Hundreds of financial and insurance conference planners, hoteliers, and representatives from other vendor organizations such as destination management companies, convention and visitors bureaus, speakers bureaus, and more gather each November at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference. “What makes FICP events unique is that our goal for the planner-to-hospitality-partner ratio is 1-to-1.5," says Dan Young, FICP past chair and director of event planning and field recognition at Thrivent Financial in Minneapolis. "That makes for a quality, rich, networking experience.”

If you’ve attended the annual conference in the past, you’re getting ready to greet good friends and take home the education and experience that will help you in your own job. If it’s your first time, you might be wondering what to expect. Here are some of the tips that were shared in an FICP webinar a few years back that are still relevant today:

1. Be ready to network. That’s the No. 1 benefit attendees report from the annual conference, says Cindy Wheaton, FICP past chair. Speaking about The Network, FICP's tabletop trade show, Wheaton says, “The FICP trade show is intimate. There are no overwhelming booths." When you receive your registration materials, she adds, “I encourage you to map out who you want to see during The Network, which takes place on arrival day.” The reasoning behind the timing was to allow planners and hospitality partners to meet first thing and be able to maximize their time together over the course of the meeting.

2. Take advantage of the takeaways. One of the biggest ways Wheaton demonstrated to her company how valuable attending the FICP Annual Conference can be is by experiencing some top-notch keynote presentations and bringing those names back as options for her own programs. The expertise shared during breakout sessions on topics from technology to meeting industry certification also will demonstrate the return on your registration investment.

3. Use the experience of your peers. One of the unique aspects of the FICP Annual Conference is the Planners' Exchange segment of the annual business meeting. This planner-only session is an opportunity for idea-sharing on an intimate scale among your true peers—planners who are managing many of the same types of programs under the same types of constraints that you are.

4. Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need. One planner said she went through nearly 200.

5. For hospitality partners: The Network isn’t the only networking. While excitement is high for this year’s version of the tabletop trade show, The Network, first-time hospitality partner attendees should recognize that there’s a lot more networking that goes on, says Bill Hopkins of entertainment company Bill Hopkins Events and past chair of the Hospitality Partner Advisory Council. “You will meet people everywhere,” he explains, “at check-in, during bus rides, at coffee breaks, at lunches. The action happens everywhere.”

6. Be patient. “When I first came to the annual conference, it was overwhelming,” Hopkins says. “Be patient, take your time, really listen and participate. Get to know both the planners and the hospitality partners. You won’t come in your first time and knock it out of the park, but don’t be discouraged. It’s a long-term relationship.”

7. Wear your first-timer ribbon. The board of directors, fellow members, FICP staff, and hospitality partners want to reach out to new attendees, says Dan Young. Wearing the first-time ribbon makes it easier for that to happen.

8. Attend the first-timers’ reception. Check your registration packet for the time and location.

9. Find your mentor. If you have been assigned a mentor and haven’t heard from him or her, contact FICP headquarters at info@ficpnet.com. It’s also not too late to send e-mail if you didn’t sign up for a mentor but would like one.

10. Give back. FICP recently announced its long-term charitable beneficiary, Junior Achievement. Plan to browse the offerings in the silent auction, which always brings in tens of thousands of dollars in contributions.

The conference is also a great way to experience top-notch meeting properties and first-rate networking evening events in person.

And here’s an 11th tip: Enjoy!

Find more on this year’s meeting agenda at the FICP Web site.