It’s unanimously known that networking drives event attendance and business growth. Yet as much emphasis as the event industry places on networking, many event professionals struggle silently with it, and as a result lose out on massive career growth and opportunities. For most people, the biggest obstacles to successful networking are internal. Let’s face it, networking was traditionally designed for extroverts, who gain momentum from socializing with strangers instead of shrinking away from small talk.
But things are changing in the event world, which is now influenced by an experiential market that values quality over quantity. In other words, your audience is becoming one that introverts can relate to. Introversion is no longer a taboo subject or a personality flaw to gloss over with images and forced immersion into a superficial culture. Instead it’s a trait that carries a talent for subtlety, insightfulness, and the potential to make meaningful, long-term connections.
Don’t get us wrong- we’re not saying it’s out with the old, in with the new. Extroverts were born to be event planners, even those who aren’t! Their outgoing personalities and desire to engage shine through crowds lends them a natural spotlight. But introverts no longer have to be cast out of that limelight- they can share it by simply being themselves and taking risks on connections that genuinely pique their creative interest.
We’ve written enough articles on how introverts can adapt to an extroverted industry. Here are 5 ways to make your networking events more introvert-centric.
1. Choose an Introvert-friendly Event Space and Design
We all know that networking can make or break an event professional’s career. That’s enough pressure without having to worry we’ll get swallowed up like a little fish in a sea of piranhas. Unfortunately, that’s the way a lot of people feel about networking events- especially introverts, who often feel drained by engaging with people whom they don’t feel genuinely connected to. Yes, it’s important to help introverts change the way they view events; it can be helpful to think of them as opportunities to connect more meaningfully or beneficially with people they are already interested in. But if this industry is asking introverts to reframe their thoughts and attitudes, the industry has to respond in kind in order to see any lasting improvement. Event planners have to take the initiative to create events that make introverts feel at home (or at least very comfortable and relaxed).
The first step to choosing the right event space is to map your venue. Identify “safe spaces” (i.e., private or less crowded areas where people can spend a few fortifying moments alone to get away from it all and recharge). Consider your event design. Is your event set up so that there is a steady stream of near-constant interaction between guests? If so, you might want to change it up to include some “breaks” or “down time”. This can be something as simple as scheduling five-minute long intermissions between activities, speeches, or demos.
Remember, the brain is inundated with much more information than it can process on a daily basis. As a result, people are often overwhelmed and functioning on automatic. That means filtering out sensory information that doesn’t include what they absolutely need to know. A similar phenomenon occurs at events: When there is no time to stop and process what they’ve learned, people tend to forget information. In fact, collective research has shown that attendees forget a whopping 90 percent of what they learn at conferences!
Also, it’s not always possible to hold events early in the day, but sometimes people are mentally and socially depleted by the end of the day- especially if they worked beforehand. Introverts tend to become exhausted by interactions with others more easily than extroverts. If you can, schedule your event at noon over brunch. Even holding it in the early evening can be better than after dinner, when many introverts are ready to take to bed with a good book and some sleepy time tea.
2. Get Introverts on Your Team
Unless you consider yourself an introvert to some degree (and there are many different degrees), you can’t necessarily put your feet in their shoes. You can try, but if your staff is mostly made up of extroverted personalities, you won’t have the firsthand experience you need to pull off a networking event that works for them. Even if you do extensive research, you won’t fully understand how they feel and what they want in specific situations.
If you really want to pull of an introvert-centric networking event, make sure you’ve got some introverts on your team. Talk to the staff members who do identify as introverts to a high degree- chances are you’ve already got a few on your team despite it being an event business. Ask them what situations they find most nerve-wracking or unpleasant, and what they wish could happen instead in those moments (besides being able to just go home).
If you think your staff is on the extroverted side and there’s really no one’s brain to pick, try bringing on some volunteers. The only thing it will cost you is a little time, and you can put out ads specifically seeking qualified volunteers who consider themselves to be introverted. Many students and entry level event planners are looking for unique experiences to put on their resume. This one would speak to their social skills and ability to work with diverse personalities.
Disclaimer: We don’t mean to make all introverts sound like wallflowers, and there’s an important difference between introversion and shyness. They don’t necessarily go together; some introverts don’t feel shy or self-conscious in crowds, but don’t necessarily enjoy them, either. Introversion is about comfort level around other people and in large groups, but it’s also about how people get their energy and what makes them feel good Some people feel energized and fulfilled by speaking in large crowds, meeting many new people, and interacting with others often. Other people, broadly categorized as introverts, feel most energized when being and working alone or with people they feel close to.
Introverts really like to have a purpose when they socialize in large groups (hence why you’ll likely meet a lot of people you’ve never seen before at networking events, even when they work for your company). That leads us to our next piece of advice: Give them a purpose, which means giving them some measure of control over the event agenda.
3. Give Guests Control Over the Agenda
Introverts tend to be free thinkers. They often feel apart from the crowd. They perceive their environment from the distance of their own thoughts. If your event agenda typically has a teacher/student dynamic in which speakers to most of the talking- and guests do most of the listening- consider changing things up. Initiate activities in which leadership or facilitator roles are alternated; this not only helps people get to know each other in different capacities, but encourages a diverse, inclusive environment. This kind of event makes people feel free to be themselves, and encourages open communication. All of these factors lend themselves to more productive networking.
Conversely, you can also try giving guests the option to play an observer role throughout a significant portion of the event- if not all of it. While this may sound like a passive tactic, and in some ways it is, introverts often feel more comfortable when they can “warm up” to a social activity on their own time. Some people will opt out of an event altogether if they know they have to be the center of attention at some point, especially if it’s before they feel confident in their knowledge of the topic. You can take the pressure off and give them time to absorb new knowledge before being put in the position to demonstrate it or speak about it in front of a large audience.
Keep in mind that everyone learns at a different speed and in different ways. If your event is educational, try to accommodate as many learning styles as possible. You may want to include demonstrations for people who learn best hands-on, written material for those who learn by reading, and interactive communication or activities for those who learn from listening.
If yours is a social event and your purpose is mainly to entertain, choose a venue and event design that doesn’t require all of your guests to be sequestered into a tight space. Introverts need breathing room, so try to designate at least one quieter, intimate area where people can talk, drink, and eat by themselves or in small groups.
We’ve all heard the “mix it up” approach when it comes to working with extroverts. Many companies do team-building activities in which employees are put in groups of people they don’t usually work with, and tasked with solving a problem. While this can be a really effective professional strategy, at networking events it just makes people feel uncomfortable and interactions feel staged. Most people- especially introverts- like to let their social interactions unfold naturally, and make connections based on genuine interests as well as mutual needs.
So instead of pushing an agenda in which guests have to play some variation of musical chairs, try this idea instead: label tables or sections with different topics, and allow your guests to gravitate toward the ones they’re interested in. This gives them a focus instead of making them feel as if they’re lost in the crowd, unsure of where to go and who to talk to. Networking is more effective when people are able to don’t have to waste time weeding out people without common interests and goals.
It’s also an icebreaker. If the topic is right in front of them, your attendees don’t have to come up with a conversation starter on their own.
Although networking events need a structured agenda to serve their purpose, they’re also freeform in nature. Think about it: Networking is a highly creative activity. When people feel comfortable to share their ideas with like-minded people- or those with different or fresh perspectives- they brainstorm together. This is how projects and partnerships are born.
4. Give Them a Chance to Prepare
We frequently advise people to prepare for networking events ahead of time by setting specific goals and researching the professionals they want to connect with. But what if attendees could expect that kind of preparedness from the events they attend as well? It seems only fair. Arm your attendees with as much knowledge about your event as possible in the weeks before it goes live.
What are some of the key networking benefits your event offers? Will there be influential keynote speakers or industry leaders in attendance? If so, let your attendees know beforehand so that they have a chance to prepare to connect with them. Giving your attendees the opportunity to research other attendees makes your event more effective. Yes, beneficial relationships start with a smile, friendly greeting, and genuine interest in the other person’s experience. But when you already know detailed information about potential contacts, it makes you feel more confident and helps you get to the point. Your attendees are no different.
It’s also important to inform attendees about the location where the event will be held. What is there to do locally after your event? Are there any popular restaurants or shopping centers that might add to your guests’ convenience and enjoyment? The more at home people feel in a new city or town, the more relaxed they feel. And when people feel relaxed, they socialize and share their ideas much more spontaneously.
5. Hold a Q & A
Introverts like to be able to think about what they want to say before they say it. Q & A sessions also give introverts a way to opt out of the spotlight and still learn from the questions other people ask. Try giving attendees a digital pad or stationery flashcard to write down any questions they might have throughout the event. Hold your Q & A session toward the end, when they’ve had the chance to absorb information throughout.