On the Meetings Community (MeCo) listserv today, someone asked what planners were doing to accommodate their more introverted participants, and for the introverts among us (ahem), what makes us uncomfortable at events. As a fairly shy introvert who attends most shows sans a cushion of colleagues, I probably have more on my list than most! Here's what I came up with.
As an introvert, I get extremely uncomfortable when:
• I finally get up the guts to ask a question or make a comment and the presenter makes me stand up, face the audience, and say my name first.
The fix: Give commenters/questioners many different ways to ask and comment, including digitally or via paper notes.
• Roundtable discussions get highjacked by the extroverts and no one reins them in (I'm certainly not going to!).
The fix: Have several people roaming the rooms who can jump in and break up monologues tactfully—hopefully people who are trained in how to do this. Another possibility: Have everyone write down their ideas first in a paper brainstorm, then share what they came up with their neighbor.
• Small-group discussions in groups that aren’t really all that small. We introverts may not feel comfortable elbowing our way in.
The fix: Incorporate more pair-share and triads rather than large roundtables—or at least alternate the size of the groups. And think about seating: Those big rounds are great for extroverts, but for those of us who are more comfortable in smaller groups, can you include seating that would facilitate that?
• The networking is totally unstructured so people clump together in groups of people they already know and/or I get stuck desperately trying to make small talk with strangers.
The fix: Give people some focal points to center discussions around. Better yet, turn networking time into "working on something together" time.
• I wander aimlessly around the reception desperately seeking a familiar and/or friendly face who looks open to meeting someone new. I know, it sounds pathetic, but I bet I’m not the only one lapping the ballroom and trying to look nonchalant in my introvert exile.
The fix: One great idea I heard when I was interviewing some people about their user group event last year was that they do a lot of research about their attendees ahead of time and go out of their way to introduce people who may have something in common with each other—especially solutions to common problems—throughout the event. This little introverted soul adores that idea! Also think about arranging some more intimate seating around the quieter edges of your receptions and other networking events. Let the extroverts work the big open spaces and the dancers dance, but give the introverts their own comfort zone too.
• Speed networking! (I can’t imagine extroverts find this terribly useful either.)
The fix: Instead of two-minute quick business card exchanges, give us enough time to have a meaningful conversation. Maybe even survey us ahead of time to find areas of commonality, then let us know what we have for shared interests.
• Finding out I have to share my hotel room with colleagues. Early on in my career, I once had to share a room with four other people. We all liked each other, but even the most extroverted among us was crazed by the end of the conference—imagine what that’s like for introverts who crave space and downtime.
The fix: Corporate planners, don't do this! I know it’s sometimes necessary for cost-saving reasons, but if there’s any way to find out who minds sharing and who doesn’t and accommodating them accordingly, it would be much appreciated. After that room-sharing experience, I paid for my own room at a local hostel down the street just to get the breathing room I needed—worst case scenario, could you offer that option?
• Doing the “Mind if I join you?” shuffle while looking for an open seat at the banquet—especially when the first several tables I approach are already filled mostly with invisible colleagues who haven’t arrived yet.
The fix: While it would be lovely to match-make ahead of time and have arranged seating that would put people together based on shared interests, I realize that’s unrealistic for most more sizeable meetings. Topic tables are a good idea, though it helps to have someone on hand to facilitate and make sure the discussion doesn’t instantly devolve into small talk among colleagues who already know each other, as most-often happens at topic tables I’ve experienced. So, I don't seem to have a good fix for this one. Do you?
• I’m faced with an open night with no pre-arranged plans. While gathering a group to go grab dinner is a piece of cake for extroverts, we introverts often don’t feel comfortable reaching out to acquaintances to make last-minute plans.
The fix: Make several small-group reservations at area restaurants that people can sign up for. The times I’ve signed up for these, I’ve met interesting people, had great conversations, got to sample the local cuisine, and generally had a terrific, stress-free time.
• The highly over-scheduled day runs into a highly over-scheduled night with no time for reflection or mental recharging.
The fix: Build in some free time, preferably long enough that we introverts can run up to our rooms for a little quiet time. Bonus would be to provide a quiet space for recharging that's close to the action, but not in the middle of it, like the meditation room at IMEX America 2015. That was awesome.
What would you add?