If you are an active, in-demand tradesperson, attending seminars can be a challenge. I understand, from being there myself, how your workload often plans for you, not vice versa. A seminar you really want to attend is being offered. You pencil it in or put it in your electronic calendar. All systems go. As the date approaches, work starts piling up. Several of your best and best-paying customers need attention.
You worry about missed opportunities going to a competitor and never getting another up to bat with this customer. Certainly, a one-man shop or a small shop would struggle with this choice.
I have a unique perspective in that, for my first 30 years as a contractor, I was on the attendee side of the room. For the last 11 years, I have been the talking head at the front of the room. I want to share some of my thoughts and observations from both sides.
One common observation is the dynamics of the room. As a trainer, I do my best to engage the group, get some feedback and ask the group to share their experiences. It helps the presenter steer the direction of the presentation by knowing who is in the room, their experience level and their expectations.
What I see over and over are attendees who seem shy to throw out some questions or share what they do on a jobsite. I know their cautiousness is often guided by not wanting to appear unknowledgeable about their trade in front of competitors. I’ve been in that situation, too.
We have all heard the phrase, “There are no dumb questions.” Maybe we should find a better way to encourage participation and use an expression that doesn’t include the word dumb in it. How about a bribe? “If you are brave enough to ask a question, I am grateful enough to give you a Starbucks card.”
I’ve learned not to pressure attendees and demand they play along. And while bribes can help get the ball rolling, the questions tend to be fabricated when you pay to play.
It is interesting to see the opposite when you present training at a company for the employees. The questions seem to flow easily and they play off one another, sharing how each person attacks a troubleshooting or design problem, for example.
I do give my opinion of the handful of best takeaways for the group, by alerting them of an upcoming golden nugget. For instance, I’ll say, “If you leave here today with only one piece of information … ” and encourage them to write it down.
For me, the go-to-must-know topic, hydronically speaking, is the expansion tank application into a piping system. Technicians must know the importance of the point of known pressure change. When I explain it well, with examples, graphs and real-world experiences, it becomes an eye-opening discovery.
Raising the industry bar
It’s good for seminar attendees to know the commitment the industry makes to help keep them up to date by expanding their knowledge and product offerings. Typically, a seminar involves time and money from a wholesaler or trade association. They help fill the room. The area rep shares costs and logistics by planning the event, finding a space and getting the word out. The manufacturer usually shares the cost by providing travel and accommodation for the trainer.
All three partners have a primary goal: to increase the attendee’s knowledge. I do my best to meet that expectation first. We aim to impart knowledge that will keep our industry viable and looked upon favorably by the consumer. Hydronics, as you probably know, is a small fraction of the heating and cooling market. We need to keep the next generations involved and trained to stay a viable industry.
We must work together to make sure our contractors obtain the sales, technical and operational skills they need to help consumers find the warmth, efficiency and comfort that hydronic systems provide.
Of course, that means increasing sales, which is part of the success equation. It can be a delicate balance, especially in a room full of trade’s folk. A good trainer will get a feel for the combination of sales spiel and technical knowledge to share in the room. Trainers need to make the presentation match the flyer promotion. If you bill the event as a technical course, limit the sales spiel.
Knowing sales pay the bills in any industry, contractors should expect to hear about features and benefits that will improve their product knowledge, along with the free training. The whole industry wins, including the contractors, as they spec and sell nice equipment. One of the ways I strike this balance is to demonstrate some hydronic principles with a nondenominational approach to the components.
For attendees, be sure to take notes and record the information that most hits home for you. Don’t be afraid to follow up with questions or shared job pics as you go forward after the seminar. Try to keep it positive in as far
as competitors go. My request would be to encourage your competitors to attend these learning experiences. From what I hear, the trade’s folk who most need some help rarely show up to training. I’m not sure I have an answer to that age-old dilemma.
If you read this as a seminar attendee, keep the triad aware of what you need most in the day-to-day running of your business. As showing up for a live seminar is not always possible, embrace new training technologies, such as webinars, podcasts and posting in chatrooms. Pass on what you learn to keep the ball rolling. Raise a hand to move to the front of the room someday and pass it forward.
One more thing: If you are interested in being a trainer, let your reps and manufacturing partners know about it. Attend training, work on your speaking skills at local Business Network International meetings or Toastmasters. Add a blog to your webpage and raise your hand to participate in webinars.
Training is an awesome opportunity to travel and share what you’ve learned in this great industry. Recently, Ellen and I traveled to Colorado, where we presented for Dahl Supply. After the event, we strolled beautiful Glenwood Springs under a full moonlit sky and soaked in the world-famous hot springs. Not a bad way to spend a day!