Overcoming perception challenges and identifying best practices on how to survive and thrive in the current economic downturn were top-of-mind topics during Financial & Insurance Conference Planners’ Northeast Chapter meeting last week.

Meeting at the recently renovated Westin Copley Place in Boston, nearly 80 FICP members and hospitality partners participated in a packed, day-and-a-half education agenda. Among the highlights was a two-hour best practices interactive session, moderated by Dianne Devitt, CMP, DND Group, Riverdale, New York. Devitt, who also teaches at New York University, led the group in identifying seven hot topics, chosen by the attendees, to discuss in small groups: achieving work-life balance; overcoming destination perception issues; effectively communicating to internal clients; handling a decrease in planner work volume due to fewer meetings; negotiating win-win contracts; creating effective vendor partnerships; and maximizing budgets for meeting décor.

“We have to ask ourselves: Where are we going and who are we going to be in the near future? Who will the planner be in 2011?” said Devitt. She does not foresee meetings going away. “Meetings and events are live communication tools, no less important than advertising or public relations,” she said.

In a different kind of interactive session, attendees donned aprons and sanitary gloves to prepare batches of lasagna and grind peanuts for homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for The Greater Boston Food Bank. They also whipped up a few snacks for themselves to keep up their energy during the three-hour “Teambuilding to Give Back” experience sponsored by Teambonding and The Westin Copley Place.

Education sessions also included a presentation by Madbury, N.H.-based business strategist and author Chuck Martin on innate cognitive characteristics, and a panel discussion on “The Outcome of Doing Meetings Differently,” with Chris Gasbarro, C3: Creative Community Connections, Stratham, N.H.; Richard Carbotti, Perfect Surroundings, Newport, R.I.; and Devitt. To demonstrate how ingenuity can create an interesting atmosphere on a limited budget, the panelists set up the room with different sized tables covered with light green tablecloths and a centerpiece of gauzy fabric lit with electric votive candles and decorated with fruits or vegetables—all provided by the hotel.

Watch for the March/April issue of Financial & Insurance Meetings for more on FICP’s Northeast Chapter meeting and the FICP West Coast Chapter meeting held in early January.