One last thought about trade shows and conferences. They really are what you make of them.

These trips offer a chance for you and your employees to network, to learn, to try new equipment and — don't forget — to bond with each other, building a better team when you get home.

The problem is that often the educational portion of this mix is the least effective aspect. That's not to say that the conferences aren't jam-packed with fitness professionals; it is just that too often those in attendance look like bobblehead dolls, also called notoriously bad students.

You know the nod that these classroom bobbleheads get. As the person leading the seminar talks excitedly about the latest training method or marketing trend, the bobblehead nods in agreement, often scribbling as fast as possible to capture every word. Except for Bob over there. He is actually just nodding off after a late night of “networking.” Maybe part of the cure to the bobblehead epidemic is moving the first sessions back a little later, especially for shows located in cities that never sleep such as Las Vegas or New York.

Those participants with their eyes still open often have a glazed look in their eyes. You know the look. The one that you and I (I'm willing to admit it now and so should you) had in geometry or French or any of the other classes you knew you would never need upon graduation. I bet these people were bobbleheads back then, too, especially Bob.

The biggest problem is that conference attendees are missing out on information that they can use every day; information that can help them in running their businesses better and more profitably.

Sure a session on hiring staff may not be as high-energy as the early morning workout (well, again, I wouldn't plan on seeing Bob at that 6:30 a.m. step or cycling class). And a customer service seminar doesn't hold half the glitz of the trade show floor with the latest treadmill with all the bells and whistles or that new functional trainer. But missing or not, paying attention in those sessions may just hurt your business a little more than not plunking down seven grand on that treadmill, especially if your competitor is sitting in the front row and actually paying attention to the Power Point presentation (you know the type, the ones that always ruined the grading curve in freshman English for guys like Bob and I, um me, um…). Again that is not to say that the products on the floor aren't exciting or aren't part of running a successful fitness facility. It is just that there are some great ideas in those often too warm conference rooms that people are missing out on, even those sitting in on them.

Now don't get me wrong. Not all bobbleheads are going to miss the message of these sessions. Some people are really paying attention and nodding in agreement. Also, not everyone seemingly paying close attention, taking meticulous notes and asking pointed questions is going to really take advantage of the information crammed into their brains over the two, three or four days at the show. It is similar to cramming for the verbal portion of the SAT. Much of the vocabulary learned at the conference is forgotten on the long flight home, that great sales tip learned on day one is lost in the day-to-day of running a business and that even greater design idea picked up a few hours before heading out for the airport is gone during unpacking. In the end those people are no better off than Bob, and they are probably a lot more tired and without ascendancy (ah, the SAT rears its ugly head) of the subject matter.

So, keep this in mind next time you are at a conference and trade show. Jump on the equipment. Take a class. Go out for dinner and drinks with vendors, clients and staff members. But when you are in a session, make the most of it. Take notes, tape a session and ask questions. When you go home, use the information and don't let it slip away.

And lastly, WAKE UP, Bob!