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How to go above and beyond at your next conference: Be the ‘Colleen’ in the room

ASU executive Jennings-Roggensack held up as example at Broadway League conference


Colleen Jennings-Roggensack.

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May 22, 2018

Most of us have been there. The out-of-town business conference where we set our sights on professional development and networking. Some experiences can be maddening with mediocre speakers and non-engaging panels — but what are you bringing to the table, and how do you lean in?  

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU Gammage executive director and vice president for cultural affairs at Arizona State University, was recently lauded in New York during The Broadway League’s annual Spring Road Conference for her contributions and special energy she brings to the conference each year.

The Broadway League is the national trade association for the Broadway industry. Their 700-plus members include theater owners and operators, producers, presenters and general managers — as well as suppliers of goods and services to the commercial theater industry.

ASU Gammage is one of the presenters, and Jennings-Roggensack has been bringing the best of Broadway to Arizona for more than 25 years. She is also a Broadway League board member and Arizona’s only Tony Award voter.

During the conference, Situation Interactive founder and President Damian Bazadona wrote a letter to agency clients and the Broadway community reminding them to “Be the ‘Colleen’ in the room” — suggesting we all take a page from Jennings-Roggensack’s book by trying the actions she models at conferences.  

“I am involved in producing a lot of conferences and events. I also make it a point to attend as many as I can. Informed by those experiences, I can say with complete confidence that this conference has a differentiating factor that adds a great layer of value over many others. That factor is named Colleen,” Bazadona said. 

“For those of you who aren’t in the theater business and might not know the Colleen I speak of, she is someone who works in the wonderful world of Broadway on the road. We’ve been at many of the same conferences over the past decade, and I stand in awe of her consistent ability to impact the conferences she attends. Colleen, as an attendee, embodies what an influential and valuable conference audience member is. She understands that engaged onlookers are catalysts of the most useful conference dialogue and goes above and beyond to do her part to advance the conversation inside and outside of the room.”

Bazadona wrote that these are some “Colleen” actions we can model;

  •  Smash the ice. We all know that moment: “Any questions from the audience?” You’ll notice that once the first hand goes up and the first question is asked, the thirst to ask a question becomes contagious. Until then, the room usually stares back at the people on stage like deer in headlights. Colleen is always the first to raise her hand to get the conversation started … and more hands instantly go up from there.
  • Make the panelists feel valued. She actively listens and asks the panelists meaningful questions. From my experience, engaging with panelists on thoughtful topics is the single best way to keep these experts involved throughout the day, and to prevent them from looking for the nearest exit when they’re done speaking.

  • Reduce the space between audience and stage. She sits in the front row — and that alone is a notable choice as most people try to hide in the back. But the act of sitting in the front instantly invites others to join. I suggest you try it and watch the domino effect happen in real time just like I have.

  • Expand the dialogue beyond the stage. She brings the conversation out into the hallways and has a welcoming smile that fuels further conversation. This advances important topics to reach their full potential through thoughtful dialogue off the stage — which I believe is the best part of attending these types of events.

  • Look inward. Seemingly small gestures add far more value than anyone may realize at first, but it’s certainly not easy to be the one putting yourself out there. So at the next conference you attend, I urge you to look inward for what you can do as an attendee and audience member to actively participate.

Bazadona added, “I’d also invite you to keep an eye out for the ‘Colleens’ in the room that you may want to surround yourself with. Join him/her, help him/her, and model their behavior — I can guarantee your experience will be far better for it.”

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