Karyn Rizzo, CMP, senior manager, conference services, Sun Life Financial, is in her second year on the board of directors of FICP. Last year, after serving as FICP vice president, education, she took on a new board position as vice president, Regional Chapters. We caught up with her recently en route to Toronto for her company's International Leader's Conference, which brings together about 130 top executives from around the world.
What is your background as a meeting planner?
I made a significant career change when I joined Sun Life Financial 10 years ago, having been a teacher for many years. My job was initially administrative, but I quickly began helping to plan training meetings and other small events. I was promoted several times and last fall got a promotion to senior manager, conference services. Our department of four meeting planners and an operations coordinator manage about 180 small and large meetings a year.
When did you join FICP?
I joined what was then ICPA in 1997. I was encouraged by other meeting planners in the company who were active in the association. They'd come back totally pumped from an annual ICPA conference, and it seemed like something I would really like to do. I attended my first annual meeting in 1999 at Boca Raton Resort in Florida.
You raised the bar for the Northeast Chapter Regional meetings — how did that come about?
During the 2000 annual meeting in Colorado, we talked about chapter meetings and the board asked for volunteers to help get the Northeast chapter up and running. Together, my boss Pat Jaworski [currently Sun Life Financial's director, travel, conference services, and virtual meetings] and I offered to team up and give it a go. Our first chapter event was dinner at a new Boston hotel with 10 to 12 planners. It went well, but we wanted more substance, so in April 2001 we had our first real meeting, in Old Saybrook, Conn. It included an afternoon panel with hotel partners talking about trends and issues, followed by dinner. What we learned was that FICP members really liked the educational component in addition to the valuable networking. Due to the increasing numbers and greater support, we decided to enhance the program and extend it from one overnight to two. In addition to partnering with hotels, we began working with other local resources such as restaurants, transportation companies, and DMCs. We now have two meetings a year, with attendance averaging between 30 and 45 planners at each meeting.
Why did FICP create a new board position for regional meetings?
There was a real need to bring consistency among the chapters, to keep the connection to FICP's goals and objectives as an association, and to ensure a high level of educational content at the regional meetings. Something many FICP members have in common is that their companies are constantly looking for the value that they bring back when they attend industry meetings. As for me personally, I wanted to share the excitement and enthusiasm I got from our Northeast Chapter regional meetings — not only the formal education, but networking with my fellow planners and also with hospitality partners.
Why have FICP regional meetings in general become more popular?
Some companies can't afford to send more than a few planners to the annual. Regional meetings are an affordable way to get valuable educational content and to meet national and local sales people, all in one shot. The regionals also show nonmember planners the benefits of joining FICP.
What new initiatives regarding regional meetings are in the works?
The headquarters staff at SmithBucklin worked with us to develop new policies and procedures, which the board approved this spring. These guidelines put all of the chapters on the same page and will ensure that the regional meetings are more consistent. Each chapter will be asked to sign a chapter affiliation agreement stating that they will adhere to policies and procedures. For example, each chapter must offer at least five hours of education during each meeting day as well as maintain the FICP planner-to-hospitality partner ratio.
How does FICP membership help you to do your job?
When I joined the board, the vice president of my division asked, “How will being active in FICP benefit the company?” Among the biggest benefits: I've become more confident in negotiating and communicating with hospitality partners and vendors. And there isn't a day that goes by when I don't either call or get a call from an FICP colleague to ask a question. The trust that we develop in this association — to get ideas, advice, opinions — is unparalleled. My FICP involvement really has had a huge impact on my daily job.