Laughter and Learning at EXPO

[Education is delivered with an extra dose of fun at EXPO 2019

If UMA’s Motorcoach EXPO is a bit like a family reunion for those in the motorcoach industry, then this year’s family expanded to include a lot of newcomers (63 operators who’d never come before)—many of the younger set. You might say the funny uncle—and aunt—showed up as well.

Under the motto “Innovate, Educate and Celebrate,” the show opened to a livelier than usual format, mainly from the influence of the person referred throughout as the “not so new guy,” CEO Stacy Tetschner. Prior to taking the reins of UMA a year ago, he spent 25 years heading the National Speakers Association.

“When the lady was singing and the guy was jumping around on stage, that was hilarious,” said first-time attendee Aran Matheus, a management consultant taking over the role of director of sales for the new owners of the Southern Bus Lines in Miami. “The humor made it better.”

Matheus took notes at as many educational sessions as he could attend and looked for opportunities to build relationships—especially key in the close-knit industry. A clear highlight, though, was the lively pace set by emcee Brian Walter and singer Lisa Koch, who appeared frequently on stage to put to song issues covered in educational sessions by changing words to familiar tunes. (Hint: “Where have all the flowers gone” became a folk song about the driver shortage.)

The element of fun was done with intention, Tetschner said, as was the focus on bringing younger operators into leadership positions, done in part through a new “40 under 45” group that came together to share ideas. 

Singer Lisa Koch

“Humor and music help different pathways to your brain to open up,” he said. “With humor, you can retain something. Like with what Brian did with his ‘Fact or Crap’ game and the contests he held. Everything was an educational element delivered in a humorous way that people actually retained.

“My theme since I’ve come to UMA is, how can I take what’s been a very successful organization and make it new, better and different without ever losing track of who we are and what we started out to be.”

Show floor attendees could, as always, watch a maintenance competition, though this year it was held live on the show floor, while the driver competition was live streamed. They sipped craft beer, got massages while checking out the comfort of the latest in bus seats and posed for selfies with a gator named Wally. Fun elements like the Facebook celebrity quiz-style “Who do they resemble” introduced award givers before they went on stage, and mingling was done in a beach party complete with leis, a pig roast and fire dancers.

Most of the buzz, though, centered around speakers like keynoter Scott Stratten, a marketing expert, author and recent inductee into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame. Stratten told stories, such as the time the staff of a Ritz-Carlton found a stuffed giraffe a child left behind tangled in a bed sheet and then sent it back to the family with a letter from the GM with photos of what the toy did on vacation. One pictured the giraffe on a massage table with cucumbers on its eyes. The story went viral.

Keynote Speaker Scott Stratten

That speech, combined with the advice of Norris Beren, author of the book How to Create an Intelligent Driver Retention System and leader of an EXPO driver retention session, led to an “aha moment” that Sander Kaplan, owner of A Candies Coachworks says will change how he does business.

“Listening to him, I want to go treat my employees better and I think I treat them well anyway,” he said. “More and more, it’s becoming apparent they are one of the most important cogs in the wheel. We came away asking, ‘Are we really paying attention to the driver? Do we realize they are one of the most important pieces of our company?’”

Branding, or “unbranding,” Stratten says, happens whenever your bus goes by or someone interacts with one of your employees. His favorite part of the Ritz-Carlton story, the dynamic storyteller told a lunch crowd, was that two of the lowest paid people in the company—a front desk clerk and a laundry worker—were its authors and the company’s biggest brand ambassadors.

“They changed the face of a billion-dollar brand from a lion to a giraffe,” he  noted. By just being nice. 

Shandra Martinez contributed to this story.

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