by Shawna Suckow | September 13, 2013

We’ve all heard the term, return on investment, or ROI. We know how important it is that our attendees receive a return on their investment of time and money when they choose to participate in one of our meetings. But have you heard of ROA?

ROA is a fairly new term. Those of you who know me understand my love of acronyms, and my passion for attendee engagement. ROA is the perfect marriage of both. So what’s it all about?

I believe that once attendees are sitting in our meetings, we hold something of theirs more precious than their time or money: their attention. It’s precious because it’s so fragile and fleeting these days. You see, our culture has evolved to be ever-so-impatient and demanding of engagement at every turn. Five minutes is as long as people will pay attention out of politeness and sheer curiosity. That’s all. We have no tolerance for boredom anymore.

The window of opportunity to engage us is incredibly short -- after that, we’ve reached for our devices. We don’t settle for yawn-worthy presentations when there are so many entertaining distractions at our fingertips. Engagement is a commodity these days, and it’s available from millions of web pages and apps if we’re not getting it from the boring speaker lecturing us from the podium.

Every speaker these days should know that pure lecture doesn’t fly, except for the rare, brilliant keynote who can hold an audience’s rapt attention for an hour. Instilling elements of collaboration is a requirement for everyone else, and speakers who don’t realize it will become extinct. As planners, all we need to do is ask the question: “How do you plan to make your session collaborative?” It doesn’t have to mean more work for us, and the rewards are huge.

Churches and schools could learn a lot from this as well. Is it any wonder that both are challenged these days? They’re not evolving with our culture, and they’re clinging to the world’s oldest knowledge transfer format: pure, boring lecture. Ugh.

We learn best by getting involved with the content, not just hearing it. The energy in the room increases when participants get to digest and disseminate what they’ve just heard -- at table discussions, through a relevant exercise or through debate. Even Socrates knew lecture was a dying art 2,500 years ago!

Read more from Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder of the Senior Planners Industry Network, at