Creating Collaborative Events: Harnessing the Strengths of Introverts and Extroverts

by Romy Alexandra

 

Image by Liz Fosslien @LizandMollie

No one enjoys conversations that follow the flow like the image to the right – and yet it happens time and time again. 🙄

For most learning experience designers and facilitators, our goal is to get as many diverse perspectives and contributions in the room as possible. 

If you ever feel like you keep hearing the same voices out loud and on repeat during group discussions, keep reading 🙋

👉 That’s because most events are designed with a bias towards extroversion. Key features of many events like large group discussions, fast-paced brainstorms, and lots of group work are ways in which extroverts are most comfortable. 

According to The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, introverts have a longer neural pathway for processing stimuli like interactions.  When they reflect, they reach back into their long-term memory to find information, while also comparing old and new experiences. This takes more time to process, but leads to carefully thought-out decisions and responses.  

Extroverts, on the other hand, process their thoughts live-time as they talk about them. They reflect and form their thoughts as they speak them out loud. This means that while the path to processing is more immediate, the ideas have not always been fully thought out. 

Image by Liz Fosslien 

 

⚡ We also know that introverts are more easily over-stimulated and recharge their batteries through small group or solo activities like reading, deep thinking or mind-wandering.

⚡ Contrastingly, extroverts can crave stimulation and recharge their batteries by spending time with other people and in large social settings. 

As event leaders, it’s important to be intentional about addressing those biases and creating inclusive spaces where introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts (those who exhibit qualities of both depending on the situation) can collaborate and share their perspectives. Experiences that are more energizing for extroverts can be draining for introverts, and vice versa. More often than not, it’s the learning experience design choices we make which bear the most responsibility for encouraging or squashing the engagement of all kinds of people. 🤝


🤔 So how might we design events that integrate the needs of introverts and extroverts in a truly collaborative way? Here are 3 key ways to do it:

 

🔑 #1 – USE A VARIETY OF REFLECTION MODALITIES

Introverts may need more space for individual reflection before sharing while extroverts might need to verbally process and brain dump the ideas in their head. At Scaling Intimacy, we like to create space for both in virtual events by encouraging contributions regularly in the chat and inviting anyone to voluntarily share out loud. 

When facilitating, set up debriefs in small groups and invite a “reporter” to share insights from everyone to the larger group. That way, even if an introvert is not comfortable speaking out loud in a large group, their point of view will be shared and heard by everyone. 

👍When in doubt, get comfortable with silence. It takes more than a second for people to hear your question, think about it, formulate a response, and then speak up. The more comfortable you are with posing a question and then slowly letting it land, the more people (extroverts, introverts, ambiverts) will speak up because they’ve had the time to process. 

 

🔑 #2 – BE INTENTIONAL WITH BREAKOUTS 

👍 Vary the breakouts – both in terms of the number of people in the room, and also how many new interactions unfold. 

It can be jarring and overstimulating for some people to kick off an event by jumping into a breakout room with a large group of people. We suggest beginning with a more intimate pair share or trio to ease into group collaboration and build a sense of comfort and safety for everyone.

At Scaling Intimacy, we use the terms “wide and shallow” and “narrow and deep” to intentionally think about the ways in which people are connecting. Extroverts and introverts may have their own personal preferences if they continuously meet new people in each breakout (wide and shallow) or revisit the same breakout with people they’ve already connected with (narrow and deep). There’s no right or wrong, but mixing it up ultimately creates a more meaningful experience for everyone.

👍 Use guidelines to foster inclusive collaboration. Whichever approach you use for breakouts, it’s important to set participants up for success so all perspectives can be heard. 

Clearly state the approximate time allocated for each person to share in the group discussions (for example, for a 6 minute breakout of 3 people, we’ll remind the audience each person has about 2 minutes each). We also use the guideline “ensure equal voice” so that when there’s no facilitator present, participants can self-manage the time and hear from everyone before the clock runs out. 

 

🔑 #3 – DIVERSIFY COLLABORATION FORMATS 

👍 Balance introspective and interactive experiences.  The more you diversify the experiences in your events, the more you engage different people

To cater more towards introverts, you might use modalities such as 

  • Guided visualizations
  • Sharing in chat
  • Writing on a whiteboard
  • Polls or wordclouds 
  • Journaling to music

To cater more towards extroverts, you might use elements such as 

  • Working in larger groups
  • More time in breakouts
  • Spotlights and spontaneous sharing
  • Public presenting / theater / role plays
  • Live feedback

When you have a nice mix of both, you also make sure to include ambiverts too! 😉

 

Every event is a partnership. 

You can design and facilitate a transformative learning experience on repeat and it will never be exactly the same. What truly makes it come alive are the participants and their collaborative contributions! 🤩

🤝 Seeing learners as collaborators (instead of consumers or critics) is the key to ensuring impact. That especially means designing with introverts and extroverts in mind so everyone can contribute.

🥳 As facilitators, we can celebrate these differences to cultivate meaningful collaboration, and also design for them! 


Want to dive more into collaborative facilitation with us? As facilitators, we get better by practicing and we can’t practice in a vacuum. If you are interested in having a space to make some mistakes, get real-time feedback, and learn new facilitation skills with a cohort of inspiring peers who are interested in the art, science and practice of facilitation, join us for an upcoming cohort of Facilitation Finesse


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Romy Alexandra is a learning experience designer and experiential learning trainer on a mission to humanize learning spaces.