“I’ll start with what you all know about me. I’m the guy who cut his arm off.”

Speaker and mountain climber Aron Ralston launched his presentation with a laugh, but the rest of the time had attendees hanging on his every word—even though most of them, especially those who had seen “127 Hours,” the blockbuster movie based on his story, knew how it would all turn out.

As the final keynote speaker for the 2011 Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference, Ralston relived his six days in a Utah canyon, where he stood trapped by a boulder that had pinned his arm to a rock wall. When he finally made it out, after snapping the bones in his forearm and then hiking eight miles, he’d lost two liters of blood and 40 pounds.

Using his boulder as a metaphor for any individual’s challenges, traumas, or burdens, Ralston recounted how the loss of his hand and wrist became the biggest “gain” of his life. “Your boulders can be the best things that have happened to you,” he said. Adversity can bring clarity, showing you what’s possible and what’s extraordinary in you.

When he looked back at the goodbye videos he made in the canyon, at the point when he was sure he was going to die there, he noted that he never mentioned any of his own accomplishments—he just said thank you to his parents. “Life is not about what you do,” he said, “it is about who you are and how you connect.”

Ralston’s appearance was sponsored by Keppler Speakers Bureau and Loews Hotels.

The Piano Man, Redux
If one of your meeting goals is to engage and unite attendees, you could hardly do better than to book Michael Cavanaugh for your final-night dinner entertainment.

That Cavanaugh has singing and piano-playing chops is a given. He was hand-picked by Billy Joel for the songwriting legend's Broadway musical “Movin’ Out,” in which Cavanaugh played and sang for three years, earning both Grammy and Tony award nominations. What’s harder for a meeting planner to know for sure is whether he and his band can engage an audience, read that audience, and not let go of that audience until they’ve wrung out every last cheer and scream. Well, if you were in the Texas Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio November 15, you know for sure: Cavanaugh delivers.

The final-night entertainer for the 2011 FICP Annual Conference, Cavanaugh was booked for 90 minutes and played hard for more than two hours. His band, too, went above and beyond, taking the crowd's energy and building on it.

From the second song, attendees poured from their banquet tables and didn’t leave the dance floor until they’d all linked arms, swaying and singing “Piano Man” with Cavanaugh at the top of their lungs.

Adam Kahan, senior vice president at Empire Entertainment, which sponsored Cavanaugh’s appearance, said that the entertainer will customize a set list beforehand based on your attendee demographics. But he’ll also change things up on the fly, based on which songs ignite the crowd. (Or which don't: When one person called out “Freebird!”—there’s one in every crowd—he polled the audience. “Who doesn’t want to hear ‘Freebird’?” he asked, and was answered with a deafening roar. Brilliantly handled.)

Personnel Changes
At the close of the meeting, 2011 FICP Chair Todd Zint, CMP, CMM, took a moment to reflect on what FICP has meant to him, before handing leadership of the association to 2012 Chair Koleen Roach, Securian Financial Group.

“I was introduced to FICP 13 years ago,” he said. “The professional education has elevated me to where I am today.” Knowledge of hotel contracting and risk management has saved his company money; he is able to reach out to any FICP member for help or advice; and he has dozens of anecdotes about how FICP hospitality partners went the extra mile for him and his company because of the relationships built through the association.

When Roach took the stage, she thanked Zint for laying the groundwork for her term as chair, and thanked her fellow members for attending the 2011 conference. “I love that I can stand before my peers because we have all chosen to be here,” Roach said. “We know that the FICP universe is filled with opportunities to increase our knowledge, strengthen our partnerships, and get business done.”

Roach applauded the nearly 100 first-time attendees for trying out the conference, and encouraged the 12 hosted buyers to become members. Recruitment will remain a key initiative for the FICP Board of Directors in 2012, she said, and the new year will see the start of a pilot program called FICP Socials. “The purpose of the FICP Socials, which will launch in New York, is to connect planners and hospitality partners with prospective members in a different and informal setting.”

Other initiatives for 2012 include turning the association’s Web site into a vibrant “online community” and continuing to deliver relevant and high-quality education.

Big News
Among the announcements at this year’s conference was the location of the 2014 annual meeting: Hilton Waikoloa Resort on The Big Island of Hawaii, November 16–19. (Next year’s meeting is set for the JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. Live, November 11–14; while the 2013 meeting will be held at the Sheraton Boston, November 17–20.)

The 2012 chair-elect is Kelli Livers, CMP, Forethought Financial Group. In addition to Past Chair Todd Zint, the other continuing board members are: Jana Stern, ING; Florine Edwards, CMP, CMM, FM Global; Lindsay Maloni, MetLife; Eldon Gale, Nationwide Insurance; and Kim Pickering, CMP, Manulife Financial. Joining the board this year is Wayne Robinson, CMP, Guardian Life Insurance Co.

Outgoing Hospitality Partner Advisory Council Chair Kathy Fort Carty, Destination Services Corp., announced that Colleen Brzozowski, Grand Traverse Resort, has been named 2012 HPAC Chair, and joining the council this year is Clarence Day, CMP, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, on Maui. In addition to Fort Carty, the other continuing council members are: Bob Beach, CMP, Destination Hotels & Resorts; Katy Gettinger, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; Diane Goodman, CMP, Goodman Speakers Bureau; and Michael Tarr, CMP, Chicago CVB.