calls). When you add the economic stress and uncertainty to changes in daily habits, it is difficult to stay on a regular schedule and get quality sleep. Here are a few tips to help make it more likely that you can fall asleep.
- Avoid drinking too much before bedtime.
Alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, but you may be more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Try to reduce your use of screens in the hour or two before bedtime.
This includes phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. There is a considerable amount of research that suggests certain wavelengths of light emitted from screens that mimic daylight – which is exactly what you don’t want to be viewing just before bed.
- If possible where you live, try to get some light exercise.
Even walking a mile or two can help reduce stress.
Practicing your personal spiritual rituals (and especially gratitude) are ideal just before bed to put you in the right mindset.
WRITE IT DOWN
Recording thoughts and experiences – especially about things that inspire gratitude – can be helpful for people who routinely experience stressful workplace situations. This does not have to be a regular journal or even complete sentences. Doodling and writing short bulleted lists of your thoughts and feelings can work just as well.
DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, SIT THERE
Practicing meditation and mindful activities can often seem so counter-intuitive. When my thoughts are racing around my brain at record speed, it can be difficult to be still and try to not think of anything. Thankfully, there are many different forms of mindfulness and meditation. It can help to try a meditation app or focus on slow, deep breathing. Mindfulness can also come from your religious practices such as focusing on meaningful scripture. Establishing a regular time to practice mindfulness can train your brain to transition more quickly.
LISTEN TO MUSIC
I am “old school” when it comes to music. I still have a large pack of CDs in my car and I actually listen to them. I have one CD with “In Case of Spiritual Emergency” written on it. It’s a personal compilation of Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, John Hiatt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and other favorites. I never cease to be amazed at how the right songs can lift my mood, refocus my mind, and give me a more balanced perspective. I’m not sure what should be on your “In Case of Spiritual Emergency” CD, but I encourage you to create that playlist.
KNOW YOU ARE NEEDED
I have been talking with many funeral professionals across the country and the most consistent reactions I hear include sadness. Funeral professionals are feeling sad that they are not able to provide the full range of funeral rituals and events to bereaved families. They are sad that people are dying alone. And they are sad that families are not receiving the benefits of funeral rituals including support and healing.
I know you can’t do your job the way you would like, but please know that you continue to provide an invaluable service. You may not be able to give someone a hug, but your simple presence and compassion (even if expressed through a video chat) are still a vital service to grieving families. Thank you for the sacrifices of your own potential safety to serve others. Thank you for the innovative ways you have created to meet the needs of the bereaved. Do your best to care for yourself. The world needs you more than ever.
Jason Troyer, PhD., specializes in helping death care professionals serve their families better. Additional resources unique to death care are available in his Finding Resilience program.
Circumstances like a pandemic require extra care for yourself and your colleagues. "Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation." Use the support resources from the CDC available by both call and text, and work together to stay healthy.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a grief expert, author, former psychology professor, and therapist. He provides grief support newsletters, Facebook content, and informational videos at www.GriefPlan.com/funeral. He also provides community presentations, professional workshops, and trainings on behalf of funeral homes and cemeteries. Dr. Troyer can be reached at DrJasonTroyer@gmail.com.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Updated: Thursday, March 26, 2020
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am reaching out to you because you have been a resource and guide for families.
Times are so very strange and challenging and fearful right now and we know that everyone is scrambling to figure out how we honor our dead and support our bereaved from a distance. This is our daily struggle. I know you are dealing with so many questions and unknowns and facing families on their worst day with very few answers to give them. I also know that many churches and clergy are not available to conduct funerals for anyone—even their own church members. Local governments across the world are already telling families they cannot attend funerals. Now we are faced with a world-wide experience that no one could prepare for. We are here, to care for the dead and speak for the bereaved. You are a hero every day, and especially today.
Now is our time to shine. Whether you are a licensed funeral director, a Celebrant, clergy, officiant, chaplain—or one of those myriads of other roles who serve families—we have a bunch of talented and creative people here. Let's think about how to create services that capture the moment and invite people to feel close even when they can't be there.
What I want to offer to each of you is this—if you have families who would like to have a small service now, reach out to a Celebrant in your area, or use my free resource to inspire you, and find a way to connect families at this difficult time. Arrange to meet with them by phone or Facetime or Zoom and gather the stories and put together a service that you can give them now by webcast, or just by print.
Some of you may find yourself needing to do more family meetings by phone, Facetime or Skype. If you are not familiar with how to do those, ask a teenager—they are out of school with nothing to do right now so they can be your tech support.
Phone family meetings are challenging and you will need to work a little harder to connect with the family and to get them to open up. There's just nothing like face-to-face meetings, but that may not be possible right now.
Some of you may find yourself doing services via webcasting or video or for family only. These situations can also be challenging, but just keep focusing on meeting the needs of the family and the best way to tell the unique story of their loved one, no matter who is sitting in front of you. Or not, as the case may be.
For example—virtual candle lighting ceremonies—invite everyone who is watching to go find a candle/flashlight/something that can light up. Play some quiet background music to give people a moment to do that. Then have everyone light their lights at the same time. Even if you are not on a virtual platform where people can see each other, we can talk about the power of thoughts and presence being represented by our lights.
That's just one that popped into my head.
My thought is two-fold—the fear is, if they walk away now they’ll never come back. If they have a service already prepared and ready, they might be more willing to come back and actually have a chapel service. Or, at the least, they will just have the words to read that will hopefully provide some comfort and guidance for them in this very dark and lonely time and they will be grateful to the funeral home for providing this.
Grief does not wait and demands that we embrace it. We all are grieving our losses right now--loss of movement, loss of income, loss of friends and family, loss of security, loss of trust. A death just magnifies those feelings and the sense of isolation. As the people who are trained for this work, we can help families walk this path and give words of solace and comfort and ways to put the stories in a place that will help.
Every life deserves to be celebrated. Even when we are together from afar.
These are difficult times, for the families, for the funeral directors, for the Celebrants, for everyone. So, let's support each other, be kind, be generous, be vigilant—and wash your hands!
Let me know how we can stand with you in this uncertain time. We are all partners in serving families, even on the hardest days.
Take care and be well!!
- Glenda Stansbury and Doug Manning
Celebrant Trainers: Kathy Burns, Matt Bailey, Cathy Nichols, Sara Brown
Suggestions for conducting services
The first thing to consider is how the services will be presented.
Some firms already offer webcasting and are comfortable and positioned for this situation. Others will be figuring out very rapidly how to procure the equipment and software and skills.
There are professional companies that offer streaming services on a per service or a monthly fee. You have probably already been contacted by some of these companies in the past few days.
There are public platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, Go to Meeting, WebX, etc. Consult with others who have used any of these platforms or services for advice or tips on what works or pitfalls to avoid. For example, Gordon Welch, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Funeral Directors Association informed us that Facebook routinely mutes music streamed on Facebook Live. Apparently, Facebook’s agreements with song producers require Facebook to mute music broadcast over the platform. Unfortunately, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC are not parties to these agreements so there is no way to solve the muting problems with Facebook. Therefore platforms like Zoom, Vimeo or Skype who are not parties to the same type of music copyright infringements agreements work better but still require a webcasting license.
Live Stream with family present with no participants visible on the screen.
- Give the family a moment to wave and express their thanks to the people who are joining them.
- Ask the participants to type in their wishes or condolences in the chat function and take a few minutes to read some of them during the service.
- Have a video tribute or pictures of the deceased visible on the screen next to the officiant.
- Be sure that flowers or mementos or service folders are shown for everyone to see.
- Have a favorite or familiar song played and put the words on the screen so everyone can sing along.
- Put the words to readings or scripture or prayers on the screen so viewers can read along.
Live Stream with or without family present and participants are visible on the screen
- Ask the participants to write a note that can be held up to the camera for the family to see.
- Have a ceremony (a few are included in this resource book) that everyone can do together.
- Have a video tribute or pictures of the deceased visible on the screen next to the officiant.
- Be sure that flowers or mementos or service folders are shown for everyone to see.
- Have a favorite or familiar song played and put the words on the screen so everyone can sing along.
- Put the words to readings or scripture or prayers on the screen so viewers can read/recite along.
Taping for later broadcast
- This provides a little more opportunity for editing and smoother transitions to video tribute, music, flowers, service folders, etc.
- The opportunity for real time participation and family involvement is sacrificed.
- Have a “drive-in” funeral service with everyone staying in their cars. If you have not yet invested in portable microphone/speakers set up, now would be a good time.
- Borrow a drive-in theater in your community and broadcast the service on the screen
- Drive past the home of the family with the coach.
- Encourage people to drive by the home of the family at a set time, so they can acknowledge their “presence” and wishes.
- Gravesides with family standing by their cars. Again, a strong outdoor microphone/speaker system is very important.
Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times as a MS Word doc here.
With everyone seeking information on COVID-19 right now, CANA plans to host a weekly conference call for our members to convene and ask questions of one another, talk best practices, and learn together about COVID-19. Check your inbox for instructions to join, or contact Membership Manager Brie Bingham for more information.
CANA continues to frequently update a blog entry related to COVID-19 as new information becomes available. Be sure to bookmark the blog post and revisit as needed: GoCANA.org/covid19.
Glenda Stansbury is the Marketing and Development Director, InSight Books, and Dean and Training Coordinator for In-Sight Institute. She holds a BS in Special Education from Central State University, as well as a BS in Funeral Service and a MA in Administrative Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. Before joining In-Sight Books, Glenda worked for 12 years for the Oklahoma Education Association as a trainer/facilitator. She has worked as Marketing and Development Director for In-Sight Books for 24 years and has been Dean of the In-Sight Institute for 20 years, co-training over 4000 Funeral Celebrants across North America with Doug Manning. She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant; Licensed Funeral Director/ Embalmer, Oklahoma; Certified Funeral Service Professional; Thanexus, New Jersey Board of Director; and Full Time Instructor- Department of Funeral Service, University of Central Oklahoma..
Download File (DOCX)
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020
After the celebrations are over, the beginning of each new year reminds us to refresh and improve our habits. It is not too late to resolve to accomplish the following items this year and establish a new routine for years to come.
- Update and review current governing laws and regulations.
Regardless of your role in the industry, it is important to understand the current laws and regulations that govern your work. Put aside the necessary time to review the federal, state, and local laws and regulations which affect your day to day operations. Right to control final disposition and cremation authorization issues dominate legal complaints against people and businesses in this industry. If you have difficulty finding the statutes and regulations, try searching the web sites for your state association or licensing board – they often have links available.
CANA Members: If you need further assistance, use your legal consultation benefit and give me a call.
- Educate and train staff on any new laws or regulations affecting your business.
Keeping yourself updated on new laws or regulations is just a first step. The next is to educate and train your staff and co-workers on what you have learned. Hold a “lunch and learn” with your team and give everyone the tools to succeed.
- Update your forms to bring them into compliance with any law changes.
Out of date, non-compliant forms are an easy target for regulators and plaintiffs’ attorneys alike. Confirm that your form documents include all the required notices, consents, and disclosures. Consult with an attorney if you have any questions regarding current legal requirements.
- Educate and train staff on the changes in your forms.
Compliant forms are important, but the persons who use them every day must understand how to utilize them to the fullest. Avoid the problems caused by improperly filled out forms. If done and utilized correctly, forms often provide the best documentation in defense of legal complaints.
- Review and update your operational policies and procedures.
OSHA compliance is critical to a successful operation. So, too, are human resource policies, and so much more. If you need assistance in your review, CANA has partnered with Cremation Strategies & Consulting to offer a program which will help you compile operational policies and procedures customized for your business. Learn more here.
- Review and update your employee handbook (including social media policy).
Employment issues are a prevalent headache across all industries and business models. Address common concerns in your employee handbook, so that everyone is on notice of the standards to which they will be held accountable. Implement clear, unambiguous policies on work hours, time off, sick leave, vacation time, and dress codes. Have appropriate sexual harassment policies in place. Communicate your expectations regarding social media use and restrictions on employee posts on business matters. Make sure employees are aware that social media is not for airing of workplace grievances or complaints.
CANA Members: Read up on what my office suggests for these policies as part of the Crematory Management Program.
- Educate and train staff on your policies and procedures.
Periodic training and review of operational and employment policies and procedures are critical. There cannot be compliance without your employees first understanding your expectations and standards to which they will be held accountable.
CANA Members: You can keep your standard operating procedures current and your staff informed with the Crematory Management Program and support from Cremation Strategies & Consulting.
- Meet with your insurance agent or broker.
Make sure your insurance agent or broker understands your business. Too often there are gaps in coverage discovered when you need insurance assistance or defense to a legal claim, when is too late to put the protections you need in place. Many gaps in coverage result from your agent or broker not understanding your daily work and operations sufficiently to make sure that what you actually do is covered. Just because you have “professional liability” insurance, you have no guarantee that all of your professional services are covered. Proactive insurance strategies will serve you best.
CANA Members: Have you looked over CANA’s newest benefit, a professional liability insurance program for crematories? Read what makes this policy different and how it covers businesses like yours.
- Meet with your tax planning professional.
Do not leave money on the table. A tax professional’s advice can add value to your business and improve its bottom line. Mitigate your tax risks and exposures prudently.
- Budget for and plan to attend meaningful continuing education opportunities.
Take some time to think about the education and assistance which will benefit you and your business most in the upcoming year. Then, search for continuing education opportunities that will assist in meeting your goals. There are in person and online resources available to address almost any concern as an industry professional or business owner. Some jurisdictions even allow you to get your crematory operator certification online. If you attend CANA’s convention in Seattle this year, please say hello. I look forward to seeing you!
CANA Members: Not sure how to get started developing a defined professional development plan for your employees? CANA Education Director Jennifer Werthman is here to help you achieve your goals – reach out any time.
Getting your new year off to a good start can jumpstart accomplishing your business’s New Year’s Resolutions. Best wishes for your success in 2020!
CANA Members: Your association is here to help! If you ever need these resources or anything else offered by CANA, reach out.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 53, Issue 1: “First Quarter 2019 Top Ten Legal Checklist” by Lara M. Price. Members can read this article and any other advice in The Cremationist archive. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus the many resources referenced here to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business – only $495
Lara M. Price is a shareholder at Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, PC, in Houston, in the products liability and professional liability sections of the firm. She has extensive experience in a number of substantive areas of trial practice, including products liability, professional liability, administrative law, commercial litigation, health care law, premises liability, and personal injury and wrongful death. She regularly represents corporations, other business entities, and individuals in complex litigation against claims for personal injuries, wrongful death, and economic loss in state courts throughout Texas and in federal courts in Texas and elsewhere. Ms. Price is General Counsel for CANA and Texas Funeral Directors Association.
processes and procedures
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019
Today, more and more funeral industry professionals are becoming “accidental” event planners due to the ever-changing nature of funeral practice. In part 1, we talk about best practices from the event industry, standardized forms used by both event planners and suppliers, ideas on how to make your events successful, examples provided by attendees for how they have made their events successful in the past, and tips for avoiding common mistakes.
Part 2 covers event trends to inspire you when planning your events.
As more millennials become consumers of your business, they aren’t wanting the traditional. They’re not thinking about that at all. What they want is experiences. Think about how Pokémon Go was able to get nerds out of their homes and running around, chasing after ridiculous phantoms. That’s what the events industry saw. Pokémon Go reached out to every generation, but millennials are going to change the way all of us have to do business.
In preparing for this presentation, we met with CANA members in Las Vegas. One member said his career has been traditional funerals followed by cremation. Now, families combine memorial and reception with island music playing with a bar and a food buffet of shrimp with a slideshow playing. Fill the chapel with silk plants and soft lighting – people love it. It’s a meaningful experience. The family then invites attendees to share words of remembrance, not a clergy member.
One member said that they had just spent a lot of money renovating their funeral home, because they want to keep families there. They offer food and families can BYOB since the business can’t have a liquor license. So they emphasize convenience – it’s all here, simplifying the decision-making for their families and keeping the service in-house.
If the other option is to lose the business, become an event coordinator. Think about your direct cremation families. Let’s say 25% aren’t using your facility. So, how can you get them to come back? Don’t think about the families you’re doing well with, think about the ones you’re gaining by planning events that mean something to the families.
Small Meeting Trends to Know
In preparing for this presentation, I spent a lot of time reading about what is coming down the pike for us. These are the trends we’re talking about in the events industry, but you can see how many they apply to the modern funeral.
This means people being involved – the talking heads, the powerpoints, that’s not what people are looking for anymore. We are talking about an experience that translates to a memory. More than anything else, events are about memories.
And a funeral shares lifelong memories. There are ways to do that through technology, but it’s really important to sit down and talk to the family about what they want to get out of this gathering.
The most fundamental question you can ask is “How does this event succeed?” No two events (including funerals) are the same, so don’t make assumptions about them or the funeral, but ask the family what they envision for the event.
Here, you can tell a story about someone’s life. Sit down with the family and ask them about the experience they want people to have and make it a personal experience for them and the people that gather.
Smaller, shorter meetings
While this one might be more obvious for the corporate event, it really means that people don’t want to sit in a chair for three hours. People prefer events that are small, shorter, and invite interaction or keep a variety of speakers talking all day.
Use of Technology
This has been around for a while, but the technology changes every year. In events, we use technology throughout the planning process from designing the space and layout, through the way that it contributes to the experience at the event. Technology enables the use of emotional memorial videos, favorite songs, and even controlled lighting to set the atmosphere of the space.
But don’t use technology just to have it, and don’t have it just to say you do. There must be a reason behind it and it must be used to make the event and the experience better. Whether it’s used to improve event planning or in the production of a keepsake video, technology can enhance the experience.
Food and beverage trends
If you’ve ever planned a big event in a special location – think a wedding at the Bellagio – there are specific rules about food and beverage. They don’t want you to bring in an outside caterer – they want to keep that revenue in-house. If your facility is large enough to add catering, this can be a great service to add to your business. If it’s not, you can work with local catering companies to develop special relationships that add value to your services.
One of the most important things we think about in events is the food. It’s one of the most common memories from an event – we congregate around food. Adding food to any of your packages is a great idea, especially if your family is not affiliated with a church group that brings food to the family. Gourmet nostalgia – a new twist to an old favorite (e.g., lobster mac-and-cheese, chocolate chili) – is really in. Growing up in Indiana, some of the best food I ever had was at funerals. What kind of foods are you seeing served at your events?
The local and sustainable “farm-to-table” has been around for a while, and people and chefs are very interested in buying locally and sharing the best that they can. The grass-fed beef raised without hormones is healthier and tastier.
We’re moving away from processed foods as the general population becomes much more interested in eating healthy. We’re seeing new cuts of meats and chefs are moving toward using the entire animal. Catering menus, and your own menus, now involve bone marrow, chicken skins, pork neck. I know that my family, in Tipton, Indiana, went to the Pork Festival every year (my mother was actually Pork Queen!), so being able to involve the foods that address the culture or the person is very important in your events.
One of the trends is do-it-yourself cocktails and mocktails, and some funeral homes have even acquired a liquor license. I don’t know about you, but I think liquor would make a celebration of life a lot more fun. I can imagine mine being my favorite drink – vodka tonic – and my favorite foods, and everybody just has a great celebration. Do-it-yourself cocktails and mocktails – if you don’t have a liquor license cocktails are hard, but mocktails are easy.
Try it out
What can you do to help make memories for attendees?
Get them involved in the planning process. This is a way they can feel like they’re contributing to the legacy of the deceased. Solicit input from the larger family to make it special. Music, photos, fragrance – these can raise memories for attendees and make a lasting impression.
Much of the direction of the event is determined by tone. We talk a lot in the event industry about tone and theme. They’re related, but not the same. Tone is how people feel when they’re in the room, the atmosphere of the event. Tone can be defined by lighting, ritual, language, and the design of the event is defined by and reinforces the tone.
I haven’t been to a lot of funerals, but, at the best ones, I learned a lot I didn’t know about the person who died. Finding ways to bring that out, to show different sides, is valuable and what I think the person would have wanted. Themes can be defined by the interests and hobbies of the deceased – fishing, motorcycles, and related mementos.
Participation in planning and the event
This is not only a great way to be inclusive, but also a great way to increase attendance and make memories that are long-lasting. Since funerals have tight timelines, it can be difficult to get many people participating – in some cases, waiting for families to get back to us can slow us down – this is where technology is key. An event planning portal, or even a private chat on Facebook, can keep everyone informed and attuned to the schedule. The benefit of their participation will out-weigh the inconvenience of the family being involved if you can manage them. And be up-front. Ask if these tools will help gather the key voices that should be heard.
Select unique and interesting venues if possible.
This is a trend in every industry, and funerals are no exception. For team-building events and corporate conferences, planners are looking for interesting places (and it’s not just physical challenges – cooking a meal can be a great team activity.) Similarly, destination weddings and funerals are growing. Developing a relationship with venues in your area and they will become your partner in making memorable events. Get to know them, their space, and preferences and they will bend over backwards for you when you need them.
Looking to the future
Immersive Sensory Experiences
Today, 3D Mapping is possible for most events and venues. This technology combines the use of fabrics used as screens with projected imagery. It may seem out of financial reach, but it will only continue to drop in price and rise in popularity. Imagine how powerful it could be to create this for your families and embody the tone and theme of your event.
The Holograms are Coming!
Some of you are going to think this is too out there, but I still want to mention holograms. People are still talking about Tupac performing at Coachella in 2012, years after his death. More and more deceased celebrities are performing at events. Now, it’s still very expensive – you can’t set up shop and do this now – but it too will come down in price. There’s already technology where you can open a book and enjoy a hologram.
It’s going to happen. I can see a day where the decedent could eulogize her own funeral or perform her favorite song. Maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s their favorite companion, or another person, but it’s out there.
I’ve been fascinated with your industry ever since HBO’s series Six Feet Under. I thought it did a wonderful job, and I don’t know if it’s realistic, but it took away the fear about this experience for me and everyone I knew. I know I’m going to be cremated and I’ve got it in my trust that I’m going to fly my closest family and friends to the Four Seasons in Wailea and have my cremated remains scattered there. It’s going to be an event. I’ll need an event coordinator to do that for me – or, do you want to do that in-house? Have you done something like that? That’s a package. That’s an opportunity.
This post is part 2 of our two-part event planner series excerpted from the 2017 Cremation Symposium presentation “Best Practices for the ‘Accidental’ Event Planners” by Dr. Rhonda Montgomery and Todd Uglow of William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Read part 1 here.
You can learn more about event planning and access useful resources from the Event Industry Council:
See what CANA has planned for the 2020 Cremation Symposium: goCANA.org/cgt
Rhonda Montgomery, Ph.D. is the Department Chair of the Food & Beverage and Event Management Department in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. She conducts research and has written articles on the social psychology of purchasing decisions and customer loyalty for meetings, conventions and festivals. She has also written numerous books in the areas of meetings and conventions, private club management and the first-year experience.
Todd Uglow is an assistant professor, faculty in residence of event management in the UNLV Harrah Hotel College. He has been a member of the UNLV faculty for over 10 years and focuses on event management & marketing, having expertise in festival design and entertainment management. Former clients of Mr. Uglow include the NFL, Professional Bull Riders and Major League Baseball. He is certified by the courts to testify on matters of celebrity and brand valuation. He holds an undergraduate degree in Business Management, with a marketing emphasis from Cal State San Bernardino and a Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law.
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