By Oliver Franks, Event Technology Manager, TFI Group
It’s a fundamental challenge of every event, one which every organiser grapples with, and one which can sometimes seem insurmountable: how do you engage everyone? Because, of course, not everyone has the same terms of engagement. A case in point is extroverts and introverts. Extroverts are typically outgoing, spontaneous and attention-seeking. They will happily offer answers, put forward suggestions and introduce themselves in social situations. Introverts, meanwhile, are often inward looking and less obviously concerned with the outside world. They enjoy reflection, and often prefer to avoid loud social situations.
The majority of ‘corporate’ events could be described as loud social situations, typically suited to extroverts. And therein lies the challenge. We live in an extrovert-dominated world. At a conference, which typically involves a large number of delegates thrown together, it is easy to pay attention to the loudest and most gregarious. But by doing so, you could easily miss out on some of the best ideas in the room. Don’t assume that the loudest person has the most to say. As Susan Cain makes clear in her TED talk and in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, between a third and a half of us are introverted, and introverts have a valuable contribution of their own. It is easy to be dazzled by charisma, but here are five tips to make sure that you engage those delegates on the more introverted side.
Don’t try to turn introverts into extroverts.
Introversion is often confused with shyness. But, as Cain points out, “shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not over-stimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.” Putting people in the spotlight, telling them “not to be shy,” and expecting them to release their inner extrovert will never work. Understand that your audience are a group of individuals with different needs. Don’t just cater to one, but try and build a participatory event that works on commonalities. Celebrate the differences, rather than catering to one personality type (typically extrovert) and expecting everyone else to follow suit.
Build relationships prior to the event.
This could for example centre on a social networking platform linked to the conference registration website, or a social focussed app. By familiarising themselves with the other delegates in the lead up, introverts are often more relaxed at the conference itself.
Allow for written communication during the event.
‘Show of hands’ sessions may appeal to extroverts, but the use of apps and texting software is more likely to encourage introverts to engage without speaking up. Leadership consultant Ron Edmondson writes that “it’s amazing some of the suggestions I’ve received when an introvert has the ability to respond in writing.”
Go easy on the spontaneity.
Introverts need time and space to think. Plan group activities well in advance and detail to your attendees exactly what that plan entails to allow them to prepare. Allow introverts time to prepare. Brainstorming is often an extrovert activity. Introverts will typically not respond at their best by being put on the spot. Space is also important. Prepare spaces at the conference for chance meetings, rather than forcing encounters. Open-plan rooms, lacking in privacy, are often a place for extroverts to shine. To engage the more introverted attendees, try to have smaller, quieter, more private spaces for engagement.
Learn from history.
Some of the most powerful leaders in the world, including Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Mahatma Gandhi, were self-confessed introverts. All of them led, in the words of corporate consultant Jennifer Kahnweiler (author of The Introverted Leader), “with quiet confidence.” Your conference can benefit from this quiet confidence. It is simply a question of knowing how to listen.