Sharon Chapman, CMP, CMM, travel and corporate events planner for Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America, took over the presidency of FICP at this November's annual meeting in Las Vegas. Chapman has been a meeting planner for more than 20 years and joined what was then ICPA in 1997. Since then she has been an active member of the association, particularly in the area of education. She was elected to the Board of Directors in 2004.

What has changed about FICP (other than the name) since you first became a member?

The obvious change is that we opened up the association to financial services planners. So in the past couple of years we've been able to achieve an increase of 22 percent in our planner membership. On the hospitality partner side, we've also been able to increase our membership by 7.6 percent. We are putting some initiatives into place to grow that even more, so it's all really good news.

What are your goals for your FICP presidency?

To continue working our strategic plan. A great foundation has been built, and I hope to continue to strengthen it. Also, I'd like to continue our efforts to get feedback from our members on what they expect to get from FICP. I think we're doing a good job at that, but it always could be better. We should continuously strive to offer more value to our members and make FICP a truly desirable association to belong to.

You have long been involved with FICP's education initiatives, as delegate to CIC and as education vice president. Why is education more important than ever today?

I've always been very passionate about education. The more we educate ourselves, the more value we add to our positions and, for that matter, to our companies. We've made great strides in FICP in education. For example, we've increased the number of education workshops at our annual meetings so that they hit every segment of our association, from the novice planner to the veteran planner to the hospitality partners. We've implemented webinars, and this year we held our first cruise education event that was very successful. Due to the positive feedback we've received, we're exploring doing that event again next year.

There's a lot of competition for planners' time these days. What's your message, to members and nonmembers alike, about the benefits of FICP membership?

It's niche association, so it's all about networking and sharing best practices with peers in our own industry. That's terribly important, because the insurance and financial services sector has many rules and guidelines specific to the industry, and this association provides us with access to a lot of expertise we can use to educate our members about these issues. If you are not a member, you're missing out because we are getting stronger and more dynamic, and have some great stuff to share.

How do companies react when their employees become heavily involved in industry associations?

I can't speak for other companies, but Berkshire Life is extremely supportive. The company leadership truly believes that, if you are active in your industry, you bring more value to the strategic decision-making table in your position. And they walk the talk: Many of the senior leadership team sit on industry boards.

Will assuming the presidency help you perform your job as a meeting planner, and, if so, how?

It absolutely will. It will give me experience in leadership that I can never get behind the scenes planning meetings. I have more confidence and I'm a lot more assertive since joining the board. I'm going to be very actively involved in planning FICP's 2008 annual meeting — and putting together a meeting for your peers is the hardest thing a planner can do, as you can imagine. It really does hone your skills.

A year from now, how would you hope to summarize your accomplishments as FICP president?

That we're still executing our strategic plan, that the plan is still working, and that our financials remain strong. The board and I have been given a lot of positives to work with, and I hope we'll be in as good a position, if not better, than when I took office.

What would you most like to do for vacation once you've passed the FICP presidency over to your successor?

That seems like a long way away! No matter where it ends up being, I'll definitely be with my incredibly supportive husband, Doug. And I'll also want to spend a lot of time with my grandson and family.