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April 30, 2014 / playforth

Designing participatory events and conferences for introverts

Based on my (not vast, but growing) experience of attending conferences, unconferences, retreats and all manner of ‘participatory’ talking shops, some thoughts on how to make these things appealing and useful to introverts, and to maximise our contribution.

See also this recent post from the Event Manager Blog How To Engage Introverts at Conferences and the instant classic that was Susan Jain’s TED Talk The Power of Introverts.

  1. If the event spans several days or even one long day, build in plenty of short breaks. And make sure that scheduled breaks in the programme are actual breaks, with no enforced networking. Even ‘optional’ activities during breaks can be alienating for introverts who want to participate fully but need our downtime.
  2. Try to create quiet spaces with small clusters of seating to facilitate one-to-one/small group conversations. Many introverts find even small group discussions challenging if there’s a lot of noise and distraction around us.
  3. Allow multiple channels for submitting questions, ideas, comments and suggestions (eg social media, post-it notes and comment cards) as well as inviting verbal participation.
  4. If possible allow an open time frame for contributions – so questions can be submitted before, during and after the event. Welcoming post-event contributions is particularly important for introverts who often need time for reflection and forming our thoughts.
  5. Feed these contributions back into the live event (and/or future events) as much as possible – treat them as equally valid as traditional vocal input from ‘the floor’.
  6. If organising into groups to share feedback or ideas after a presentation, allow a little time for individual reflection before convening the groups.
  7. Provide copies of all slides/presentation material – in advance if possible, but if not then afterwards in an easily accessible location and format.
  8. Allow people to connect with each other at their own pace/in their own space before the event – online networking prior to a face-to-face meeting can be a useful icebreaker for introverts.
  9. Don’t try to solve the problem of a vocal minority by calling on those haven’t spoken. Introverts are not at our best when being put on the spot! But we will often speak up willingly if given enough room for thought.
  10. Finally, don’t make vocal participation on prescriptive terms (such as turn-taking) a condition of attendance – we might decide not to come at all!
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