After more than a year of virtual meetings, it’s going to be a little tough for people to readjust to in-person events—even those who identify as extroverts. Read on for some planning tips that can make the transition easier.
The in-person meeting has traditionally been seen as the realm of the extrovert. Between the happy hours, the hobnobbing on the expo hall floor, and the spontaneous gatherings, it seems designed to let extroverts thrive.
But after a year of lockdown in which Zoom happy hours were often pushed aside, expo halls were replaced with web-based equivalents, and on-the-fly connections were more likely to take place on social media than a private chat, the equation has changed sharply in favor of the introvert.
Perhaps a turn toward introversion is as it should be. Last year, the Myers-Briggs Company—the firm famed for its personality tests—pointed out that about 57 percent of those surveyed preferred introversion. And after all those Zoom calls, even extroverts may feel a little stressed about returning to in-person meetings—reentry anxiety is real.
So how can associations make their meetings a little more introvert-friendly? A few ideas:
Create a spot to take a break. In normal times, associations often created meeting areas for different kinds of attendees—first-timers might get a space, or maybe an area would be set aside for vendors to nail down deals with potential clients. But Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs may have shifted during the pandemic for attendees, who likely want a spot to relax and potentially (based on local ordinances) take off their mask. The American Association of Feline Practitioners is offering just that to its attendees. “We wanted to make sure that we accommodated everybody’s comfort level,” AAFP CEO Heather O’Steen, CAE, recently told Associations Now.
Use cringe-free icebreakers. Traditional icebreakers aren’t exactly introvert-friendly. But fear not, there are plenty of ideas for making meet-and-greets accessible to introverts, including building icebreakers around activities such as trivia games. The website Team Bonding makes the case that games can be a great choice for getting introverts on board because of how they demand a common focus. Just be careful not to force it. “With their lower threshold for stimulation, some of your introverts will not enjoy rowdy, chaotic activities,” the website states. “To manage this, balance your program and build up to games that are more exuberant. Don’t force this kind of energy on a ‘cold’ room.”
Make name badges multitask. They’re not just there to display your name. Speaking at an IMEX America meeting in 2018, Sharon Fisher of the experiential meeting design firm Play with a Purpose suggested making name badges more functional, including offering notes about what a person likes to do, as well as what they’re looking for at an event. “It’s a very easy way to make a connection,” Fisher said, according to MeetingsNet. “If two people with ‘dog-lover’ buttons meet, there’s an instant connection and conversation topic.”
Slow down. One of the reasons introverts excelled during the pandemic is the slower pace of a remote schedule. “They have more time to reflect, and then when they offer something, it’s meaningful,” career coach Beth Buelow recently told the BBC. This is a point that could translate to your event, by creating structures that specifically allow attendees to slow down and pace themselves so they can parse information over longer periods of time.
Rethink meeting formats. Of course, the hard part for planners is figuring out what event formats make sense when trying to balance structure with flexibility. Choosing a format that is not a match for introverts’ style, for example, could make meetings tougher than they need to be. But one simple way to make things easier is to develop a schedule with more exploratory time or recharge periods. “If we were more willing to go to a conference feeling entitled to take the recharge breaks we need, the entire experience would be more comfortable,” author Susan Cain noted in an interview with Harvard Business Review in 2015.