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On the Quiet Side

Six Steps to Creating Introvert-Friendly Events

By Connie Jeske Crane

Bill Gates. Albert Einstein. Rosa Parks. Steven Spielberg. What do they have in common? One thing these outstanding achievers share is a personality trait—they’re all introverts. And recently, thanks to books like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, we’re learning more about them.

Famous names aside, we have a better sense, for example, that introverts are numerous and valuable in our organizations. They’re often visionary leaders, keen analysts and highly creative—with insights worth capturing.

Yet, in an industry all about connection and sizzle, event planners can struggle to engage introverts. So, how can we please these attendees? We talked to two industry experts who shared a few simple strategies. Oh, and extroverts won’t complain about these either:

1 Understand it’s about helping introverts recharge

Contrary to stereotype, introverts can be socially adept, strong leaders. But they’re wired differently. An introvert, says Beth Buelow, founder of The Introvert Entrepreneur in Tacoma, WA, “is somebody whose energy is depleted by high stimulation environments.”

2 Create quiet spaces

Provide areas where introverts can retreat to at break time, says David Gouthro, president of The Consulting Edge in Vancouver. “Just a number of chairs gathered around, or a couple of couches for people to have a more comfortable conversation.”

Have some fun with it: Buelow has seen “highly sensitive lounges” featuring hammocks, eye masks and ear plugs. “You could put yourself in this little cocoon and stay there for 20 minutes.”

3 Schedule breaks

While it’s tempting to pack in as much content as possible, if you don’t provide ample session breaks, Buelow says introverts will be tempted to skip. “We just get exhausted and stop being able to get the value everybody has worked so hard to provide.” The concept of breaks applies during sessions too, she says. “For the presenter, to be comfortable with leaving silence in the presentation so people can reflect in the moment is very helpful.”

As for social activities, Buelow advises planning a range of options to suit different personalities— and not forcing attendance.

4 Design introvert-friendly feedback loops into sessions

Since introverts like to think before they speak, Gouthro suggests:

• Giving attendees a few minutes to jot down thoughts. “When you start the conversation, there’s more for the introverts to work with.”

• Having tables come up with questions together “so it’s not just one person leaping up.”

• Using technology like keypads to capture feedback.

5 Facilitate interaction and networking

At large events, Gouthro advises nudging attendees into small group breakouts. “Sometimes it’s good to have opportunities that are semi-structured for people to network.”

Buelow adds that humour and intentional icebreakers can help too: “OK, turn to your neighbour and share something.”

6 Appreciate different styles, but avoid labels

Not a fan of labels, Gouthro believes people really fall along an introvert-extrovert continuum. It’s more effective, he says, to focus on intelligent meeting design and fostering engagement, while staying aware of different personalities.

Your planning team offers a great opportunity here, he adds: “Try having a balance of styles on that team so those kinds of things are automatically addressed through the perspective of the planning group.”

Did You Know? 

Introverts…

• Make up about one-third to one-half of the workforce.

• Get their energy more from being alone, whereas extroverts recharge by being with others.

• Tend to prefer work environments with less stimulation (i.e., reduced lights, noise and social buzz).

• Enjoy socializing but also need alone time to replenish their energy.

• Like to prepare their thoughts before speaking in public.

• Prefer to talk in small groups or one-on-one when networking.

• Enjoy using tools such as LinkedIn to network and stay in touch.

Source: Susan Cain (www.quietrev.com)

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