Meetings are primarily extrovert-friendly, and it can be difficult for introverts to feel comfortable and welcome. At least one in four people are introverts who tend to listen more than they speak, often feel alone in large groups and require a lot of private time to restore their energy, says psychotherapist Dr. Marti Olsen Laney. And the difference between introverts and extroverts isn’t a matter of “learning to be more social.” There’s a genetic difference between the pair.
American geneticist Dr. Dean Hamer has done extensive research on the D4DR gene and how it influences temperament and neurochemistry. Extroverts have a long D4DR gene that is less sensitive to dopamine. They require adrenaline for their brains to create dopamine seek adventurous and thrilling experiences that provide higher levels of dopamine. Introverts, by comparison, have a short D4DR gene. Too much external stimulation short-circuits their thinking and exhausts them. While extroverts might crave the spotlight, introverts shy away from it. For event planners, that means the way introverts engage at events and seek information differs wildly from extroverts, and if you know your attendees lean further toward introvert on the social scale, it’s important to keep them in mind when planning your events. Here are six ways you can plan more introvert-friendly events.
1. Focus conversations. It’s a myth that introverts don’t like to talk; it comes down to what topics will get them to participate. Introverts love to talk about their passions, challenges and hobbies. During education sessions, ask questions that give introverts the ability to discuss their interests.
2. Start with individual reflection. Have individuals write down their response to a provocative question or challenge regarding the session’s content. A good question that presenters can ask is, “How are you responding to the content I’ve shared so far?” Extend that question with queries like what works for you, what can you apply, what concerns you, what do you need more information on and so forth.
3. Break into smaller groups. Instead of asking introverts to discuss in groups of six, nine, 10, 12 or more, have them talk to their peers in pairs or threesomes. Or try pair sharing and “pair-squared” techniques to get introverts fully engaged. After working with a partner, introverts are often more willing to transition to groups or speak aloud to the entire session.
4. Encourage deeper networking. Avoid speed-networking sessions and the rush to secure as many business cards as possible. Design networking experiences that encourage deeper, authentic relationships and facilitate learning. Ask people to spend 10 to 15 minutes asking a series of questions to one person to find what each other is passionate about.
5. Create safe spaces. Too often, meetings professionals designate spaces for high-traffic flow and high-energy interactions. Introverts need time for more reflection and private thought.
6. Foster authentic connections. Introverts do a lot of thinking as they try to solve problems, but they enjoy connecting with others—one person at a time. After they feel safe with that connection, they are willing to add another person to their group.
As executive vice president of education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, Jeff Hurt is considered one of the leading authorities in the meetings industry on adult education, conference design, digital events, and social media for events and associations.