OK, so I've dealt with my fair share of introverts before. And guess what? I love working with them! Why? Because they get focused on these creative goals that they have and knock it out of the park every time they open their mouths. They are thoughtful, deliberate and if left on their own and not forced to constantly communicate, will absolutely knock your socks off with the ideas and creativity that they come up with! Introverts aren't anti-social, they just don't feel comfortable having to participate in every event, conversation, or group. Many would rather have their teeth pulled than join in on events that are happening around them!
Attending an event, conference or workshop can be absolutely TERRIFYING for them to even think about. They don't want to "share" and they are more interested in getting down to business and learning what they came to learn. Who has time for any fluff? Not them!
So when it comes time to hosting your next event, don't forget about those individuals who may be a bit more introverted! They may not think that participating in everything you have painstakingly created will be a hoot the way you had initially planned! As a matter of fact, they may think it downright stinks when they are asked to participate in icebreakers or one-offs that aren't necessarily related to the content at hand. So what do you do to break them out of their shell? How do you get them comfortable with networking?
1. Recognize that an Introvert's Reluctance is Natural
The sooner you realize that not everyone may have quite the enthusiasm for everything you planned like you do, the better off you'll be! And for those introverts out there, give yourself permission to participate to see what it's like! If you're not enjoying yourself or are uncomfortable, give yourself permission to leave. Breaking out of that reluctant attitude can take some coaxing but if you tell yourself you only have to attend one break-out session or participate in one activity, it will make everything seem less daunting and that it's OK to not join in on everything!
Send out your itinerary for the event prior to it beginning. This will help everyone, particularly introverts, prepare for what is coming. And introverts… when you get that itinerary, spend some time with it! If necessary, script some things out for how you would answer different things that you know are going to come out. The more prepared an introvert is allowed to be, the better!
2. Offer Different Experiences for Different Personalities
Remember that you will have a variety of personalities attend the different events, conferences and meetings that you plan, so offer different things for different people. While that doesn't necessarily mean you have to prepare two completely agendas, let people choose if they would rather use their free time participating in a networking event with a group of attendees, or if they would prefer to do an activity with a smaller group of individuals. Offer events that give people a chance to see the location you are at, a fitness class, a spa treatment, or something that will appeal to those who aren't ready to spend all day with a large group, and than spend all night with them, as well. Introverts need a break from people!
3. Offer Networking Opportunities for Attendees Online Prior to Your Event
Are you planning a conference or event where many people won't know each other? Think about setting up a private Facebook Group for all of the attendees to get to know each other before the event. Connecting with people online before they actually meet can be really helpful for introverts! Encourage attendees to connect on LinkedIn so they are familiar with each other before they arrive. It really helps to feel less alone when attendees are moderately familiar with who they will be spending their time with at your event! And the bonus will be that introverts will be able to continue to network after the event is over, because they will now be able to continue discussions with people they have met!
This also helps people feel more prepared for what they are walking into. Nobody wants to look silly and by having everyone "meet" beforehand, you are going to lower the stress for everyone, especially those introverts, right off the bat! You may also want to have people make a "to-do" list for the 2-3 things they are most hoping to accomplish or get out of the event you are holding. When introverts can put things down on paper instead of being called upon unknowingly in a group environment, they are going to be so much more likely to participate once they know what is coming!
4. Offer a "Goals and Ideas" Section for Participants
This may seem completely anti-introvert, but work with me here… introverts want nothing to do with celebrating their achievements or discussing the ideas they may have or goals they want to accomplish. They WANT to stay in the shadows and get in and out as quickly as possible. However… it's not a bad thing for you introverts to let people know the things that you've accomplished, the ideas you have, the goals you are working towards. Who knows who in that room may be able to help you with those things! Talking about these things with everyone can help make the connections needed to move forward in careers and life. You don't have to everyone talk at length about the things they are working on, but by allowing everyone a chance to share these items will be a great way for everyone to gain new, strong connections!
5. Create a Comfortable Environment
Are you having a smaller conference or intensive with a small group of people? Think about figuring out different ways throughout your time together to create comfortable scenarios. Find locations that will put people immediately at ease and will help people talk to strangers a little easier. The environment everyone is in will have a huge effect on the success of the event. It can improve everyone's mood, participation, and their willingness to interact with people around them. It will lower everyone's stress, which won't make the idea of talking to other people around them seem downright miserable!
If you are having a larger event, resist the need to keep going for long stretches of time, in order to fit in all of your material. Allow for frequent breaks. Introverts recharge when they are able to take a much-needed break. Just the short amount of time it may take to return to their room for a bit, take a quick walk, or find a quiet spot on the grounds to decompress, they will come back stronger and ready to take on the world!
Don't forget… introverts draw energy from being alone, while extroverts draw it from being around others. You are more than likely going to have both types of people at any event, intensive, or conference you plan, so make sure you aren't using sweeping generalizations when getting things ready! Introverts are going to take companies to places that you never even imagined, so let's not make them feel like they are having their teeth pulled when they are put into situations they are uncomfortable in. Let's give them the opportunities and structure to succeed when networking is inevitable!