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February 7, 2014

How to Help Introverts at Conferences and Events

Regardless of size, conferences and events are great options for people to network, connect and share insights. But when introverts attend conferences, they may not feel comfortable speaking out or stepping up, and may ultimately have a very different experience and—through no fault of the planner—get much less out of the event. Jeff Hurt (pictured right) of event consulting company Velvet Chainsaw recently posted a blog with tips on how to make sure introverts and extroverts alike have the best possible time at a conference. We reached out to him to get more ideas about what planners need to know about this demographic.

In his post, Hurt cited psychotherapist Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, who identified introverts as people who “listen more than they speak, often feels alone in large groups, and requires a lot of private time to restore their energy.” Dr. Laney estimates that at least one in four people could be categorized as introverted.   

So with nearly a quarter of event attendees needing a different environment than their more extroverted colleagues, how can event planners make sure everyone has the best experience? “We have to plan events with a focus on the experience that attendees have instead of a primary focus on efficiency,” Hurt told International Meetings Review. “Most people who attend events want to share. It's not about an attendee monopolizing a session by speaking out while the others have to listen. It's about finding ways to allow everyone the chance to share.” 

This, he said, is best accomplished by having everyone write their thoughts down, then sharing the insights in small groups of two or three for a more intimate experience rather than in front of the whole crowd. “That's the best method for memory retention and learning, anyway,” Hurt added. “As an example, when we allow one person to speak out to an audience of 99, the 99 do not get the chance to participate, so only one benefited.”

Event design can also play a factor in making introverts feel comfortable. In the early stages of planning a conference, Hurt suggests looking over the floor plans and identifying the large gathering spaces and areas where people will meet outside of official sessions. “Where can you put small arrangements of furniture (24" café rounds or couches and chairs, for example) so that people can connect in small groups?” he asked. “Whenever you create a large networking area for the masses, you should also create intimate spaces that allow introverts to find their safe space. We need more quiet spaces in conferences or flexible spaces that can be arranged on-the-spot for small groups.”

Hurt believes that, by adding elements to events that cater to introverts, planners can improve the overall efficiency of a conference, especially in terms of networking and connections. “If networking and education are the top two reasons people attend events...we have to move away from letting [it] happen by chance in a speed-networking [session] or networking party,” he said. “They should be facilitated sessions where a leader guides us through a process of meeting, greeting, sharing and answering specific questions. We have to get more creative than speed-networking sessions of exchanging business cards in two to three minutes. Surface networking doesn't really uncover how we are alike and different. We also need to seek out others [who] are different than we are to explore new ideas, perspectives and issues.”

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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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