Networking events are a fixture of the corporate world, but they inspire both love and hate from attendees. Some are social butterflies, who can waltz up to groups of strangers, make introductions and connections, and come away with future meetings and collaborations on the books. Then, there are the wallflowers and introverts. After all, corporate events bring together an entire spectrum of personalities — including the shy and more inward types who would rather be anywhere else but in a room full of new people.
The pandemic-driven shift toward virtual events represents a new level of accessibility for these different personality types. In the year ahead, planners must consider their engagement methods for introverts and other nontraditional networkers, whether they are preparing to host a virtual, in-person or hybrid meeting. Designing gatherings that are accessible, welcoming and fun for these more reserved types will make for a better overall event experience and can help boost your brand.
The Cost of Failing to Engage Introverts
For event planners, a successful gathering rests on how acquainted they are with the target audience. Different layouts and activities will work for different people, and if you don't know who makes up your audience profile, you won't be able to predict pain points and turnoffs.
They might be quiet, but introverts have the potential to be a profitable and loyal new audience that can develop strong, albeit quiet, word-of-mouth buzz. In addition, adjusting the event agenda to appeal to a wider range of personality types can not only help grow the number of attendees, but also encourage more diverse perspectives.
Below are four tips for creating networking opportunities that welcome all and get even the most reserved attendees to participate.
Create Small Groups for Like-Minded Individuals
Introverts often prefer more intimate gatherings that are less overwhelming. Smaller groups can help bring them out of their shells and offer more opportunities for engagement.
Creating breakout rooms (either virtual or in-person) is one way to help lift some of those metaphorical walls. Planners can make the breakouts even more welcoming with themes. By adding demographic or psychographic elements, attendees will know before they walk in that they're about to meet people they share a common bond with.
Show People What's in Store
This tactic sounds simple, but you can help nontraditional networkers feel comfortable just by telling them what to expect from your event. This preview can help them carry less anxiety into the gathering.
For example, instead of springing a speed dating activity on attendees, ask them to prepare five facts about themselves beforehand. Use this as a jumping-off point to let introverts get more comfortable with their fellow attendees and their surroundings.
Although confident salespeople might thrive on surprises, knowing the lineup and agenda ahead of time can lessen anxiety for more inward types and even build excitement around event activities.
Offer Opportunities to Engage Via Technology
Online events can be perfect for introverts. They provide space and time to be reflective — even in a networking environment.
According to research, 30 percent of people say they're more likely to network at an event if they're sitting in a virtual booth. Even in-person events can incorporate virtual elements that cater to more introverted guests, such as an online network for attendees to connect during and after the event. These more intimate, low-stakes settings can help the quieter people jump into networking with the gusto of a seasoned speed dater.
Open Up the Feedback Loop
We all have our preferences. For introverts, a certain kind of networking event appeals to them, so organizers would be best suited to check in with all attendees to see what's working and what's not.
An online survey or email follow-up can give introverts the freedom and safe space to give honest and thorough feedback on the event. Maybe the breakout sessions were too crowded for their liking, or they would have preferred to have networking breaks that were less frequent but longer — giving them more time to stronger connections.
In any case, build feedback into your process, and give attendees, especially introverted ones, a forum to share their thoughts and potentially shape future meetings.
Being willing to add new elements to your event lineup shows that you care about these nontraditional networkers and positions your brand as more inviting and inclusive. In turn, that effort will prompt customers to reward you with their engagement and — best of all — their loyalty.
Adrian Si is the director of marketing strategy at ASV, an event and experiential marketing company based in Torrance, Calif. ASV is a full-service provider specializing in creating immersive live marketing experiences for B2B and B2C brands.