A record 109 meeting planners and hospitality partners gathered at Sheraton on the Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, August 27–29. The theme, “Opportunity”—with an emphasis on the word “unity” contained within the larger word—was a nod to the challenges of the past year: the economic downturn, layoffs, hotel closures, and the overall state of the meetings industry. The regional FICP meeting was an opportunity for us to network with partners in our industry, share ideas and concerns, and unite as a group to show our support for meetings going forward.

Speaker Anna Olson shared some food-and-beverage trends (diners are clamoring for locally sourced and organic foods on menus) as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of her cooking show, “Fresh with Anna Olson,” on The Food Network. The group was then transferred to Hillebrand Winery for a unique networking opportunity called “Art of the Blend.” Teams were given the task of "blending" wines and creating their own version of a winning wine. As Niagara is one of the leading wine regions in Canada, the group toured two more wineries to sample a variety of wines and enjoy local foods.

Keynote speaker Mark Jeffries taught us all about "soft skills"—how to influence others, how to network, and, believe it or not, the proper way to shake hands! (It’s all about the grip: No floppy fish, please!) Mark's presentation forced us to look at how others may perceive us based on our behaviors, providing us with the tools that can enhance our image and career growth.

Breakout sessions on topics such as cost-saving ideas, industry trends, contracts, and economic issues rounded out the second day of education. That evening the Sheraton hosted dinner, which was followed by a night at the Hard Rock Club with a live band and fireworks over the Falls. (This region certainly has its share of dancers!)

Our closing motivational speaker, Warren Macdonald, is a double amputee as a result of a hiking accident. His powerful message: Create a mind-set that seeks solutions and looks for opportunities rather than obstacles amid uncertainty. In terms of our personal and work lives, everyone left the meeting realizing that it's up to each of us to create our own opportunities to make a negative situation a positive one.

Don't miss next year's event: Mark your calendars now for the 2010 Canadian Regional meeting to be held in Mont Tremblant, Québec, August 19–21 at the Fairmont Tremblant. Find more on the Canadian Region at the FICP Web site.