When Intimacy turns into Intimidation

By Jenny Sauer-Klein

We’ve all had the dreaded experience… In the first few minutes of a program, before you’ve had the chance to build trust and rapport, you are asked to share the answer to a deep question with a complete stranger. Awkward.  [this is when people run for the door and never come back!]

If we go too far, too fast trying to create intimacy, it can quickly feel like intimidation. 

Right before the pandemic hit, my husband and I were at a couples retreat. The very first session, the facilitators had us doing extended eye gazing while singing sentimental songs with hand gestures and rotating partners. While most of the couples there were familiar with this ritual, we were new, and for my husband especially, who doesn’t consider himself much of a singer and isn’t a fan of eye gazing with complete strangers, it was close to the panic zone.  😱

Nobody wants to feel forced to open up.

It can feel unsafe and trigger our flight/fight/freeze response, resulting in the opposite of what we want.  

In professional settings we’re often willing to say that we want more connection, but to say we want intimacy is to take it a few degrees further. It was edgy for me to claim the word “Intimacy” as part of my brand, and it’s a quality that takes patience, skill and sensitivity to cultivate.

As event designers, we want to create a safe space where people can share from their authentic selves. That’s how real connection happens. 

So how do you create intimacy and avoid intimidation?


  • Be patient and go slow

It takes time to build connection, rapport and trust so we must be patient and ease our participants into that process. 

  • Create small breakout groups

Most people feel more comfortable sharing in small groups. You can also use set groups that meet multiple times over the course of your event so participants have multiple touch-points with the same people. 

  • Gradually invite vulnerability 

Start with something that’s easy for most people to access and share, and then as the group builds trust, you can ask more vulnerable questions.

  • Sharing should be reciprocal

Make sure that everyone in the group has equal voice, and the space to contribute.

  • Give levels of opt-in

Formulate your questions so that people can answer at their own comfort level, and give examples of lighter and deeper shares.

Just remember to ease into connection so that true intimacy can emerge. 

If we rush this process, it backfires, and we will spend a lot of time cleaning up the mess later!

These principles and practices form the foundation of our approach here at The Scaling Intimacy School of Experience Design. If you want to learn more about how you can enter this field or uplevel your existing skill set, join us at one of our upcoming programs our flagship Designing Dynamic Experiences course or the companion training, Facilitation Finesse