What Happened in Vegas Won’t Stay in Vegas:
2023 NFDA Convention Attendees Leave with New Ideas and Connections to Benefit their Businesses and Grieving Families
Brookfield, Wis. – For the first time in 16 years, the National Funeral Directors Association held its International Convention & Expo under the bright lights of Las Vegas from September 10 to 13. Much has changed in Las Vegas since NFDA was last there in 2007; likewise, things have continued to change in funeral service. NFDA planned a much-lauded event that enabled attendees to learn about these changes and to grow, connect and return home refreshed, ready to serve grieving families and build thriving businesses.
The total attendance for the 2023 NFDA Convention was 5,239 attendees – a 3.2% increase over last year (3,100 attendees and 2,229 exhibitor representatives). This total included 506 international attendees, representing 40 countries and territories. This was a significant increase over the last two years because COVID-19 travel restrictions had been preventing international funeral service professionals from attending the NFDA Convention. The Expo Hall featured 377 exhibiting companies (a 9.2% increase from 2022) which filled more than 93,300 square feet of exhibit space (a 10.5% increase over last year).
The NFDA convention proved to be a powerful and enlightening experience for all who were able to attend. To help attendees build upon their foundation of skills, NFDA offered more than 30 engaging education sessions and five preconvention seminars. The education sessions, selected by the NFDA Convention Education Task Force, struck a balance between giving attendees the information they need in their businesses right now and knowledge that will help them be better prepared to address the future needs of grieving families.
Education sessions explored emerging issues like new methods of disposition, like alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction; how to use technology, like AI, to better serve families; compassion fatigue and emotional wellbeing; and digital marketing. However, NFDA also devoted time to more traditional topics like embalming and restorative art, grief and cremation. Regardless of the topic, all sessions offered tangible takeaways to help funeral professionals grow and thrive.
Additionally, NFDA featured three enlightening and inspiring keynote speakers. On Monday, author and Harvard Medical School visiting scholar Suneel Gupta helped attendees think about burnout in a new way and understand how they can find new ways to foster productivity and personal and professional fulfillment.
During Tuesday’s keynote presentation, world-class drummer (and all-around cool guy) Mark Schulman helped attendees understand how rock ‘n’ roll swagger can help overcome obstacles, drive performance and energize their work and personal life. NFDA thanks Carriage Services for their sponsorship of Mark Shulman’s presentation.
On Wednesday, Dennis Yu, CEO of BlitzMetrics, demystified AI (artificial intelligence). Using three real funeral directors – David Hernandez of New Jersey, Julia Prout of New Jersey and Larnique Mickens of Nevada – Yu showed how AI can help funeral homes expand their marketing capabilities and drive their business.
NFDA Convention attendees could find almost anything they might need to improve their business operations in the Expo Hall. A perennial highlight for attendees, they were able to connect with valued supplier partners and discovered new products, services and innovations from around the world.
In addition to visiting booths from funeral service suppliers in the Expo Hall, attendees learned how they could save time and money with NFDA Endorsed Providers, about resources for connecting with consumers through Remembering A Life; how to hire quality employees or find a job using NFDA’s Funeral Career Center; and staying informed with NFDA Publications. New this year, attendees could listen to Gabe Schauf as he recorded episodes of NFDA’s podcast, A Brush With Death live in the Expo Hall.
The Salute to Service Pavilion is a popular destination in the Expo Hall. In this special area, attendees learned about funeral and burial benefits for veterans from representatives of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs, the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and Army Military Funeral Honors.
Making an exclusive appearance in the Salute to Service Pavilion in the Expo Hall was the Global War on Terror Memorial Flag. This moving work of art travels throughout the United States, creating awareness of the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes during the Global War on Terror. This 28-foot wide by six-foot tall American flag symbolizes the shape of the flag when draped on a fallen service member’s casket. It was created with 7,000 dog tags of all those who have fallen during the War on Terror and features 50 gold stars honoring all Gold Star families nationwide. Displayed in front of the flag was a battlefield cross sculpted in mahogany by veteran artist Alicia Dietz.
Funeral home owners who wanted to discover the benefits a therapy dog could bring to their firm – and meet puppies-in-training – visited the Pause for Paws booth, sponsored by Ultimate Canine.
2022-23 NFDA President Jack Mitchell embraced the spirit of Las Vegas and welcomed convention attendees to the Welcome Party on the rooftop of Resorts World. Against the dramatic backdrop of the Las Vegas skyline, attendees enjoyed beverages and hors d’oeuvres while experiencing a taste of the city’s legendary entertainment, including Elvis and Sinatra impersonators, acrobats, magicians and showgirls. NFDA thanks Batesville and Legacy.com for sponsoring the Welcome Party.
Just before the Welcome Party, NFDA hosted a First-time Attendee Reception to welcome those who had never attended an NFDA Convention. Additionally, the association hosted the second annual PWC ReConnect – A Winning Experience, sponsored by NGL. This enabled past Professional Women’s Conference attendees and other female and nonbinary funeral service professionals and their supporters to network and build relationships.
The traditional Funeral Directors Under 40 Party was anything but traditional as the profession’s youngest members got together for social darts, cocktails and delectable bites at Flight Club in the Venetian Resort.
Funeral Directors Give Back
Sixteen volunteers – members, nonmembers and exhibitors – swapped their suits and trocars for jeans and hammers to help improve and refurbish a home for a local family by volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity of Las Vegas build site. NFDA thanks donors to and sponsors of its Habitat for Humanity volunteer effort in Las Vegas: ClearPoint Federal Bank & Trust, NOMIS Publications Inc., Cooperative Funeral Fund, American Funeral Consultants, Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc., and Nicodemus & Associates.
Now in its 23rd year, the Funeral Service Foundation’s Golf Classic has raised nearly $1.6 million in support of its mission to invest in people and programs that strengthen funeral service and lift up grieving communities. During this year’s event, which took place at Topgolf and attracted both golfers and spectators alike, the Foundation raised $170,000.
Honoring the 22nd Anniversary of September 11th
To honor the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, this year’s Service of Remembrance took place as part of the opening general session. The event was an opportunity to remember and reflect on the tragedy the country endured.
As attendees entered the ballroom for the opening general session and Service of Remembrance, they were greeted by a fire truck provided by the Clark County Fire Department; suspended from its extended ladder was the American flag. On display near the fire truck were the photos of the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11.
NFDA was honored to be joined by John LaBarbera, Battalion Commander, FDNY (Ret.), who inspired attendees with stories of the heroes who put their lives on the line on 9/11. As is tradition, during the Service of Remembrance, NFDA also paid tribute to members of the funeral service family who died during the past year.
At the conclusion of the Service of Remembrance, attendees received a commemorative 9/11 memorial pin. They also had the opportunity to purchase a commemorative 9/11 t-shirt produced by Nine Line, a veteran owned and operated company. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts benefited two organizations, Tunnel to Towers and Veterans & Athletes United.
At the conclusion of this year’s Service of Remembrance, a collection was taken up for Tunnel to Towers. Through the generosity of convention attendees, $4,359 was donated to the organization. NFDA thanks Messenger for the gifts presented to individuals who experienced the death of a loved one during the past year and Tukios for a video tribute.
During the Opening General Session, NFDA presented the 2023 Innovation Award to Bluewater Voyage Buoy. Coming in second place was the Tug-Along by Mortuary Lift Company; and Matan’s Life Map took third place. Established in 2009, the NFDA Innovation Award recognizes and promotes creativity, innovation and excellence among funeral service suppliers and vendors.
NFDA’s ultimate funeral service trivia challenge was back. Prior to the NFDA Convention, three-person teams competed in four rounds of funeral trivia, with questions provided by mortuary science school faculty. The top two teams went head-to-head live on stage before the closing keynote speaker.
In a repeat of last year’s final, The Uncalled Three (Jenni Bryant, Laurel Klosterman and Ellen McBrayer) went up against last year’s winners, the Return Homies (Katey Houston, Brie Smith and Ivy Ostenburg). When all was said and done, the Return Homies were victorious and won the Funeral Face-off Cup. NFDA thanks the Funeral Face-off Sponsors, Precoa and @Need Marketing.
Las Vegas Memories
Professional photographers were on hand to capture the excitement of the 2023 NFDA Convention. Photos can be viewed online at www.nfda.org/VegasPics; attendees may download as many photos as they like at no charge.
Let the Good Times Roll
The 142nd NFDA International Convention & Expo will take place October 20-23, 2024, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The city of New Orleans – with world renowned restaurants, nightlife, history and culture – offers a dynamic experience that is vibrant and unlike that of any other American city.
There are now more dining options in New Orleans than ever before. More than 1,000 restaurants – from four-star cuisine to corner po-boy shops – elevate food to an art form.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, the country’s only indigenous art form. Music in New Orleans continues to flourish, and its vibrant music scene receives raves from critics, visitors and locals. New Orleans’ shops and boutiques – from the French Quarter to Magazine Street – offer the finest and most eclectic shopping in the U.S.
The celebrated historic core of the city – including the French Quarter, Central Business District, Warehouse and Arts District, Magazine Street, Garden District, Audubon Zoo and Park, and the stately St. Charles Avenue – is better than ever. The cultural riches, sensual indulgences and unparalleled service that define New Orleans continue to flourish as they have for centuries.
Looking ahead, NFDA returns to Chicago, Illinois, for its 2025 convention; the association will host its 2026 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
NFDA thanks its 2023 International Convention & Expo sponsors for their continued support:
- Medallion: NGL – National Guardian Life
- Black Diamond: Homesteaders Life Company
- Platinum: Federated Insurance, Carriage Services
- Titanium: Tribute Technology
- Gold: Batesville, Legacy.com, Love Urns, Messenger, Physicians Mutual, Security National Life Insurance Company, TruStage
- Silver: ASD – Answering Service for Directors, C & J Financial, Funeral Home Gifts, Implant Recycling, Madelyn Gifts, Passare, Precoa/@Need, Ring Ring Marketing, Tukios, Ultimate Canine
- Bronze: Aurora Payments/Chosen Payments, Doric, Foundation Partners, funeral365, Heartland, Inman Shipping/Travel Plan, NOMIS Publications Inc., USA Today Network Obituaries
NFDA is the world’s leading and largest funeral service association, serving more than 20,000 individual members who represent nearly 11,000 funeral homes in the United States and 49 countries around the world. NFDA is the trusted leader, beacon for ethics and the strongest advocate for the profession. NFDA is the association of choice because it offers funeral professionals comprehensive educational resources, tools to manage successful businesses, guidance to become pillars in their communities and the expertise to foster future generations of funeral professionals. NFDA is headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., and has an office in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.nfda.org.