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While there are many different types of events they all share one thing in common: they bring together communities of people around a shared interest. For a brief moment in time, a group of people come together for some purpose, whether that is to learn, laugh, network, develop or simply have a good time.
As event planners it is our job to create events that resonate for all our attendees. Certainly if we planned an event where half our audience was not engaged we would not consider that a great success. However, planning events that work for everyone is not an easy task because there are so many different personalities and preferences.
One category of people that often gets ignored is introverts. It might surprise you to learn that between a third and a half of your attendees are introverts. Because introverts are by nature quiet they can easily get lost in the crowd, overshadowed by more outgoing personalities.
If you are not paying attention to the needs of introverts then you may fail to engage up to half of your audience. In this article we look at how to design events that will bring out the best in all your attendees, including the quiet ones.
Picture this: You arrive at an event and the room is already full of people. The air is buzzing with conversation and people all around you are greeting each other like old friends. You put on your name tag and look around the room to see if there is anyone you know but everyone seems to be deep in conversation.
Although everyone else seems to be having a good time, you feel horribly awkward and alone. You wish you could just run back to your hotel room and hide. Instead, you take a deep breath, put on a smile and find the least dangerous looking person to talk to. At the end of the night you are exhausted and relieved that it is over. This is the world of the introvert.
Losing Half the Audience
Extroverts and introverts are two extremes on a spectrum of personality types. Extroverts are energized by social situations, never short of something to say and thrive in fast-paced, busy environments. Introverts, by contrast, feel drained by social situations, are overwhelmed by large groups and often dread networking.
We tend to design events for extroverts including copious amounts of networking, stimulating environments and group activities. However, by designing events for extroverts we are immediately ostracizing up to half of our attendees.
You may be shocked to learn that half your attendees are introverts. That’s because introverts are masters of disguise. They are smart, friendly and social intelligent and these ‘closet introverts’ have learnt to fit in by pretending to be extroverted.
As my friend, Jessica, puts it “Everyone thinks I’m an extrovert, but I’m not. I’m a confident introvert. I can network with the best of them but at the end of the night I’m exhausted.”
Here are some characteristics of introverts and ideas about how to design events that make it easy and comfortable for everyone to participate.
1. Hate Small Talk
One of the most challenging aspects of events for introverts is networking. This is not because they don’t like people or enjoy a good conversation. The issue is that they hate small talk and are unsure of what to say to start a conversation with someone they don’t know.
This problem is easily solved with ice-breaking activities that encourage mingling and provide conversation-starters. I recently organized an event where we created a quiz and people had to search for clues by talking to other attendees. Every attendee had a game card and could only play the game by talking to other people.
A colleague of mine likes to add a twist to the name badge. At his monthly events he asks people to write on their badge what it is they would like to talk about. This takes the pressure out of networking because it instantly creates something easy to talk about.
2. Prefer Small Groups
Most introverts are not actually shy and they love a good one-to-one conversation. However, they find large groups intimidating and will tend to become very quiet, almost invisible, in large group settings.
Even at very large events, it is possible to create an environment where introverts can relax and connect by creating small groups within the larger whole.
During education events provide opportunities for paired conversations or activities where attendees work in pairs or trios. This technique is so simple yet very powerful and will instantly provide a way for everyone to connect, engage and contribute.
Another technique for creating a small group dynamic is by creating round tables within a larger group. These will typically include 8-10 people per group. The challenge with round tables is that if the conversation gets lively or heated the introvert is unlikely to interrupt to contribute. What works well is to appoint a chair person for each table whose job it is to make sure everyone has a chance to talk.
3. Think Before they Speak
For an introvert, their computer or mobile devices provide a welcome respite from the hustle and activity of a live event. However, just because they are on their devices it doesn’t mean that they are not involved. In fact, if you provide them with the right tools an introvert will use technology as a way to participate more fully.
Introverts like to think before they speak and often will have their best ideas after a meeting. Tools such as social media threads and online discussion groups provide an arena where they can add to the conversation at any time.
The other great benefit of social media and social networking using mobile apps is that they provide a friendly way for attendees to connect during an event. Sending someone a message on an app to request a meet-up is easier than walking up to a stranger in a busy conference room.
4. Need Time to Recharge
While extroverts are energized by social interactions, introverts are drained and feel the need to ‘recharge’. Provide shelter from the go-go-go of an event with quiet spots, internet cafes and places that people can go for some downtime from the hustle and bustle of the event.
While the temptation is to pack the agenda with activities, make sure you provide enough time during the breaks to ensure that everyone really does get a break. This downtime is a chance to absorb all the earlier activities and refresh ready for whatever is next.
It may be a surprise to learn that up to half of your attendees are closet introverts. Even though they may hide it well, these attendees can easily become overwhelmed, especially at larger events and during the more social activities.
Introverts have a lot to contribute given the right environment and activities. A few thoughtful tweaks to the way you set up your event can make all the difference in making sure that all your attendees have a fulfilling experience at your next event.