In a March 3 session, Robert Wendover, head of the Center for Generational Studies in Aurora, Colo., talked about the differences in work habits and work ethics among those in their 20s and 30s compared with older employees.

PALM DESERT, Calif. - Phrases like “al-Qaida” and “check fraud” probably don’t come up too often at most HVAC-related conventions, but they were uttered several times at the Mechanical Contractors of America’s 2008 event.

But when you consider the group had speakers such as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, James Woolsey, the CIA’s director under President Bill Clinton, and Frank Abagnale, the former con man turned fraud expert, the talk topics make more sense.

And the March 2-6 event at the JW Marriott Desert Springs was considered a big success by organizers, attracting more than 2,000 members and forcing the association to book additional hotels when its rooms at the JW Marriott sold out early.

As is its custom, the association kept attendees busy with meetings, exhibits and educational sessions throughout the day, followed by receptions most evenings. The evening entertainment March 5 was Huey Lewis and the News, the rock band most popular in the mid-1980s.

A great divide?

Besides such heady topics as the war on terror and business security, MCAA members had a chance to stare across the generation divide during the March 3 session, “Looking to Tomorrow: Successfully Embracing Our Emerging Generation of Leaders.” Robert Wendover, head of the Center for Generational Studies in Aurora, Colo., attempted to help the many “50-somethings” in the audience, as well as the younger Generation Xs and Ys understand each other a little better.

He compared the 77 million baby boomers of the 1940s through 60s and the 50 million who came of age in the 1980s and early 90s to the title characters in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” a movie from 1989.

But in Wendover’s version - “Bill and Ted’s Different Adventure” - “Bill” represents the older generation, and “Ted” is about 28 years old.

“Bill picks up the phone to get something done,” Wendover said. “Ted picks up a (computer) mouse.

“Generation Xers are used to communicating electronically.”

Even though many older workers use e-mail, they’re not as comfortable with technology as younger staffers, he said, adding many younger workers prefer educational podcasts and Internet-based seminars to on-the-job training.

Different priorities

Having witnessed the corporate downsizing of the 1980s and 90s, younger workers are less likely to stay at any company very long. A 28-year-old could have already had three or four jobs in his or her adult life. Wendover said they’re looking for experiences.

“Recognize that the overall tenure in your organization is going to drop,” he said. “These individuals are in a very different place.”

Younger workers are less likely to define themselves by their jobs, seeing them as “transactions,” where they are paid for a task, Wendover said.

Part of the reason for this trend, he added, is Generation X puts a higher priority on their quality of life than career advancement or compensation. They’re less likely to volunteer for overtime and may not want the added responsibility of a promotion, especially if it involves moving their families or working more hours.

Other differences between the generations include younger workers are less likely to want to be wooed by sales representatives at business dinners and golf outings. They prefer a “Don’t call me; I’ll call you” approach. They’re not as interested in building professional relationships, which goes back to their “transasction” view of careers, he said. For them, e-mail works best.

As for the best place to find these workers, it’s probably not where many older employees looked for jobs.

“Stop advertising in the newspaper for anything,” Wendover said. Young people go to the Internet before looking anywhere else.

Jerry Yudelson of Yudelson Associates in Tucson, Ariz., told contractors March 4 they should be building green if they want to be relevant in the future.

Sustaining a movement

If you’re not already working on buildings designed to minimize their impact on the environment, you will be.

That was the message from Jerry Yudelson, P.E., a green-building expert and the head of Yudelson Associates in Tuson, Ariz. Yudelson, whose work has appeared in Snips (“H-V-A-C and L-E-E-D,” July 2006), told the mechanical contractors who attended “Branding and Positioning Your Green-Building Offering,” his March 4 session, the future was going to be green.

“This wave is cresting very strongly,” he said. “If you are not making a building as ‘green’ as possible … it will be functionally obsolete the day it opens.”

The possibility of $4-a-gallon gas and the growing mandates by states and cities that new public structures meet the standards of programs such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design show the public and politicians are ready, Yudelson said.

And doing nothing is not an option, he added. If current patterns continue, U.S. energy consumption will grow by a third in the next 20 years. The good news is 75 percent of the nation’s buildings will be replaced or substantially renovated during that time, representing a chance to save a lot of energy as well as the environment.

“I would encourage you to look for projects that as a goal have net-zero energy use,” he said, showing pictures of New York City and Massachusetts structures that meet that criterion.

Yudelson acknowledged working profitably on green buildings isn’t always easy, although he said it’s still the right thing to do.

“There may be less revenue for you in this green world - unless you’re doing more projects than everybody else,” he said. “(But) it’s not about ductwork or HVAC or tonnage. It’s about peoples’ health and comfort. That’s the business we should be in.”

Some general contractors who specialize in green building are hiring sustainability directors to find subcontractors who share their vision, Yudelson said, urging MCAA members to become environmental experts and promote the movement themselves.

“Why aren’t you buying hybrids (automobiles)” or bus passes for employees? he asked. “These are the things that make a difference to your clients, your employees and the media.”

Speaking up

Some of the speakers at the MCAA’s convention probably wish Rob Sherman’s presentation was on the event’s first day instead of one of its last.

Sherman, a lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, is an expert on public speaking - an activity some people are said to fear more than death. During “Speak Like a Leader: How to Make Presentations With Power and Influence” March 5, Sherman told attendees how to avoid the most common speaking mistakes.

Most people are not very good natural speakers, Sherman said. That’s OK. The problem is most haven’t been told what to do to improve.

He had the person introducing him give what is all-too-typical at many conventions: She read the script verbatim, in a monotone voice without looking up at the audience.

Refusing to say anything off the script isn’t good, Sherman said, but you can go too far in the other direction as well. Public speaking usually isn’t the time for large amounts of improvisation.

“How you deliver a message is key,” he said. “You have to do a little bit more than just winging it.

“People are looking for you to be a leader. Just do a few things and you can set yourself apart from everyone else.”

Columbus, Ohio, lawyer Rob Sherman said the public speaking styles of many convention attendees desperately need improvement.

Weak beginnings

Too many speakers follow such weak introductions with such tired and trite phrases as “It is a pleasure to be here,” “Thank you very much for that kind introduction” or irrelevant jokes.

And “First thing out of your mouth should not be ‘Can you hear me in the back?’ ” Sherman added.

He said he cringes when speakers ask if they can skip the microphone. No, you can’t, he said. Microphones help everyone in a room hear someone more clearly and those who don’t like to use them don’t like the sound of their own voices.

A better way to begin is with a startling statistic, a bold comment or immediately answering a question you know many in the audience are wondering about, he said.

Throughout his presentation, he showed videos of poor public speakers. Their body movements were stiff, their voices flat. Most were involved with the courts in Sherman’s native Ohio.

“(Public speaking) takes work. You see why most people won’t do this,” he said.

Eye contact is critical. It makes any presentation more effective.

“You want to control a room, you do it with what? Your eyes,” Sherman said.

Not making eye contact will cause most speeches to fall flat.

“I’ve watched CEOs lose an entire room” because they didn’t make eye contact, he said.

Always engage your audience. Ask them to raise their hands or have a quiz with prizes. Use the word “you” when referring to them.

is your best friend in a presentation,” Sherman said. It’s more personal than saying “the audience.” It also helps if you avoid the urge to overdo the use of PowerPoint and similar presentation aids. Many documents are too small to read when scanned and excessive animation and information overload takes the focus off the speaker.

Besides, “People don’t remember much of what you say,” Sherman said.

If you use presentation aids, he gave these tips:

• Keep the room lights on.

• Use visual aids to emphasize and handouts for details.

• Don’t include unrelated videos and graphics.

Closing a speech effectively is challenging even for speakers who otherwise do well. He suggested telling a story that ties into the main theme or citing a quote. He dislikes questions at the very end of a presentation, preferring them in the middle or before a closing statement.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail

MCAA names presidents, student chapters at convention

An Omaha, Neb., contractor will lead the Mechanical Contractors Association of America for the next year.

Jack Wilhelmi, president of Waldinger Corp.’s Omaha division, was named president March 6, on the closing day of the 2008 convention.

He has been a member of the MCAA board of directors since 2001 and is active in the state association, as well as the national executive committee, and leadership and career development task forces.

Joining Wilhelmi on the board of directors will be Christopher W. FitzGerald, the president and chief operating officer of FitzGerald Contractors LLC in Shreveport, La.

In 2009, the MCAA’s president is expected to be Lonnie Coleman of Coleman Spohn Corp. in Cleveland. Coleman was named president-elect.

Mark Rogers of Pennsylvania’s West Chester Mechanical Contractors Inc. was named vice president and assistant treasurer of the national group.

Becoming senior vice president and treasurer is Robert T. Armistead, a licensed professional engineer and president of Armistead Mechanical Inc. in Waldwick, N.J., and Newburgh, N.Y.

Accepting new charters were officials from the Mechanical Contractors Association of Southern Nevada and the Alaska Mechanical Contractors Association.

The affiliations for the Nevada group were accepted by William Boyle, owner of WEB Mechanical in Henderson, Nev., and president of the southern Nevada association; and Executive Director Richard Lisle.

Stephen Schroeder of Anchorage, Alaska’s Mechanical Construction and Consulting Inc. and Mike Blake of Superior Plumbing and Heating took the affiliation for the Alaska group.

MCAA also announced new student chapters at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio; at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa.; at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan.; and Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

Awards included Student Chapter of the Year, given to the organization at Purdue University in Indiana, and Educator of the Year, which was won by Keith Rahn of Illinois State University.