Session Descriptions

Keynote: Building Tattoo-Worthy Customer Relationships 

We’re not wired to be loyal to products or services, no matter how well they perform. We’re only capable of being loyal to people and to well-managed brands that successfully humanize their presence by creating emotional resonance with us. It’s time for your customers to evolve from “folks who buy from us,” into “loyal friends who recommend us without being asked,” which means your relationships with them have to evolve from superficial to meaningfully permanent. Customers come and go, but loyalists, like Harley-Davidson tattoos, become part of you and never leave. Building tattoo-worthy customer relationships isn’t the marketing department’s job; it’s yours. This is how it’s done.

Speaker: Ken Schmidt

The former director of communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Company played an active role in one of the most celebrated turnarounds in corporate history. He’s since advised executive leaders of many of the world’s best-known brands, delivered more than one thousand keynote presentations, written two best-selling books and created a popular business podcast.

He’s widely respected as one of the business community’s most outspoken, provocative, and entertaining thought leaders on competition, loyalty, human behavior, workplace culture, brand management, positioning and reputation management -- and how each of those topics impacts the others.

The longtime motorcycle enthusiast’s formal association with Harley-Davidson began in 1985.

As a specialist in corporate positioning and financial relations, he was asked to work with the struggling company to help restore its image, improve its competitiveness, create demand for its motorcycles and attract investors. Within a few short years, as sales of its motorcycles rocketed upward, Harley-Davidson became one of the most respected, competitively dominant, profitable and frequently reported-on companies in the world.

Today, Schmidt’s focused on his greatest passions, motorcycling, speaking and helping business leaders to improve their competitiveness. In addition to Make Some Noise: The Unconventional Road To Dominance, he also ghost-wrote, 100 Years of Harley-Davidson, the best-selling motorsports book of all time. In 2021, he launched, Tailgating With Geniuses, a highly successful business and entertainment podcast.

General & Concurrent Sessions

In order of appearance during the Convention Schedule

Strategic Hiring: Finding and Attracting the Right Talent (Leili McMurrough)

The workforce is changing fast. How can you attract and retain the best employees? The new employee is challenging how we have traditionally hired and managed funeral professionals. Let’s discuss how to effectively communicate and integrate the new funeral director into the workplace.

During this session participants will understand the importance of strategic hiring in the funeral industry and current trends and challenges in the labor market. We'll review identifying your funeral home needs, innovative ways to find candidates, and best practices for selection and interviewing.

Our Work, Ourselves: A Workshop for Funeral Directors (A Care for the Caregiver Program) (Joanne Harpel)

This course will lead funeral directors through a psychoeducational exploration of the impact of working with families in the tragic aftermath of sudden, violent, and traumatic losses – often involving the death of a young person -- including from the opioid epidemic, rising suicide rates, and domestic or gang violence.

Children & Funerals: Considerations & Best Practices (Jennifer Wiles) 

Funeral professionals are often asked about including children in funerals and other death related rituals.  This presentation will focus on how to address questions and concerns from families, tips to prepare children for what to expect at a funeral, considerations in creating a welcoming environment for all ages, and a review of available resources on this topic.  We will offer information about how children of different ages may experience and process thoughts and feelings around death and grief.  The presenter will also share easy tips to help ensure that all ages and abilities feel welcomed and comfortable in your funeral home setting.  This information is presented in collaboration with the National Alliance for Children’s Grief, a national organization of professionals dedicated to supporting children and the networks and communities surrounding them.  Our mission is to ensure that no child should have to grieve alone.  

The Many Faces of Fraud: Strategies for Fraud Detection and Prevention (Chuck Gallagher)

Like it or not threats lurk in every corner, so safeguarding your business from fraud has never been more critical. Introducing Chuck Gallagher’s latest masterpiece, “Preventing Fraud: A Practical Guide for Small Business Owners.” During this session we'll dive into a reservoir of insights, strategies, and practical steps tailored for those who refuse to be vulnerable. By equipping yourself with the tools and knowledge from this session, you stand a better chance to shield your business and thrive in an unpredictable landscape.

Succession Planning & Key Factors to Consider When Contemplating the Future of Your Funeral Home (Melissa Drake-Messina)

This presentation will focus on the critical aspects of effective succession planning. It will include a discussion about “grooming” your business for a potential sale and will address the considerations involved in the transaction process. It will also delve into the “flip side” of purchasing a business, including evaluating the suitability and preparedness of a potential buyer, locating a funeral home, affordability of a purchase, obtaining financing, and other such practical aspects involved in working through a transaction.

Student and Newly Licensed Embalmers Workshop (Dominick Astorino)

Students and newly licensed professionals are indeed the future of our beloved profession, yet after the excitement of finishing school passes many new embalmers find themselves feeling overwhelmed. Dominick Astorino has taught embalming and restorative art at two of the nation’s most respected mortuary schools for nearly a decade, recently authored what has been described as the “authoritative textbook on the topic of restorative art”, and has mentored multiple apprentices and young students. New and upcoming embalmers alike are invited to join him for this private “no judgement” session that will address the most common prep room struggles of new embalmers including the proper selection and use of chemicals, strategies for injection and drainage methods, autopsy embalming, color correction, and trauma restoration.

Operating a Cremation Business Model (Glenn Gould)

When consolidators acquired market leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s, they would typically lose approximately 50% of the acquired call volume within 3 to 5 years. Over the years the consolidators have learned how to retain their acquired business with facilities retrofitted for cremation, training staff members to better relate to families, and marketing efforts to attract more business. With 60% of families preferring cremation in New York, it's important that operators understand this phenomena, and make adjustments in their business to meet the consumer where they are.

The AI Revolution: Unlocking the Future of Business (Chuck Gallagher)

Are you prepared to harness the boundless power of AI for your organization? Join us as we delve into the realm of this transformative technology, unraveling its potential across various sectors. Witness live demonstrations of AI applications such as ChatGPT,, Quillbot, Soundraw,,, midjourney, and other cutting edge technologies providing you with an immersive glimpse into the realm of possibilities.

This is a golden opportunity to stay at the forefront of AI advancements and acquire the insights necessary to fuel innovation and expansion within your organization. Don’t miss out – seize this chance to propel your organization into the future! Ready to explore AI’s potential for your organization? Connect with us now to embark on this exciting journey!

The Funeral Rule: What is it? What it will be? And what we need to know? (Jennifer Graziano)

This session will recap the components of the Funeral Rule along with proposed legislative changes and applying them all to our everyday business practices. The course will examine the history of the rule along with it’s legislative developments. It will further examine negative implications and undue burdens placed upon the industry, as well as negative press that has stemmed from the rule. The goal is to provide an education along with elicit constructive dialogue to further help our profession.

Funeral Home Business & Workforce Roundtable Discussion (Mark J. Nolan)

This session will review and build on the conversation regarding Employee Retention which was started at the 2023 Convention. Geared for active discussion between owners and managers, you're invited to this roundtable as a newcomer or returning participant. Bring your ideas and be ready to share real-world managerial issues such as salaries, benefits, best practices, daily operation and long-term goals. Let's work smarter to keep our businesses and the industry strong for the future. Reach out with any questions or concerns before or after convention.

The Relevance of Restorative Art/Assessment and Treatment of Gunshot Wounds & Motor Vehicle Accidents (Dominick Astorino)

This 2-hour block will cover two topics:

  • The Relevance of Restorative Art: The most important question that a grieving family asks when traumatic or unexpected death occurs is “Can we see her?” All too often the funeral profession tells the families we serve that they can not have an open casket viewing in these circumstances. Why? The early part of the last century regularly saw trauma cases restored for open casket viewing. What changed? We’ll examine the basic history of restorative art, and how it is relevant to embalmers today. Discover how the cultural shift in the United States affected restorative art education and practices, and how its continued relevance is important to our society and profession. This lecture has been presented to funeral directors and embalmers across the world and will challenge the way you may view advanced restorative art cases as well as inspire you. Lecture is presented with high definition multimedia and touches on some of the most important socio-cultural events in American and funeral directing history.
  • Assessment and Treatment of Gunshot Wounds and Motor Vehicle Accidents: Gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents are words that can cause intimidation to even the most experienced embalmers. This lecture assesses these common causes of traumatic death through the lens of forensic medicine to teach embalmers effective strategies for treatment to increase the chances of allowing open casket viewing. Recognizing that not all gunshots or motor vehicle deaths are the same, this lecture will categorize these injuries based on a variety of factors and address the difference in treatments. Topics of discussion include the differences between suicidal and homicidal handgun wounds, catastrophic wounds causes by shotguns, high speed motor vehicle collisions, and pedestrians struck by motor vehicles.

The Power of Grief Care and Education (Linda Findlay)

This session will provide participants with an in-depth understanding of the grief journey and needs of the bereaved, starting at the conference table, and during the first year of grief and beyond. The course will equip funeral service professionals with the confidence and tools they will need to provide grief care education and follow-up as a value-added service, contributing to the well-studied and documented need for implementing grief care and education in communities across the country.

NYS Cemetery & Crematory Law: (offered twice) (NYS Division of Cemeteries Staff)

The Modern Deathcare Consumer (Eric Layer)

This program will present an extensive recent psychographic segmentation study of modern deathcare consumers and how the market understands death care today. Eric Layer will walk through each of seven unique segments revealed by recent research, what defines them, how they may diverge from the stereotypical expectations about the category, and how funeral homes should consider operating in light of the data. Specific topics will include:

  • What is a psychographic segmentation study?
  • What the results show about Americans’ perceptions of death care today.
  • The unique makeup and differentiators of each of the seven segments identified by the research.
  • The needs of each segment and how funeral homes can meet them.

The Right Way of Death (Eric Layer)

This program will review the current uncertainty around the deathcare system and the challenges for the modern funeral director. Eric Layer will offer insight, based on a decade of research and consulting, on the “right way to do death,” and how funeral directors can re-establish themselves as experts. By the end of the session, attendees will have practical, actionable steps that attendees can implement to address the current dynamics and set their firms up to deliver meaningful products and services to families.

* As of June 7, 2024; subject to change.