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

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. Colleen Jennings-Roggensack. Download Full Image

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.”

Public relations manager, ASU Gammage


ASU alum uses background in politics, philosophy to drive creativity

May 22, 2018

Innovation at Arizona State University often comes in the form of research, business ideas and technology. In the case of ASU alumna Amanda Prahl, however, innovation came in the form of literature, theater and music, demonstrated by her original musical, “Til Death.”

Prahl graduated from ASU in 2015 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and English literature from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Immediately after graduating, she entered the MFA program in the theater departmentPart of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts., where she earned her master’s degree in dramatic writing in 2018.

Amanda Prahl graduated with two Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and English literature from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and earned her master's degree in dramatic writing from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Download Full Image

“As an undergrad, I was able to draw on my knowledge of politics and philosophy to enhance my creative pursuits, and my creative and literary knowledge made me better at understanding human nature, which is the core of politics, law and philosophy,” Prahl said.

Prahl began her undergraduate career on the pre-law track, intending to enter intellectual-property law to protect writers and creative works. However, she had her own passion for creative writing she could no longer ignore.

“I had always loved to write. Literally, all my life, I was writing stories, going to the theater and reading voraciously,” Prahl said. “But I had some very well-intentioned teachers who suggested that I couldn't really make a living as a writer, or that I'd be ‘wasting’ myself. The summer before my junior year, I realized that I still wanted to write, not just protect writers.”

This revelation led Prahl to add a degree in English literature, and from there, there was no turning back. Prahl combined her love for writing and theater to write an original musical that she used for her honors thesis and application to the MFA program for dramatic writing.

“I've never been one to fit into tidy boxes or definitions. So much of my college career has been about crossing disciplines and breaking new ground,” Prahl said.

As a graduate student in the School of Film, Dance, and Theater, who received support from the Lyric Opera Theatre, Prahl bridged the gap between theater and music at ASU.

“I was uniquely situated to create this multi-department collaboration and push forward into new territory. I hope this collaboration will last long after I've left ASU,” Prahl said.

The original musical, “Til Death,” debuted as part of the New Works series at the Kerr Cultural Center in March. Prahl says she worked on the production for years and was able to work with a fantastic cast and production team.

“Being able to share [the production] with family, friends and colleagues who had supported me along the way was just extraordinary. It meant so much to be able to see this vision come to life,” Prahl saud. “I have such a strong belief in the power of the arts, and of theater in particular. Stories are how we connect with each other, with the past and with the world around us. Getting to be a part of that is honestly a dream come true.”

Prahl says that attempting to create an original musical was her biggest challenge while attending ASU, but she was able to overcome it with help from those who believed in her.

“It's always a challenge to do something new, but the key to overcoming them, in my experience, is to find amazing people to meet that challenge with you,” Prahl said. “My own determination and hard work were important, of course, but it wouldn't have been possible without finding other people who believed it was possible too. Community changes everything!”

Prahl’s ability to cross disciplines during her time in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences allowed her to utilize her diverse knowledge in political science, literature and dramatic writing and forge a new path of innovation at the university and in her work as a graduate student.

“I'm a big believer that a liberal arts education is useful for everyone, regardless of their field. It's where we learn about humankind, what makes us who we are,” Prahl said. “I want to be telling stories that move people, make them think and bring them joy. If I'm doing that, I'll be happy.”

Olivia Knecht

Student writer-reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences