The IAAPA Expo is over. Now what?

You made it. You walked a bajillion miles on the trade show floor, attended enlightening education sessions, saw all (or most) of your industry friends, collected a stack of business cards and wrote your “That’s a wrap” post highlighting all of your adventures at this year’s amazing expo.

Now what do you do?

There is no doubt you learned something while at the expo. Maybe you learned about your own strengths and struggles, or a new social media hack, or how to engage your team or better ways to organize your training manuals… no matter what you learned, if you want your trip to be truly WORTH IT, you now have to apply it.

But now you’re back to your non-IAAPA life and you’re wondering how to keep that IAAPA feeling alive for 51 weeks until IAAPA Expo 2020!  Here are some suggestions:

People you met:

  • Organize your business cards based on contact types (vendor, potential employer/employee, client, etc) and get them entered into your contact system.
  • Write a quick note about how much you enjoyed meeting them (if you did) and a little bit that will remind them of who you are and the time you spent together.
  • DO NOT ask for anything at this point (unless that is a natural follow-up to your initial discussion). Build the relationship first.

Ideas to better yourself:

  • Get a list going of all the things you thought of or learned throughout the week that YOU could do to be a better leader, salesperson, employee or human being.
  • Prioritize that list based on need and importance to you and your business.
  • Take the top 3 things and assign tactical action steps.
  • Work the steps!!
  • When you complete one, move on to the next.

Ideas to improve your business:

  • Get a list going of all the things you thought of or learned throughout the week that could improve a critical area of your business.
  • Involve your team to determine priorities.
  • Assign top 3 items to smaller teams and ask them to come up with specific tactical action steps.
  • Follow-up with them with support and guidance until complete.
  • Repeat.

By the way, if delegating was one of the things you wanted to improve about yourself, please re-read the ideas to improve your business section.

In my session on revealing your superhero powers, we talked a lot about choices. Specifically, the choices you made that lead you to that moment in time, but also the choices you could make in the future.  If there is something you don’t like about where you are, examine the choices that got you there.  If you want to change your path, it might take making some different (and difficult) choices in the future.

As you venture off to put all of your ideas into action, I will leave you with this: don’t look for external solutions to internal problems. If your choices or attitudes are holding your team or business back, don’t look for your team, company or guests to fix it – that’s up to you. Accepting responsibility for where you are is the only way to put yourself in a position to determine where you are going to go.

If you need help with that last part, give me a call.  It’s what I do.

Thanks for reading!


Check out AttractionPros LIVE – a special edition of the AttractionPros podcast, recorded LIVE at the #IAAPAExpo!



No, no, no, no, no, no!

Maybe I am just different, but I get REALLY annoyed when I see very smart people do, what I consider to be, very short-sighted things.

This morning I saw a well-known and highly respected leadership authority talking about how to teach leadership to young people.  (First strike was calling them millennials, but I’ll let that slide this time.) His contention: put it on their phone, give them an app and let them text each other.

This is when I shook my head and said, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”  Just like Lego Batman.

If you want employees to get their eyes away from the screen, you don’t give them MORE REASONS TO LOOK AT THE SCREEN!!!  This is especially true when it comes to leadership. Want to build someone’s ability to deal with conflict?  Put them in a conflict situation and coach them through it. Want to build up someone’s skill in providing real, effective and genuine feedback? Put them in that situation and coach them through it.  Want to help develop a new leaders decision making skills?  Give them decisions to make and coach them through the outcome. Are you seeing a trend here?

I get this guys desire to jump on the app bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean its right for every situation.  Got an app to track your steps?  Sure! Got an app to help keep your travel plans organized? Absolutely? But an app to teach people how to interact with another human being? I’m a little skeptical.

Why the skepticism from an optimist?  Because I have seen first hand the difference between how people act and interact in person versus online.  It’s quite literally night and day in many cases.  And leadership is about communication and relationships, which are built and sustained in person (or phone, Skype, etc. – someplace where you are interacting with another human in real time).  Just look at how many people feel alone even though they have a bazillion friends and followers on social media.

I’ve said it before… leadership is a full contact sport.  You’ve got to get in there, mess things up, make some mistakes, get humbled, have some success and LEARN from every experience.  It’s a journey that takes a long time, and is never really finished (if you are doing it right). And in my opinion, cannot be learned by looking at your phone.

Related: If you’ll be at IAAPA’s IAE18 in November, I’ll be talking about how to create a supervisor training program that fits any budget.

Whether you will be at the expo or not, if you are looking for an non-app based ready-to-go Supervisor Training Program, check out The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program. 

Hoping to see many of you at the Expo! It’s going to be a great week!

Thanks for reading!!

Matt’s IAAPA Don’t Miss list:

IAAPA Expo is around the corner!

You know that time of year when everyone comes together to share and celebrate?  No, not the holidays… it’s the IAAPA Attractions Expo! #IAE16 for short.

2015 IAAPA HR Committee

2015 IAAPA HR Committee

This year the theme is Every Experience Matters, and you owe it yourself to experience as much as possible!  The trade show, education, special events, did I mention education?

Here are some of the sessions I am looking forward to:

Are you noticing a trend?  Yeah, I’m all about the peoples.  Here are the sessions I’ll be involved with, either speaking or moderating:

The moral of the story is, if you can’t find HR tools and resources during the Expo, you aren’t really trying!

By the way, my session, HR Matters: Tools for Managing the Transition from Frontline Employee to Supervisor approaches this topic from an organizational standpoint.  The intended audience are those responsible for helping and guiding others through the transition.

As a little primer, here is what some of the attendees at the World Waterpark Association conference in October had to say about their biggest challenges with new Supervisors.  We’ll be addressing a number of these challenges in our session at IAAPA.

img_8275If you would like to meet up and chat at the Expo, let me know – I’ll be there all week! You know the Expo is a great time to start strategizing about next year, so let’s start talking about how to better train and coach your leaders in 2017!

Here are some things we can talk about:

Hope to see you all soon!

Thanks for reading!


Book with quote for blog


Challenge – the breakfast of champions for Millennials

I’m so excited! The IAAPA Attractions Expo will be upon us in a few short weeks and it’s shaping up to (again) be the most wonderful time of the year!

This year, one of the educational programs I am working on is called “HR NOW – The Frontline Speaks: Insights From The People Who Are Truly Running Your Business.”  In this session, we’ll hear what frontline employees from around the world think about technology, leadership, motivation and more. This is your chance to hear directly from the people who are serving your guests!

We’ll have 3 frontline employees from various attractions as our panelists in the room, and we have also gathered video footage of frontline employees from parks around the world answering the same questions we’ll be asking our in-room panelists.  During the session we will play some of those clips in addition to hearing directly from the panel.  You won’t want to miss this!

Now back to our title… in reviewing the video submissions that came in, an interesting trend emerged.  When talking about what motivated people, or what would even cause people to leave, many answers were different sides of the same coin.

And that coin is… CHALLENGE.

One employee said it was very motivating when their supervisor assigned them more complex tasks, and another said he would leave if there were no more challenge to the job.

Yet another spoke at length about how he had left his park for another job… a 9 to 5, weekends off, low-stress kind of job, but it didn’t last.  He craved the excitement, variety, and yes, challenge of his old job.  He found it by going BACK to the park.

I first heard T. Scott Gross say this during an education session at IAAPA back in 1997… “The only people who want to do idiot-proof jobs are idiots.”  I think it was true then, and it’s even more true today.  We can’t expect our employees (especially young employees) to be satisfied with same-old, same-old, hum-drum jobs where all of the challenge and decision making were removed to make sure no one made a mistake.  People don’t work that way… at least not the good ones, and those are the ones you want!

I can’t wait to gather this panel and see what other great insights they will provide! Below are the session details if you are going to be at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando.

Date: Monday, November 16, 2015

Time: 9:00 AM

Location: Room S330CD, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando

Hope to see you all there!!



Impromptu gathering of current and former Universal Orlando Team Members at the annual Florida Attractions Association networking lunch at #IAE14.



What Employees Want From Their Leaders

I’ve been reading a series of legal thrillers recently and the main character talks a lot about the law of unintended outcomes.  This blog post is a direct result of that phenomenon.

I am currently working on a leadership session and wanted to gather some opinions about what employees look for in their leader.  I posed the question to former IAAPA Show Ambassadors who represent a great demographic cross-section of the young staff members many of us work with.  When I saw their answers, I thought this information was bigger than the one session I was working on, and needed to be shared with as many people as possible.  Thus, an unintended outcome of asking my original question.

So, here are the answers they gave. I am including them as they wrote them, with no editing.  Watch for common themes and feel free to self evaluate regarding where you fall on the “what-my-employees-want” scale (each persons response is separated by a space):

  • Feedback: Positive or Needs Improvement. It’s always good to know how you doing, and to get assistance with development.
  • Empathy: Sometimes leaders need to understand what it’s like on the front line, especially if they haven’t done it in awhile.
  • Communication: It’s the worst when a leader does not communicate with the front line important information about the daily operations.
  • Openness to new ideas
  • Solicit input from staff when developing new policies or procedures
  • Share the big picture and long-term goals
  • Doesn’t micromanage.
  • Firm yet understanding.
  • Knowledgeable and willing to teach you and help you grow.
  • Work hard/play hard attitude.
  • Approachability
  • Humility
  • Passionate
  • Dedicated
  • Honest
  • Passionate
  • Always willing to give you constructive criticism. Sometimes I think leaders hold back on their responsibility to communicate as both professional and personal relationships build. Whenever I find myself hesitating to give feedback to a team member I always think about how much I appreciate when people give me both positive and constructive feedback.
  • Also, someone who invests time in understanding the thought process that goes into how you do your job and how you make decisions. Especially in cross-functional teams where your leader might come from a different background then you.
  • Someone who shows that they are committed to their team members success, and is willing to work with their team to help them achieve their goals.
  • Someone who leads by example (someone who doesn’t just talk the talk, but can walk the walk.)
  • Someone who can effectively communicate the teams goals, small and big picture.
  • Someone you can relate to and have fun with!
  • Dreamer –I look to someone with vision, a purpose for their labor, who is constantly seeking methods for either sustainment or improvement and innovation. To me, a great leader not only has a vision for their individual responsibilities but also how his or her efforts contribute to a greater purpose. Ultimately, the person is a “big picture thinker”
  • Inspirational –Those that lead well are those who instill motivation in others. Altruism paired with purpose and passion produce someone with fervor enough to inspire others. I find that work becomes more meaningful when I can attribute passion to it -whether it be intrinsic or inspired by another. Leaders with this quality have an excellent way of helping an organization grow because they constantly build their teams’ esteem and motivation with the passion they carry themselves.
  • Admirability –A true leader, in my eyes, is an authentic leader, a person respected and highly esteemed by others because of his or her ability to honest, caring, and dependable. Respect is built with time by the outcome of experiences. Leaders who demonstrate a high level of truthfulness, conviction in their teams and a sincere concern for others’ well-being, as well as a reputation for keeping promises is endeared by many but, chiefly, is respected by all.

What are the common themes did you notice?  How did you do on your self evaluation?  Are we missing anything that YOU look for in a leader?

I want to thank Bobby Monnerat, Ivey West, Todd Swetnam, Greg Matthew, Dave Mugnaini, Sarai Henning, Brandon Bruce, Alex Reszitnyk, and Krystal Lambert for not only chiming in to answer my question, but also for unintendedly contributing to this blog post and the betterment of leaders everywhere!  You rock!

Thanks for reading!


Now that you know what your employees want, are you and your leadership teams equipped to provide it?  I’m here to help your leaders lead!

More proof that money isn’t the best motivator

If you attended the IAAPA Expo last week, you saw the results of a lot of hard work. Did you know that much of that work was done by volunteers?

Here are some of my favorite volunteers – The IAAPA HR Committee!

Me, Shaun McKeogh, Linda Gerson, Alexis Means, Mike Manassee, Brad Loxley (Missing: Mary Burton)


While at IAAPA, did you…

  • Go to an education session? The people that have been working since January to pick the right topics, speakers and mix of programming for you, along with the speakers themselves, are volunteers.
  • Attend the Brass Ring Awards? The people who sift through the entries and determine the best of the best of our industry… volunteers.
  • Interact with a Show Ambassador? Maybe they checked you into an education session, helped you find Dippin’ Dots or welcomed you onto the bus on the way to Universal. Yep, volunteers.

Why all this talk about volunteers? Because in this day and age of tighter budgets and doing more with less, we have to find out what really motivates people, and I think we can get some really good insight by looking at why the volunteers do what they do.

So why do people volunteer?

They believe in the cause.  Whether it’s helping clean up after Hurricane Sandy or planning education programs, something about the process connects to the individual on a deep level.  They feel “compelled” to do what they can to help.

They feel they can make a difference.  They understand that their contribution of time, effort and care will help someone else grow, learn, or sometimes, survive.

They know they will be supported. Causes are not taken on by individuals, but by teams.  A united front gains momentum through helping others and continuing to move forward, even if it is only an inch at a time.

Let’s apply this to your business…

Do you have a “cause”?  This could be why you are in business, how you want to serve your guests or treat employees.  The cause itself isn’t as important as getting your employees to believe in it.

Can your employees make a difference?  YES, and they can choose to make a positive difference in the lives of your guests or a negative one.  Many people don’t know how they impact the company, so they don’t know what a difference they make.

Are your employees supported?  By you, perhaps.  But what about the rest of the leadership team or the other employees?  No employee is an island.

Remember all the things mentioned above that are accomplished by volunteers?  Now think of the things you struggle to get your employees to do… What’s missing?

Here’s a hint… it’s not money.

Thanks for reading!

In case you haven’t seen it, I recently launched a brand new version of  Come check it out!

IAAPA Preview

Well it’s almost finally here…

If you are in the attractions business, you DO NOT want to miss the IAAPA Attractions Expo, happening Nov. 12-16, 2012 in Orlando. It’s such a fun week, and a great chance to see old friends, make some new ones, and get all charged up about what’s happening in the industry.

if you are going and haven’t figured out how to make the most of your time in Orlando, let me help.  Here are links to some great resources so you don’t miss any of the good stuff!

I hope to see you all in Orlando in a few short days!  If you can’t be there, I will of course be tweeting (@PrfrmnceOptmst) as much good stuff as I can, and may even post to the blog if I have a chance. If I can’t see you in person, feel free to follow along!

Have a great day!

Align your car, align your business

For the last few weeks, my car had been acting funny.  The tires are in near new condition, yet in the rain it would hydroplane, and even on dry pavement it didn’t seem to hug the road very well.  A friend said that sounded like an alignment problem, so I made an appointment and took it in.

Turns out, 3 of the 4 wheels were well out of whack.  I was given a read out much like the one pictured that showed the before and after condition of my car.  Luckily, they have adopted the red is bad, green is good system for us automotive morons.  I immediately noticed a difference when I drove the car away from the repair shop, and was glad and proud and relieved, all at the same time.

As I told my wife about this experience, she said, “that sounds a lot like what you and Scot are doing, but for businesses.”  Leave it to my wife to point out something obvious that is right in front of my nose.

She was right. Since the end of 2010, Scot Carson of Amusement Advantage and I have been working together to help businesses figure out where they are out of whack, and provide tools, resources and advise about how to “re-align” their business practices.

If you don’t know Scot, he runs the only mystery shopping service that is exclusive to the attractions industry.  He had a number of clients asking about additional insight that could be gained from a report, or from looking at multiple reports, and that’s what I get to do.  I’ll look at an entire season of reports, for example, and pull out the trends in employee behavior and guest experience that business owners can use to improve the way they lead, treat their employees or interact with their guests.  In other words, a business check-up, with re-alignment if needed.

“Working with Matt has given us the ability to provide our clients with a third party comprehensive analysis of their mystery shopping results.  We highlight trends and patterns in terms of positive and negative guest experiences and provide suggestions for actionable improvements and recognition.  It’s a fantastic way to yield an even greater return on our mystery shopping programs!” -Scot Carson

Like Scot said, we do talk about what is good and what is not-so-good in the reports.  People like (and need) to know when they are doing things right, and these reports identify a whole lot of goodness going on.  So there are “green” sections in the reports, and then there are the “red” sections.

Because we are often looking at the reports after the season ends, we are not focused on changing or “fixing” a particular employees’ behavior.  Instead, it is more important for us to identify the trends or conditions that influenced the negative behavior, so we can figure out the long-term solution about how to fix it.

So, if you feel like your car needs to be realigned, take it to a qualified mechanic.  If you need your business realigned, that’s what Scot and I are here for.

If you’ll be at the IAAPA Expo, plan to stop by and see us at booth #3927!

Thanks for reading!

Mid Season Burnout and the Employee Lifecycle

In the 20+ years I have worked in the attractions biz, few topics have popped up in random conversation more than the dreaded mid season burnout – that slump in performance and morale we often see just about half-way through the season.  And it seems like no matter what we try to do to fix it, it still keeps coming back.

I had the opportunity to really study this topic a few years ago, and two things emerged.  First was an article I wrote for World Waterpark Magazine called “The Employee Lifecycle”, where I explored the relationship of what we do before someone is hired, while they are employed, and after the employment relationship ends.  It really opened my eyes to the fact that mid season burnout is not a middle-of-the-season issue.  It’s really a year round issue that manifests itself in the middle of the season.

I then realized that if that was the case, two of our big assumptions about mid season burnout were probably wrong.

  • What causes it
  • What fixes it

That then motivated me to look further into this to try to uncover why it REALLY happens so we can find the right solution to fix it. Here are a few things I found:

  • The “usual suspects” of causes are the least of our worries
  • What does cause burnout is much more under our control than we think
  • Our employees are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for

This then lead to the creation of the “Myth of Mid Season Burnout” program, which has been very well received at WWA Symposium, The Texas Public Pool Council Expo, and will be presented at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in November and the AIMS Safety Seminar in January.

If you have questions about burnout, or any other facet of leading your employees, feel free to contact me at anytime!

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller loves to travel, and TripIt is one of his favorite iPhone apps.  He loves to see it full of plans and itineraries of places he will be going.  He just recently embarked on a mega-coaster trip through the eastern part of the United States.  The plan is to hit 8 parks in 7 days.  “Aggressive” is the word he and his friends have used to describe the schedule.

Know what you do well

The very first time I presented at the IAAPA Attractions Expo was in 2006. I flew to Atlanta for the opportunity, and will never forget how it went.

It stunk. At least in my mind.

I remember talking really fast and having no life in my presentation at all. I tried to be funny, but it jut wasn’t working. I realized (too late, I am afraid) what my problem was.

I was trapped on the podium behind a long table and a lectern. I was trapped by my nervousness as much as my short microphone cable. I was separated and cut off from the most important people in the room. The audience.

I didn’t realize how much I really fed off of their energy and emotion until that presentation. The next year I decided to get off the podium and work the crowd from a closer proximity. I was much more comfortable, and I could tell that the audience was having a better time, too.

The lesson?  My presentations generally go much better when I can interact with the crowd.  Since realizing this, I have never let myself get trapped on the podium again.

Recently, I had another, similar lesson.  It seems as though just about every independent speaker or trainer out there has some sort of video, either of them presenting or talking directly to the camera. Since I am working on building a business of my own, I figured I should have one, too.  So, I’ve spent a good amount of time talking to my computer, setting up a decent shot, thinking of what to say, and trudging through footage of a recent class I taught.

I was über unsuccessful. I wasn’t getting my point across and even I got tired of watching after a few seconds. I just couldn’t see how anyone was going to be compelled enough to keep watching and hear my message.  (The video I shared last week is in direct response to my lack of success in this other medium).

Then it hit me. This is not what I do. It’s like being stuck on that podium at IAAPA. I realized my strength was in the live performance, so I should concentrate on that. Luckily, I’ve also had good response to my writing, so that’s worth pursuing as well.

I found this to be extremely motivating, because my efforts to do the same thing that everyone else was doing was not going well. I’ve never been one to blindly follow the pack, and maybe this was my wake-up call that I was trying to do just that.

If you have ever felt the same way, here are some questions for you to consider.

  • What are you good at?
  • Do you currently get to use your greatest talents in your job/career?
  • What do you do that may seem effortless to you, but is a struggle for others?
  • Have other people said, “You know, you would be great at X”… but X is something you’ve never considered?
  • Are you trying (and not being successful) at something right now that isn’t really “you”?

As you move through your career, these are good questions to keep in mind.  Over the years, the answers can change, and that’s okay.  In fact, trying new things and working at additional skills is how we grow and get better at what we do.  I am certainly not saying we shouldn’t try new stuff.

I am suggesting that while we are trying new stuff (and maybe struggling with it), don’t forget about what it is that you do well.  For me, I’ll keep writing and performing live until I can master talking to my computer.

Thanks for reading.