Designing a Conference for Introverts
Events are designed for extroverts. And we all just accept this and deal with it. But whether I’m assessing or attending events, exhaustion is something that comes up over and over again. No matter how extroverted you are, I don’t think humans are designed for the non-stop conversation that our events subject us to.
I’m proposing a conference designed for introverts. I’m using the definition here of an introvert being someone that draws energy from spending time alone, and an extrovert finds energy from being around people. Nearly every single aspect of the traditional conference puts you around other people—from the buffet to the bus to the sessions to the receptions. What rules would we put in place for an introvert conference?
First, sessions would be marked as “introvert-friendly.” These are sessions where you aren’t required to interact in a group to work through an exercise. Certainly, I appreciate that working with others helps me enrich and strengthen my ideas, however I don’t need to do that in every single education session I attend. These sessions would give you permission to work through exercises on your own and have a little thinking time for yourself.
Next, speaking of sessions, I think a modified flipped classroom model could apply here. I’m someone who gets a lot out of reading. I would appreciate the chance to read for a bit instead of being talked at, and then participate in a deeper Q&A session with the author. I’m realistic and I know the chances of my completing the homework prior to the event are small so let’s design it for reality. The first 30 minutes are for reading a short summary of the ideas and the next 30 are for the discussion. This style isn’t for everyone so maybe it’s an opportunity to get even more from your speakers. They can do their traditional keynote, but also do this Q&A style session and appeal to both audiences.
I also think that we should incorporate some mandatory downtime into the event. This would be a block of time when no official or unofficial receptions, dinners, meetings, or other gatherings could take place. The audience has to opt in to this, and the audience also has to enforce it. If you agree that you don’t want dinners to take place during this time, then you can’t say yes when that important contact asks you to join them. I’m not suggesting the entire event, or the entire evening should be like this. But if we all agreed that from 5:00–7:00 pm could be free time, then the introverts can recharge without the FOMO that comes with skipping something.
Finally, I think that we should offer solo tours in addition to group tours. I’m not sure if other introverts are like this but I find I draw a lot of energy from being alone in a crowd of strangers. It’s why I like traveling by myself. I can be around people but knowing that I don’t have to interact with them somehow uplifts me. So, in addition to the group tours, let’s offer solo trips to the art museum and the distillery and whatever else. And let’s schedule some during the week, instead of just pre and post. Maybe the group tours you arranged for Saturday could be repeated as a solo tour on Monday. This allows the introverts time to recharge mid-event, instead of having to plod our way through until the end.
Don’t get me wrong—I find it really valuable and important to connect and share with other people. And I’m not suggesting that we spend our entire time on-site alone. I just think that if we make our events a little more introvert-friendly, even the extroverts will benefit from it.